It was her encounter with a seriously ill mental health patient that inspired Linda Bennetts to go into nursing - and become the only person in her family to go to university.

She has gone on to become a senior nursing manager at the Cumbria Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, but she has never forgotten her roots, or the lady who she first connected with.

"I come from a Cornish family and I am the only professional in my generation and also the only person to go to University.

"My family did not understand why I would want to become a nurse after undertaking work experience through sixth form college in my local psychiatric hospital," recalled Linda.

One Saturday, she was helping on a busy psychiatric ward in Cornwall when the ward charge said he would give her a reference to support her nursing course application - but only if she could persuade this particular patient to eat, drink and change her clothes.

Linda remembers it as if it was yesterday.

"The lady was much speeded up in her behaviour, all dressed in black with a bizarre hair-do and makeup. She would not sit down and was wrapped in layers of clothing and was not able to rest," she said.

"No one had explained bipolar disorder to me, but I quickly began to realise that if I sat calmly and said her name as she approached me, she sat next to me for a few seconds at a time.

"I handed her a glass of water and she drank a bit each time she came back to me. I handed her a quarter of a sandwich which she took a bite before leaving again.

"After an hour she had progressed on to tea and biscuits. On one occasion she asked my name.

"She told me her name and cried, but she sat with me and I sat calmly next to her."

Linda said the woman asked her to take her coat, then after half an hour she let her open the wardrobe and she picked a dress to wear.

"She also asked for a bath so I found a nurse to help me. I enjoyed every moment of the interaction that afternoon and I can still picture her sat in a bubbly bath and I look back with humour at the chaos that subsequently followed when she got out," said Linda.

That experience changed her life. At the end of the afternoon, the charge nurse said she had a natural flair for engaging with challenging patients and would make a great nurse.

"He sat with me and explained about bipolar disorder and why my interactions had worked with her. He inspired me to be a great nurse and leader, and said that the best nurses are aware of how their interactions and behaviours impact on patients," said Linda.

She got her reference and went on to fulfill her nursing ambition, qualifying 30 years ago.

She became a ward manager early in her career, and continued to excel in leadership - stressing that she has never lost sight of what life is like as a frontline nurse.

Linda is now the associate director of nursing at Cumbria Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, after reading a chance email revealing that the position was vacant, and putting herself forward.

She had never intended to move to Cumbria, always thinking she would retire in Cornwall but she said the job - and the values of the organisation and its staff - just called to her.

"I got the job and have not looked back. I am now part of a great mental health leadership team. We have many challenges but we have strong commitment and aspiration to provide the very best care to the people of Cumbria," she said.

Linda recently graduated from the Nye Bevan Aspirant Director Programme and has settled in Cumbria, making new friends and enjoying both her work and home life.

"It is challenging times but I know that I am making a real difference to patient care through the nurses, because they are telling me so.

"I believe my early inspiration is still visible in the work I do today.

"I’m not ready to retire, I want to keep going for many years to come and I look forward to every day and to continue to be a leader of leaders and develop nurses to their full potential within the NHS."