When Cathy Ryan started her nursing course at the Ipswich Civic College in October 1973, she wasn't expecting to return to the University of Suffolk 50 years later to pick up an honorary degree!

During her long career she's worked in the NHS, private sector, in education training new generations of nurses - and even spent time on the other side of the world seeing how healthcare is run in Africa and in Aboriginal communities.

Cathy qualified as an SRN in 1978. She said: "I have worn many hats, starting as a staff nurse at Ipswich Hospital, moving into private care, management, education, consultancy and eventually back to the NHS ‘front line’.

"Like many women, I juggled being a mother, carer and full time nurse while undertaking research and study.  I was a reluctant student, but I recognised education was my ‘passport’.

"I started my own PhD many years ago, but sadly due to my mother having Alzheimer’s it fell by the wayside as become a full time carer."

Cathy was given the title of Queens Nurse in 2016 and  awarded an MBE for Services to Nursing and Fundraising in Suffolk in 2020. 

She said: "I feel like a very proud grandmother having watched the family grow in stature as well as progression – it’s a lovely, lovely feeling.”

What advice would she give to nursing students graduating this week? “Love it. Go into it with passion and your eyes wide open and you will receive what you give. It’s absolutely passion.

"You have got to have the passion to do it these days – it’s not an easy job, as we know it’s not a well paid job, but you’ve got to have it in your heart and if you haven’t got it in your heart it’s going to be a struggle.”

She is president of her local rotary club which does a lot with children, a project called Feed All Children

She said: "We run the Christmas Day swim at Southwold, which I am involved with. I also run a Women Who Inspire supper for International Women’s Day, so I am working on that.

"I am also working on May Starlight Walk which is a walk for people with dementia, and it’s in memory of my mother who died of dementia. There is always lots going on.”

 She added: "To be given an  Honorary Doctorate from the University of Suffolk where it all started, almost  50 years to the day, is just so fantastic."