June 24, 2024

Serene Nest

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Drive thriving futures: invest in healthcare learning experiences

4 min read

“I am not just surviving but thriving!” – Discover how these words from one determined student sums up our drive to advance healthcare learning.

As proud sponsors of the Best Student Experience Award, led by Nursing Times, we understand the pivotal role learning experiences play in fostering essential healthcare skills and expertise. Amid ever-increasing demands on the NHS, prioritising healthcare learning and development is vital to ensure high quality of care. We recognise the profound connection between high-quality education, maximising productivity, securing our future workforce, and supporting retention.

However, achieving and sustaining excellence in healthcare education is not without its challenges. Service pressures, changing health needs, and growing numbers of learners are eroding capacity for supervision and crucial wellbeing support. This is echoed in reports from clinical educators citing burnout and insufficient support time to support the new healthcare learners (Health Education England, 2023).

So, how can we re-think our approach to enabling healthcare learning, while navigating ever-growing demand? How can we ensure our learners are thriving?

Embracing digital transformation

One way we can navigate this is by embracing technological advancements. Enhancing simulation-based practice can support the development of clinical knowledge and contribute to managing the demands of clinical capacity (Edmonds, 2024).

The simulated learning environment can help learners develop skills in a safe environment, reflect and then transfer skills in a more confident way into the clinical setting, providing higher quality care. This can mitigate against the ‘transition shock’ (Ran, 2024) often experienced by learners new to the NHS, leading to higher attrition levels.

By aligning with the ambitions of the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan (NHS, 2019), we need to guide our learners to utilise AI and digital health technologies to deliver the personalised, accessible, and efficient healthcare of tomorrow.

Alongside technology, we should embed innovative models of education including blended learning, which enrich the student’s experience. By combining technology with face-to-face practice, we can provide key learning foundations. Notably, these student-centred, participatory learning methods are preferred by Generation Z as they cater to individual learning pace (Ordu et al, 2024).

Overcoming placement capacity challenges

How do we fulfil the ambition of the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan to scale up the numbers in learning, while managing placement capacity and maintaining the quality and level of educational support?

We need to identify the barriers to placement capacity and implement a collaborative, innovative approach to placements. Traditional, non-traditional, diversification, health and social care placements all have a role, but ensuring a supportive learner climate is key.

Fostering supportive learning environments

Our clinical environment needs to be supportive and inclusive to ‘enable and encourage’ learning and provide opportunities for the development of skills and application of knowledge for students with a variety of learning styles.

Positive mentoring support, supervision and a supernumerary period for all learners including the unregistered workforce, is critical to the development of learning, but also to the wellbeing of the learner and can have a significant impact on retention and work satisfaction (Sarre et al, 2018).

Early career support to overcome retention challenges

‘Early career’ learners’ turnover rates are among the highest in the nursing workforce (Ejebu et al, 2024). Particularly as learners need to quickly adapt to clinical environments, build new relationships and acquire proficiency in their role. Clearly then, identifying measures to support and retain these new learners is a workforce priority.

Furthermore, the clinical placement experience greatly contributes to decisions of where students may choose to work, and, as such, is a key consideration for recruitment and future workforce plans (Rowland and Trueman, 2024). This is particularly significant for the support of healthcare support workers, where growing demands on healthcare systems have increased reliance on this workforce, but often without the provision of standardised training.

Prioritising learner experience

The landscape of healthcare education is rapidly evolving. At NHS Professionals, providing high-quality learning continues to be a priority, particularly through our Healthcare Support Worker Development programme to support early career learners. To ensure the highest quality of care to patients and their families, learners require accessible, flexible, and high-quality educational programmes.

We are continually developing innovative approaches to prepare our workforce, to ensure they can deliver contemporary and evidence-based healthcare. Delivering our future workforce is ultimately dependent on sustainable and high-quality education and training.

We want all our learners to be thriving, not just surviving!

Sharon Smith is education lead, NHS Professionals


Edmonds M (2024) Simulation in Nursing Education: An Evidence Base for the Future. Anglia Ruskin University.

Ejebu O et al (2024). What might make nurses stay? A protocol for discrete choice experiments to understand NHS nurses’ preferences at early-career and late-career stages. BMJ Open 2024;14: e075066.

Health Education England (2023) The Educator Workforce Strategy. HEE.

NHS (2019) The Long Term Plan. NHS.

Ordu Y et al (2024) The effect of interactive learning methods on nursing students. Nurse Education Today; 137: 106163.

Ran Y et al (2024) Novice nurses’ transition shock and professional identity. Journal of Clinical Nursing; doi:10.1111/jocn.17002.

Rowland E, Trueman H (2024) Improving healthcare student experience of clinical placements. BMJ Open Quality 13: e002504. doi:10.1136/bmjoq-2023-002504.

Sarre S et al (2018) The challenges of training, support, and assessment of HCSWs: A qualitative study of experiences in three English acute hospitals. International Journal of Nursing Studies; 79: 145-153.


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