Health and Social Care student on her stepping stone to success and dream career

Studying Health and Social Care at Northern Regional College has opened the door to academic success and set a Ballymena student on the road to fulfilling her dream of becoming a nurse.

Grace Thompson has just completed a BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma in Health and Social Care at the College in Ballymena with a triple Distinction*, the equivalent standard of three A*s at A-level.

She secured offers from all five universities she applied to and has accepted a place at Queen’s University Belfast to start an Adult Nursing degree in February 2021.

Grace Thompson has just completed a BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma in Health and Social Care at Northern Regional College with a triple Distinction*, the equivalent standard of three A*s at A-level.


Having achieved nine GCSEs at school, Grace progressed to do AS-levels in Biology, Economics, Politics and English Literature, but admitted that because she was unsure about her future plans at that stage, she did not enjoy them.

“Halfway through my lower sixth, I decided to apply to Northern Regional College to do the Health and Social Care Diploma as this was a subject I was interested in and wanted to learn more about.

“It was the best decision I ever made and I haven’t looked back since the first day I walked through the doors. I’m able to study nursing at university and move a step closer to achieving my dream career,” Grace explained.

She added that her time at the College helped her enjoy learning once again and is already considering going on to study a Master’s when she finishes her undergraduate degree.

Grace attributed her positive experience at the College to a number of factors:

“I made life-long friends and I loved that my lecturers had previously worked in different health and social care settings so they could link the theory we were being taught in class with examples from their own career experiences.

“Each lecturer truly wanted us to do well and gave us so much support. They knew how fast-paced and heavy the workload is and supported us throughout the two-year course.

Grace said the work placements completed as an integral part of the course were also very beneficial.

“We were able to experience what it would be like to work in different health and social care settings. This gave us a great insight and a better understanding of the sector, which in turn allowed us to determine which area we wanted to pursue and study at a higher level.

“I completed placements in addiction centres, nursing homes, Belfast City Hospital theatres, the cancer centre and spent time with radiologists in a radiography suite. By doing this, I was able to see that I really wanted to become a nurse,” she said.

As well as helping her decide on her future career path, Grace believed the placements really boosted her confidence and improved her communication skills.

“I had to meet a wide range of professionals and was able to ask as many questions as I needed to and dealing with service users and hearing their personal stories really brought home the positive impact that the health and social care sector can have on peoples’ lives.”

Grace added that another important element of the course and one that will stand in good stead when she goes to university was the emphasis on independent study needed to achieve Distinction level work.

“The course content has given me an incredible foundation to build on as I start my Nursing degree, so I feel I’ll have much less anxiety going to university now than if I’d finished my A-levels.

“I was passionate about the course, so I enjoyed going and looking for more information to add to my coursework and then being able to discuss what I’d found with my lecturers. There is such a positive and supportive environment within the Health and Social Care department and the lecturers are genuinely proud of every student they teach,” she explained.

While she was at Northern Regional College, Grace suffered bereavements and health problems but she said her lecturers were always there for her, providing support and encouragement and, when the College closed and class contact became impossible because of the COVID-19 lockdown, lecturers adapted seamlessly to online learning and maintained constant contact with students.

Nadia Ghalami, course co-ordinator of the Level 3 Health & Social Care Course at Ballymena, said Grace’s positive attitude and high level of motivation had contributed to her success.

“Grace is a very caring, articulate and dedicated individual. Her advanced caring skills, empathy for the opinions and feelings of others and passion for life make her an ideal fit for nursing.”

Nadia added: “I watched Grace grow in confidence and self-reliance during her two years at the College and I’m confident that she will continue to display the same diligence and commitment in her chosen career. I wish her very success in her future endeavours.”

Places are still available on a number of Health and Social Care courses at Northern Regional College. For further information, go to


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