NHS CAREERS: Meeting school pupils to promote careers in the NHS - and offering them work experience - can be satisfying for staff and may even reduce drop-out rates from healthcare courses. Sue Smith explains

How can the NHS interest school pupils in considering a career in the NHS? Managers and health professionals can play their part in explaining what is involved by making contact with schools.

For the past two years Morecambe Bay Hospitals trust has run a number of initiatives to nurture young people's interest in NHS careers, and these are attracting growing interest.

Working with local agencies, the trust successfully trialled a series of programmes which it now runs as part of its recruitment activities. The result of this investment is an increased interest in careers in the NHS from local students. The programmes cover under-16s, sixth-form college students and work experience.

Last year the trust worked in partnership with Enterprise Cumbria, the training and education council, and the local Education Business Partnership, which fosters links between business and schools, to address the lack of work-experience opportunities available in hospitals for students under 16.

As a result, a one-day conference/workshop was trialled, where NHS staff would come to the students to provide them with enough information to make an informed career choice. It also aimed to raise local students' career aspirations.

Enterprise Cumbria contributed£1,800 to hire the Riverside Hotel in Kendal. The pupils attended the conference as delegates in the same way as adults in any industry.We wrote to schools inviting them to take part. The conference took place during term time and the trust provided speakers, workshops, conference packs, an NHS quiz and prizes for the winning team.

Sixty students from nine schools attended with teachers. Feedback from students was excellent and the conference clearly encouraged students to inquire about the vast range of opportunities available. Some students asked to come again, showing how successful the event was.

Commitment from the trust was considerable.

The chief executive opened the conference and the directors of nursing and midwifery and director of human resources took part. Some 20 NHS professionals from the trust spoke about their work or ran clinical workshops.

This year schools showed even more interest - with more than 120 teenagers attending. Some of the students were attending for the second time.

Five workshops were run and included staff from Bay Community trust and Cumbria Ambulance Service trust.

This resulted in a thorough overview not only of the care provided, but also of the teamwork between these trusts in caring for people across the Morecambe Bay area.

Students rotated around four 'skills'workshops during the course of the day. These included trauma, dental maxillofacial technology, 'Sex, drugs and rock and roll' and paramedic workshops.

NHS professionals discussed their working days.

Professions included medicine, nursing, science, management, hotel services, paramedics, dental maxillofacial technology, pharmacy and radiography.

Advisory service Cumbria Careers supported the event, as did Kendal College, which provided stands, information and staff to answer students' questions. These complemented the trust's own careers stand.

Participants found the event practical and informative, according to evaluations from the day, and neighbouring areas are now showing demand for similar events.

The organisers were pleased with the media interest, with local press and a professional journal sending photographers.

Sixth-form success Two years ago the trust piloted a three-day NHS careers programme for local sixth-form students. The event, held at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary, attracted more than 20 students and included tours of departments; trauma skills; resuscitation training and personal development skills.

Over the three days, professionals from many areas spoke in detail about their training, work and career pathways. A panel of healthcare students spent time with the students, answering questions about training in today's NHS.

Participants shadowed doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, radiographers and dieticians. This gave them insight into their area of interest on a one-to-one basis.

The programme was so successful that last year it was extended to include Furness General Hospital and Westmorland General Hospital, with more than 70 students attending. The programme will continue to run at the three sites every year. There is already a waiting list of students and schools wishing to attend.More than 50 students have contacted me independently about taking part.

The final phase of the nurturing process is to provide structured work-experience placements.

We have provided 40 over the past year. Placements last for two weeks and have been offered in medicine, nursing, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, pharmacy, cardiac rehabilitation, radiography and administration.

The minimum age is 16, but most of those undertaking placements in clinical areas are 17. I run the programme and use my background as a ward sister to carry out risk assessments with the appropriate clinical manager.We provide overalls for students to distinguish them from staff.We are exploring the possibility of providing work experience on all the trust's sites, but we need someone to manage the programme at each one.

We also provide placements for our local college of further education, and to date all students who undertook work-experience placements have gone on to professional training.

Discussions are taking place to further extend the placements offered to local students.

A huge amount of time and effort has gone into ensuring that risk appraisal/assessment is carried out in every area where students go. But although the trust can minimise risk to students, it cannot fully remove it, because of the acute nature of our work.

For example, it is not possible to ensure that a student does not witness a patient collapse while on a ward placement. Students, parents of those under 18, and teachers must be willing to accept the risk of events such as this causing possible stress to the student.

Work experience is important for any student about to apply for a university place. To further assist local students in preparing for this, they are taught how to reflect on their learning experiences while on placement with the trust.

Lately, students have been interviewed for placements, followed by a written evaluation of the interview and suggestions on how they might improve in the future. Students and teachers alike seem to have appreciated this.

This three-phase approach to helping local students gain access to NHS careers has proved successful.

Apart from the increased interest in the NHS locally as a good employer, it has an added benefit of removing the mystery or fear many people have of going into hospital. The trust also hopes that attrition rates in healthcare courses might be reduced among students in the Morecambe Bay area.

Sowing seeds for the future Next month, staff from Morecambe Bay Hospitals trust and Bay Community trust will go into junior schools for a week to talk about NHS careers.

The trust hopes to sow seeds of interest at an earlier age to further enhance the image of the NHS and the range of opportunities available within it. The visits will run as part of national nurse week.

Organising a programme like this requires commitment from people at all levels of the organisation. Last year more than 100 managers and staff were involved in the sixth-form programme and 30 under-16s took part in a separate one.

Staff find that they are motivated by the enthusiasm of the young people attending the programmes, and that this increases their own job satisfaction.

Key points

A trust's programme to promote NHS careers to school pupils has met with an enthusiastic response.

Staff and managers gave talks on their work at a careers conference for the under16s.

Forty students have undertaken twoweek work-experience placements and it is hoped to extend the programme.

Trust staff plan to give talks in primary schools.

This sort of programme can increase staff satisfaction.