Landmark Radiography Degree Apprenticeship Welcomes Fourth Cohort
The first higher education programme of its kind, The College of Medicine and Health’s Level 6 Diagnostic Radiographer Degree Apprenticeship – launched in March 2020 – is now taking on its fourth cohort.
Through the programme, employees from radiography departments in NHS Trusts develop full accreditation for work as a Diagnostic Radiographer, through a mixture of onsite and virtual education at the University of Exeter, and workplace learning.
This helps NHS employers expand their workforce to meet the high demand for practicing radiographers, by presenting a much-needed pathway for currently unqualified but committed junior staff to progress to full qualification in 36 months. Thanks to the opportunity it provides and hard work from Dr Christine Heales, Demelza Green and IIB’s Degree Apprenticeships team, there are now 93 apprentices (rising to 121 in this month) learning with the College’s Medical Imaging team, from 46 NHS employing bodies across England.
After their work on the innovative programme following its apprenticeship ‘standard’ approval in April 2019, we reached out to Christine and Elaine from the DRDA team to find out about how the programme developed, what it involves, and their experience working on it.
Dr Christine Heales is the Programme Director, Demelza Green is the Director of Workplace Learning, and Elaine Pavelle is the Partnership Development Manager, who oversees the Healthcare Degree Apprenticeship programmes.
“The commitment of our apprentices, and the radiographers supporting them in their workplaces, has made all the difference since the programme launched.”
Dr Christine Heales
Could you tell me about the work that went into developing the first Diagnostic Radiography Degree Apprenticeships programme?
Christine: “The profession of diagnostic radiography is regulated by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), so not only had to meet the apprenticeship requirements but also needed to be approved by them. It was also important to us that the programme was approved by our professional body, the Society and College of Radiographers.
“Fortunately, we already have a well-regarded ‘conventional’ undergraduate programme in diagnostic radiography so had experience of what needs to go into a programme to meet these standards. What was different was reconfiguring the content so that it better suited the needs of an apprentice. Both [conventional and apprenticeship degree] programmes are equivalent in terms of content and required standards but are very different in how they are delivered.”
Elaine: “Programme materials were sent to Clinical and Apprenticeship Leads in NHS Hospitals around the country, with follow up emails and phone calls to let them know that the University of Exeter would be launching the first cohort to the apprenticeship in March 2020.
“Having only received formal notification of accreditation by the Health and Care Professions Council to run the programme at the end of January 2020, we had merely 5 weeks to promote, recruit the intake, and undergo contracting with each employer.”
Could you tell me a little more about how students learn on the course?
Christine: “The course uses a blended approach to learning. Apprentices attend three intensive learning weeks per year – these were held virtually during the pandemic, but will now be held on campus.
“Each apprentice then has a day per week of protected study time for their ‘off the job’ learning where they work their way through a series of distance learning resources. They also have activities to complete within the workplace to develop their clinical skills as well as their understanding of how theory relates to their practice.”
How are the current cohorts of employees, and NHS Trusts, responding to the programme?
Christine: “The commitment of our apprentices, and the radiographers supporting them in their workplaces, has made all the difference since the programme launched, especially as the start of the programme coincided with the pandemic. We were fortunate that we were able to move our campus weeks online and still deliver the same learning outcomes, and that our partnership departments were able to support us by supervising academic assessments that would normally have been held at the University.”
What have you most enjoyed about developing this Degree Apprenticeship?
Christine: “It has been enjoyable designing a completely different delivery model that is optimised to the needs of apprentices. We have also enjoyed welcoming apprentices who would not be able to embark on a career in diagnostic radiography without the apprenticeship route being available to them. This, arguably, is one of the most beneficial aspects of this type of programme.
“Another plus is that it will increase the number of new entrants into the profession at a time when more diagnostic radiographers are really needed. Employers have the option to expand their workforce by advertising their apprenticeship posts externally or they can upskill existing members of their team, opening up career opportunities that may not previously have been available.”
Elaine: “There is a national shortage of qualified radiographers – 4,000 in fact. It is encouraging to know that through the Apprenticeship programme we are contributing to the much-needed increase in qualified staff. Many junior staff meet a brick wall in terms of career progression – the apprenticeship enables mature students to embark on a degree programme, which will alter their career trajectory, increase their income and contribute to departmental workforce stability and resilience within hospitals. It is exciting to be part of this transformative opportunity.”
“Employers have the option to expand their workforce by advertising their apprenticeship posts externally or they can upskill existing members of their team, opening up career opportunities that may not previously have been available.”
Dr Christine Heales
Following the success of the BSc programme, the DRDA team are launching an MSc apprenticeship version of this programme in March 2022.
The MSc apprenticeship route is a ‘fast track’ programme for individuals who already hold a BSc 2:1 undergraduate degree in a Science or Engineering discipline, but who would like to qualify as Radiographers. They will spend two years working in a radiology setting, learning the full range of imaging modalities and gaining clinical skills, whilst studying to meet the learning objectives outlined in the Diagnostic Radiographer apprenticeship ‘standard’. Departments will gain a newly qualified member of the team in 24 months instead of 36, funded through the apprenticeship levy. The team aim to recruit 20 individuals to the first intake in March 2022 and they will join the spring cohort of BSc apprentices for their induction week at CMH.
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