Mums go back to school to retrain as nurses after being inspired by care

Caroline Buttress and her children
Caroline Buttress and her children
Have your say

As September approaches, for many of us our thoughts turn to new starts, and in particular going back to school.

Two local mums, Caroline Buttress and Alex Faux, both chose to go back to school in their thirties, to study nursing. Now approaching the end of their courses, both women are looking forward to starting over as qualified healthcare professionals in the coming months.

Alex Faux

Alex Faux

Caroline Buttress (36) is a mum of four from Deeping St Nicholas. In 2016, with her own family becoming increasingly independent, she began a nursing degree at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) and will shortly be qualifying as a registered nurse. This September, she will be joining Peterborough City Hospital as a staff nurse on the Haematology & Oncology ward.

As a child, Caroline was in her own words “quite squeamish” and would never have dreamt of becoming a healthcare professional. She studied performing arts at university with ambitions of becoming an actress, before forging a career in hospitality.

By the time she was in her mid-twenties she was running a pub in her hometown of Stamford, until redundancy and pregnancy happened at the same time. With the support of her husband, she took the opportunity to enjoy the next few years as a stay-at-home mum, bringing up Jessica (12), Isla (10), Bonnie (8) and Noah (5).

During that time youngest child Noah spent some time in the intensive care unit at Peterborough City Hospital (PCH) aged just four months, suffering with severe bronchiolitis. Witnessing first-hand the care and medical treatment delivered by the nurses was an experience that proved to be a turning point for Caroline, She was so inspired by one nurse in particular that she had a “lightbulb moment” and decided to pursue a career in nursing herself.

Anglia Ruskin University was the obvious choice, with its Peterborough campus just 15 miles from home. Over three years Caroline has done a number of placements mainly at the city hospital, and also at Hinchingbrooke Hospital.

In her second year she was on placement for eight weeks in the Haemotology and Oncology unit at PCH and has just finished her management placement at the same unit. “I was genuinely embraced as a valued member of staff, not just a student,” says Caroline, “and they really made me feel like one of the team so I am really excited that I will be working there as a fully qualified staff nurse from September”.

The dedicated cancer treatment unit also cares for patients of all ages which is part of the attraction for Caroline.

Caroline’s mother, who lives in Stamford, is delighted with her daughter’s new vocation. Also a trained nurse, she now works as a health visitor and “couldn’t be more proud” says Caroline. Her children are equally supportive, and youngest daughter Bonnie (8) has already set her sights on becoming a paediatric nurse.

Nursing attracts a high number of mature students, with only two school-leavers out of Caroline’s cohort of 60 students. “Many of my fellow students are also parents,” explains Caroline, “which is great because it means a lot of us are having very similar experiences juggling childcare with shifts.

“The teaching staff at ARU are also really supportive, with lots of flexibility. It’s been an amazing three years and I can’t wait to qualify.”

For Alex Faux (35) from Peterborough, the ‘lightbulb’ moment was also prompted by personal experience of seeing nurses in action. Four years ago she lost two grandparents in quick succession, both of whom were cared for at home by the community nursing team.

Having grown surrounded by healthcare professionals in her own family, nursing had always been on Alex’s radar but she originally trained to become a primary school teacher. The care and support delivered by the nurses looking after her grandparents prompted her to resign from teaching and enroll on a three-year Nursing BSc degree at ARU.

Now approaching the end of her studies, Alex is looking to apply for her first fully qualified position and is keen to join the community nursing team herself. “For me, it’s where I can make a real difference,” says Alex. “Many patients under the care of the community team require regular ongoing care, so it’s an opportunity to take a bit more time to deliver the care that people need and form real bonds with them.”

With several other nurses in her family, including mum Suzie who is a night sister at a nursing home, and cousin Anna Steward, a specialist cardiac nurse at Addenbrooke’s, Alex is looking forward to continuing the family tradition.

Alex, who now lives in Stamford with partner Steven and their daughters Arabella (8) and Saffron (7), is proud to see that her daughters are also looking to the medical professions when they grow up.

“I didn’t study any of the sciences at school, so it still surprises me that I am about to gain a science degree,” says Alex. “But nursing is about so much more than the theory. It’s a fantastic opportunity to genuinely help people in need.”

As a March-intake student, Alex is set to graduate early next year and will celebrate her degree alongside those from the September intake at a ceremony at Peterborough Cathedral later in the year.

Similarly to Caroline, her cohort includes many mature students, with Alex one of the youngest in her group. Studying nursing with a few years of life experience under her belt was, says Alex, “definitely the right choice. I felt better prepared to cope with the pressure and more able to give patients the emotional and technical care that they need.”

Peterborough is home to one of Anglia Ruskin University’s three campuses. Offering the largest number of health and social care courses in the region, ARU regularly attracts a large number of mature students who are looking to develop nursing as a second career. For more information about courses at ARU, visit