"Every day I try to put myself in my patient’s shoes and remind myself that this could very well be me in their situation one day."
Dennis Kanyangarara is Deputy Ward Manager at Burrowes Unit in Worthing. Here is his story...
"When I moved to the UK from Zimbabwe I thought I would continue in my previous career as a train driver. I went for three interviews and was unsuccessful each time. I would sit with the other candidates, waiting for my interview knowing that my 23 years’ experience was a lot more than many of them had. And yet, I still could not get a job. When I had an interview with Southern Rail they explained that despite my experience and qualifications I would have to go through training again as stipulated by the laws governing the various British Rail Companies in the UK and I indeed agreed to this as it was the only job I ever did in my life.
"To tide me over before my re-training I found work at Southdown Nursing Home, now Lindridge Care Home, as a domestic assistant. I enjoyed this work and when an opportunity came up to work on Brunswick Ward, a specialist dementia care unit, I took the opportunity. I decided to focus on earning money in the short term and delayed my re-training with the railway as I had family at home who needed financial support and I wanted to do everything I could to take care of them. I had left Zimbabwe when there was a lot of disruption and persecution around politics and trade unionism so had moved over before my family could join me. I was supported by colleagues from England whom I had worked with on the railway in Zimbabwe before. When I started to face persecution during the disruption they facilitated my relocation to the UK and I will always be grateful to them for that.
"When I was working at Southdown Nursing Home and doing some domestic work for Brunswick Ward the manager noticed I often watched the presentation of patients there. I was a bit confused as to what was going on with them and why they were behaving the way they were. I did not understand much about dementia and so Trina Taylor the manager then, took the time to explain about Mental Health to me. I had seen the same presentation in older people back home but had not understood what it was all about. As time went on Trina encouraged me to apply for a Healthcare Assistant role. This was not something I had considered before but I had become increasingly interested in mental health and I wanted to do my bit to help when people were presenting as people I was seeing at Brunswick Ward.
"I was lucky to be supported by Trina to study for an NVQ 3 to increase my knowledge. By this time I really wanted to work in dementia and I went on to do a diploma in nursing. I started my training in 2009 and my family came to join me. I was working part time alongside my study as my wife was looking after our children. This was a period of a lot of hard work but it has really paid off and I am grateful for the opportunities and encouragement I received and continue to receive up to this day.
"As a qualified Mental Health Nurse I came back to Sussex Partnership Trust to work at the Burrowes Unit in Worthing. Burrowes is a 10 bed inpatient assessment unit for older people. I am now the Deputy Ward manager we are fortunate to be well staffed with a committed and caring team and I believe I am in the best place I can be to really help my patients.
"Supporting older people to manage their dementia and to work alongside families and carers to help them understand it and adjust to the changes it brings to day to day living has become a passion for me.
"Every day I try to put myself in my patient’s shoes and remind myself that this could very well be me in their situation one day. I have had a fantastic experience working for the NHS and really believe there is nothing you can do better in life than to help another person. I would one day like to go back to Zimbabwe and share my knowledge with people in my home town. The support available for people with mental health conditions is so limited back home in comparison and the understanding of mental illness in older people is not as common and well supported. I feel very lucky to be doing my job."