A new virtual reality tool developed by the University of Leeds, which aims to promote nursing and other specialist health subjects to prospective students, is one of several innovative projects awarded funding by the Office for Students (OfS) today (27 Jun).

The project will use VR technology and educational workshops to engage school students in a range of simulated clinical scenarios – allowing them to respond to real-life challenges through the eyes of healthcare professionals.

The project will also use online mentoring to support student university applications, with an emphasis on recruiting more male students to healthcare courses.

In total, ten projects have been awarded a combined £440,000 by the OfS in a nationwide scheme which aims to attract more students to nursing, midwifery and allied healthcare courses – including orthoptics, podiatry, and therapeutic radiography.

The fund also aims to stimulate innovation in the delivery of these disciplines. On top of OfS funding, an additional £480,000 worth of resources has been committed by participating universities and partners.

In other projects funded today:

  • the University of Chester, in partnership with six other universities, will develop an online tool to help students who unsuccessfully applied to nursing and allied health courses to build their skills so they can reapply successfully the following year
  • the University of Huddersfield, in partnership with four regional trusts, will set up student-led, multidisciplinary clinics to raise awareness of allied health disciplines as well as public health issues and interdisciplinary approaches among students
  • Coventry University’s Healthpro Challenge will run taster days featuring interactive clinical simulations to raise awareness of health careers – particularly among male career changers.

Yvonne Hawkins, Director of Teaching Excellence and Student Experience at the OfS, said:

We are delighted to support these innovative projects to boost take-up and delivery of a wide range of vital health courses – which together will help to provide the country with the next generation of healthcare professionals. These new approaches have great potential to benefit students, healthcare education providers, and the wider health sector. We look forward to seeing how the projects will boost course recruitment and provision and will be actively supporting the sharing of good practice.

Grants were also awarded to projects led by:

  • University of Nottingham
  • Sheffield Hallam University
  • University of East London
  • University of Wolverhampton
  • University of Hull
  • University of Liverpool.

This funding is the final round of the Challenge Fund competition run by the OfS as part of the Strategic Interventions in Health Education Disciplines (SIHED) programme – which aims primarily to increase the number of students entering and completing small, specialist healthcare courses.

The projects are wide in scope, together covering a range of disciplines including nursing, midwifery, and orthoptics. Podiatry and therapeutic radiography are also among the specialist subjects covered. Both disciplines have been identified as vulnerable due to decreasing recruitment and retention in higher education courses.

Dr Katerina Kolyva, Executive Director of the Council of Deans of Health said:

The Council is delighted to have continued its involvement with the OfS Challenge Fund in its second year. It is wonderful to see such a range of innovative ideas being funded to support entry to our healthcare professions. We look forward to seeing the impact these have and to engaging with our members involved in this work.

Suzanne Rastrick - Chief Allied Health Professions Officer for England said:

These projects provide a multidisciplinary approach to address the real challenges faced today in recruiting and retaining the next generation of healthcare professionals across a wide range of the Allied Health Professions (AHPs), Nursing and Midwifery. I am extremely grateful for the support provided by the Office for Students to enable these ideas to come to fruition.

These developments will support the vision and actions detailed for the Allied Health Professions within the NHS Interim People Plan. They will help increase the number of people considering AHP careers, support those who have commenced pre-registration AHP courses to complete their studies, and provide alternatives to address some of the challenges associated with clinical placement capacity. I look forward to seeing the impacts of this work.

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