Clinical educators at Newcastle Hospitals have been shortlisted for this year’s Nursing Times Awards in recognition of their innovative approach to ensure students could continue their placements during the third wave of the Covid19 pandemic.
Named as Finalists for the Theatre and Surgical Nursing category, the team were lauded for their inspirational approach to ensuring that student operating department practitioners (ODPs) could continue to receive meaningful learning opportunities despite large numbers of theatre staff being redeployed into critical care environments to support their colleagues.
Their visionary workshops were initially set up as an interim measure but have been so successful they have continued post covid surge and have generated interest from regional NHS trusts and universities seeking to employ the same approach.
The third covid wave in early 2021 was a time when elective operations were cancelled and clinical supervisor availability dramatically reduced as they joined colleagues in intensive care units. This led to restricted placement availability.
Clinical educators Claire Winter and Chris Bivona realised they needed to take immediate action to support students – in particular those in the middle of their placement.
“We know that the best way to learn is through hands on experience and being able to network with other students. Yet if no operations are taking place there’s no opportunity to learn and complete the required competencies,” explains Claire, an experienced clinical educator at Freeman Hospital’s theatres.
“We didn’t want to resort to multiple presentation slides but rather focus on active student engagement through break out groupwork, active participation, practical sessions and fun learning.”
They devised a series of interactive workshops covering a diverse range of clinical scenarios in an engaging and effective way. The students – who felt incredibly vulnerable and apprehensive – were involved in their development which helped them to feel valued and part of the team.
Claire continues “A number of students who returned to practice during the third wave of the COVID surge were 2nd or 3rd year student nurses and ODPs. Their confidence was already extremely low due to lost practical experience during the previous lockdowns.
“Our new approach helped rebuild their confidence and also reassured the supervisors deployed to other clinical areas, who were worried about leaving their students behind.”
Chris, also a clinical educator at Freeman Hospital’s theatres continues: “Our inspiration was to create a safe learning environment encouraging our students “to have a go”.
“We created situations for our students to experience in a controlled environment so it didn’t matter if they didn’t always get things right – we could practice repeatedly. This approach improves the student experience, helping to make them more resilient due to the fact we could cover topics which often rarely occur in practice, which all ultimately improves patient safety.”
Chris adds: “This is one of the key strengths of these workshops we provide – we have a strong rapport with the students, and we have worked hard to develop a culture where no question is a stupid question – it is what you do with the knowledge you gain that is important.”
Empowering our innovative staff
The team’s efforts very much align with the Trust’s new Nursing, Midwifery and Allied Health Professionals Strategy which encourages our leaders to design and deliver innovative and bespoke training to nurture our current and next generation of clinical leaders ensuring they are confident, capable and equipped to lead their teams and services with compassion and inclusivity.
Of the team’s shortlisting Ian Joy, Deputy Chief Nurse says: “I’m so proud of Claire and Chris. They have drawn upon their leadership skills, ability, experience and knowledge to support staff and students when they were at their most vulnerable.
“From the outset of this project they strived to provide students with rich learning experiences with the hopes of providing them with the necessary skills and insight to deal with situations that they may encounter in the future – all at an incredibly challenging time for everyone.
“I wish them the very best of luck at the awards ceremony.”
Because our theatres faced an unprecedented reduction in clinical activity the students were understandably very apprehensive about attending their placement. Their wellbeing and resilience was always seen as a priority supported by Claire – as the Trust’s sole Professional Nurse Advocate (PNA) for theatres and her colleague Chris.
The team performed “Check in” and “Check out” sessions enabling students to seek timely support if they feel anxious, stressed or overwhelmed learning the importance self-care and resilience at the beginning of their career.
At the start of every session a PNA wellbeing check was carried out to ensure that students feel safe and supported in practice.
The students then completed a 10-question quiz covering the content of the workshop which is repeated at the end with overall scores converted into a percentage.
Topics included patient safety, IV cannulation, catheterisation, emergency situations, unanticipated difficult airways, troubleshooting issues, professionalism, patient monitoring, patient positioning, dealing with never events, leadership and theatre efficiency.
“Whilst the education team leads the workshops the session topics are predominately student led,” says Chris “and the evaluation forms highlight any learning needs.
“Feedback has been very positive. It is important to acknowledge the good that has developed out of the dark days of COVID surge as we invest in tomorrow’s workforce.”
The introduction of the workshops was really quite reactive and spontaneous, and evolved at a time of extreme clinical need.
Initially it was anticipated that the workshops would cease when the covid surge concluded. However, now when students are out on placement it is now established and students automatically expect to attend the workshops, to learn, grow and network.
Claire says: “The most empowering thing is that this is now a student and educator collaborative venture all parties are engaged in the process and the room is always full of a positive buzz when students are working in groups and feeding back to the team. There has been positive feedback on university student evaluations.”
The Programme Leads from local universities have received feedback from other student cohorts that they would like to have this level of support in other trusts as they are aware their peers have enjoyed learning and networking on the workshops.
The team established the North East and North Cumbria (NENC) Theatre Educators Network to start a regional conversation relating to student and post registration education with the hope that they could influence education standards in practice across the region. The vision for the network group is to share best practice and improve the learning for students and staff.
Claire adds: “We developed the NENC Theatre Education Network and meet monthly with representatives from local trusts, universities, private care providers and Health Education England from across the North-East supporting theatre education of students on placement and development of theatre staff.
“We have since discussed our workshops with the region’s universities and other NHS trusts who are very interested in adopting our approach”.
The winners of the Nursing Times Awards 2022 will be announced on Wednesday 26 October. We wish all our finalists the very best of luck.