Releasing student potential: Widening access to opportunities in community healthcare

The WATCCH Team at the Department of Primary Care and Public Health

This summer, the Department of Primary Care and Public Health kicked off an exciting new programme: Widening Access to Careers in Community Healthcare (WATCCH). We hosted twenty 16-17 year olds who are aspiring to be the first in their families to go to university – at the Charing Cross campus for the inaugural WATCCH project. Our aim was to change perceptions of wider healthcare careers and provide vital work experience for their University applications. Competition was high and the team was very impressed by the number of high calibre students that applied for a place.

Year 12 Pupils from 19 London secondary schools attended an induction day in late July. During the workshop, an experienced multi-professional panel consisting of five professionals including an Imperial final year medical student, shared their career journeys with the pupils from their A level to postgraduate degrees. This was followed by pupils creating individual mind maps, which they thoroughly enjoyed, of where they are now and where they would like to be in the future. This was followed by a fun exercise in the clinical skills lab at Charing Cross where they could experience clinical skills such as phlebotomy, measuring blood pressure, and inserting nasogastric tubes into mannequins.

The pupils, in pairs, will now attend a 3-day work experience attachment at a General Practice over the summer, where they shadow various health care professionals ranging from pharmacists, to phlebotomists, nurses, physiotherapists and GPs.

Our budding health professionals reported that they had their eyes opened to new and different careers in healthcare they were not previously aware of. One pupil commented that they had learnt “how the different healthcare professionals work together to provide the best quality care”. Another said they had “learnt more about the opportunities available and how to find them”. Pupils also felt they got an insight into how to provide the best quality care, with admiration for the way in which different healthcare professionals worked as a team. It was even said that you “will never get bored” in healthcare!

In early September, we will run a final workshop day to review their reflections of what they have learnt and gained from their work experience. They have been advised to do a placement project to showcase something they have learnt from their attachment which they will share at the final workshop. The mind maps will be revisited to review if their thoughts have changed following the placement. We also hope to discuss how to incorporate their work experience into their personal statements for UCAS applications.

The WATCCH project is needed now more than ever. Figures from the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) show that in 2016 entry rates to “higher tariff” universities for 18-year-olds from the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods stood at just 3.6%. This is exaggerated within the health sector, where there is also a shortage of work experience, despite it being essential for applications. The shortage is particularly acute for those who have no family or social connections to healthcare professionals, despite good GCSE grades.

The NHS workforce is certainly facing a recruitment crisis and our aim is to help channel and support able and enthusiastic applicants towards a brighter future in healthcare. A well-functioning multi-professional team in the community will aid primary care in delivering better patient care

Students at the Clinical Skills Lab at Charing Cross Hospital

The GP teaching team at the Department of Primary Care and Public Health were instrumental in facilitating the induction day. If you would like further information about the WATCCH programme contact Dr Farah Jamil, lead GP for the WATCCH programme, at f.jamil@imperial.ac.uk.

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