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Single mum who fought on COVID-19 frontline as nurse celebrates masters degree with daughters

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A nurse of fourteen years has advanced her career with a master’s degree at Swansea University, all while being a single mother to two young children and working on the frontline.

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Bethany Kelly, 34, from Southampton, worked as a diabetes specialist nurse for several years.

After a personal experience with the condition, Bethany successfully applied to study for a part-time degree in MSc Diabetes Practice at Swansea University Medical School.

“During my first pregnancy, I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes, and as a result, I’ve had first-hand knowledge of how it can affect people’s lives,” said Bethany.

“I was already looking for a new challenge, and when I was asked to do diabetes review clinics when I came back from maternity leave, I knew this was an excellent opportunity to enhance diabetes care and become an expert clinical practitioner.

“I was awarded a full scholarship, without which, I wouldn’t have been able to afford it.”

Bethany started her degree in 2019 and had to employ her time management skills to balance her studies with her full-time job and caring for her two daughters.

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“I struggled with mummy guilt, something I think all mother’s experience,” said Bethany. “I was fortunate that my girls are both so well behaved and understanding.

“I worked most weekends and evenings, which meant sacrificing time with them.

“Often, they would ask to go to the park, and I would have to say ‘just one more minute’ as I typed the last paragraph of an essay.

“My youngest, who was six at the time, asked if I would have a cap and gown like in High School Musical, and so every time I missed something, or they had to wait for me to finish my work, I would promise they could wear mine when I graduated; I’m so pleased I’ve been able to keep that promise.”

Bethany Kelly (Image: Swansea University)

Unfortunately, this new schedule soon unravelled when Covid hit.

“When the pandemic began, I was given additional days to cover the increased workload.

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“With Covid, the treatment is steroids, which we know causes increased diagnosis’ of T2 diabetes and also steroid-induced hyperglycaemia,” Bethany explains.

“The Diabetes Practice team were amazing and adapted to allow me to carry on with my degree.

“If it weren’t for the hard work that the course leaders and lecturers put into the course, I would never have been able to do it.

“That little bit of breathing room they provided during the first wave was essential, but soon my new normal was fitting in my studies wherever I could,” said Bethany.

“We also had to add homeschooling to the mix, and we would often be sat around the table together doing our work.”

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With national policy constantly changing, Bethany knew many patients were struggling, confused and distressed. To alleviate some of their fears, Bethany and a team of fellow healthcare professionals introduced Team Diabetes 101.

“We wanted to provide the diabetes community with a secure base to gain reassurance, access reliable resources and receive emotional support,” Bethany explains.

“The social media account went on to win two national awards, and we also published two articles in leading diabetes journals.”

Bethany has also managed to find time to take on the role of Co-Chair for the Diabetes Specialist Nurse (DSN) Forum UK.

“The DSN Forum UK aims to share best practice by providing diabetes specialist nurses across the UK with a supportive network.”

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“Our website is designed to help healthcare professionals navigate the vast amount of ever-changing online resources concerning diabetes nursing and diabetes care.”

Most recently, Bethany started a new job as Lead Community Diabetes Specialist Nurse in Wiltshire, and in a full-circle moment, Bethany has joined Swansea University’s Diabetes Practice programme as module lead for its community-based module.

On her new role, Bethany said: “The work the team do to provide nurses with access to further education is astounding, and in my opinion, there is no other university that will go this far to create equal access to higher education.

“I’m delighted to be joining the programme, helping students access the most up-to-date information about caring for people living with diabetes.”

Dr Rebecca Thomas, Swansea University’s MSc Diabetes Practice Co-programme Director, said: “Bethany has worked extremely hard. She has taken great pride in completing all tasks set to a very high standard while juggling an extremely challenging time in work.

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“It has been a pleasure to watch her grow within her roles and throughout her degree, and I am delighted that she will be joining the programme to help future students do the same.”

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