By Chris Rhodes
We all recognise the challenge in recruitment in Occupational Health and the limited and diminishing pool of qualified OH Advisors. Given the challenging circumstances in the sector as a whole and the pressing need to grow our team of OH Advisors, we looked at how we could creatively solve this issue.
Although we hoped to hire experienced Case Managers for the business, we realised that we had internal opportunities needing to be tapped into.
We realised that some of our Case Managers did not have a formal OH qualification when entering Health Partners but subsequently had been trained exceptionally well in OH by our clinical teams. From there, the idea to train our own Case Managers in an in-house academy to meet our planned growth sprouted. The Health Partners Academy.
Ample expertise and skill within our clinical team existed to develop and deliver a bespoke training package. We saw that there was much of the ‘art’ of good case management that we could teach a future generation of Case Managers.
Multidisciplinary case management had been trialled for some time at Health Partners to good success as we found that different disciplines bring varied and complementary skills and approaches to case management, with our teams comprised of OHAs and Registered Nurses with a background in OH, but also Occupational Therapists, Physiotherapists and Registered Mental Nurses.
Our recruitment strategy for the Academy programme had to broaden as well to meet this change. We focussed on holding face-to-face assessments where successful applicants would be invited to meet staff and learn more about working life at Health Partners and what it means to be a Case Manager. Through interviews and assessment projects, the skills we look for include a genuine passion and interest in OH and excellent communication and writing skills.
With these base skills and at least three years of post-registration experience to ensure there would be a reasonable grounding in health conditions and condition treatment pathways, we felt that we could teach the remainder.
The assessment days provided us with an enthusiastic and talented group of mixed health professionals. Each time, we have had an excellent choice of candidates.
The Academy training launched with eight weeks of blended training, full-time, led by a Clinical Training Manager and Clinical Trainer, beginning with a two-day in-person introduction, which allowed us to spend time with the group, and allowed the trainees to form important relationships with their trainers and each other. The remainder of the training was delivered remotely, using a variety of training styles and methods to ensure it met the needs of different learning styles.
After the eight weeks, the training then moves more towards coaching, and trainees begin to gently carry out assessments, closely supported and supervised by our clinical team, before, during and after the appointments.
All Academy trainees are in a trainee role for 12 months as they work towards a full caseload, with comprehensive support and supervision throughout that year. The later months are punctuated with further training sessions, or follow-up sessions, to consolidate any learning. These sessions are invaluable, as the trainees begin to have sometimes complex and interesting cases, and there is a fascinating learning journey for both trainee and the training team.
We now have our first cohort from 2022 set to graduate this May as OH Case Managers and a second cohort who will graduate in September. We have just recruited for our third cohort in July this year.
The Health Partners Academy programme has brought real energy and excitement to our business, and our clients have been impressed by the innovative programme. I believe the words that describe the experience of the Academy journey better than any other are those of one of our first cohort of trainees, Jenny Swift, who works for us on one of our Retail client teams and has been a stellar addition to our business.
Chris Rhodes, RN, BSc, MSc, SCPHN, CMIOSH
Chris has over 30 years of experience in Occupational Health across a wide range of industries including transport, media, construction and utilities. Prior to working in Occupational Health, she worked in general nursing in a number of settings including the Falkland Islands. Her special interest is tropical disease, and has undertaken doctoral study at the University of Bath. Chris is passionate about quality and professionalism within OH and also supports the working groups for SEQOHS.
Pam Academy (PAM Group) –
From Theory to Practice to Reflection
By Stephanie Foster
We know that there is a significant shortage of experienced Occupational Health (OH) practitioners. A report for the Work and Health Unit showed that 47% of OH providers were unable to fill vacancies (Tindle et. al. 2020). Recent research points out the importance people place on personal development when considering a new job (Moot, 2023). Professional development and growth are therefore becoming key factors in attracting and retaining staff.
When I joined PAM Academy as a Clinical Training Lead, I realized that I wanted my teaching practice to be as evidence-based as my nursing. I was fortunate that PAM sponsored me to study for a Post Graduate Certificate in Higher Education (PGCHE). This helped me to understand that how we design training can have a significant impact on how students learn. Especially in terms of students’ engagement, depth of understanding, retention of knowledge and the ability to put it into practice. We have tried to focus on how our trainees learn, rather than purely on sharing knowledge.
PAM Group recognises the importance of training and career progression. As shown by the fact that several of our directors joined the company as Trainee OHA’s. Consequently, we have explored how we can attract and support those looking to start a new career in OH. The result has been the development of the Trainee OH Adviser (TOHA) Foundation Course, delivered by the company’s well-established PAM Academy. Our course is aimed at those who have no or limited knowledge of OH. With an emphasis on providing trainees with a solid understanding of the basic principles of OH practice.
The course consists of a full-time 4-week theory-based module, followed by 8 weeks of mentoring and supervised clinical practice (or the equivalent for those working part-time). We have a team of experienced OHAs dedicated solely to supporting those on the course. The high ratio of mentors to students means we can give individualised support. Our training is delivered via live webinars, with time given for self-led learning and reflection. We have actively worked to improve accessibility and inclusion, by considering how we present the course material. We have built-in practice-based learning to allow trainees to hone their consultation skills in a safe classroom environment. Highlighting it is ok to not get it 100% right, as reflecting on feedback and our performance is how we improve.
I am extremely proud of our trainees and the quality of their work. For example, recently a trainee, 7 weeks into the course, correctly identified a case of cauda equina. The employee’s heartfelt email of thanks highlighted that our approach is supporting the development of confident and competent practitioners.
The successful completion of the foundation course is only the start of our trainee’s development. On graduating PAM provides ongoing preceptorship and learning with additional training sessions alongside CPD. We have a clear framework for escalating cases and a culture where seeking guidance is encouraged. Through our digital platforms, we have access to a community of professionals, who all support each other. After gaining experience, our trainees can apply for sponsorship to gain a formal OH qualification at a university. Supporting them on their journey from novice to expert and becoming a qualified OHA.
Stephanie Foster LinkedIn Profile
Stephanie has been working in Occupational Health for over 16 years and is a Clinical Training Lead for PAM Academy. She is a member of the FOHN board and an examiner for the FOM’s Diploma in Occupational Health Practice. She has a keen interest in supporting OH Education.
BHSF Training Academy
By Fiona McGill
The BHSF Training Academy was formed in 2017 to develop exciting new talent in the OH profession by assisting those looking to break into OH or those already working in OH to access formal qualifications and competencies in all areas.
Our 4 year, blended learning OHA program has worked best for our trainees but let’s hear from one of them about their experience of the BHSF program.
- “I have now worked for BHSF for 2 years and 7 months and I have to say I absolutely love working for the company. I started on the trainee programme and was keen to start my degree immediately but was advised that working for a year, prior to the start of the degree programme would be more beneficial, and this is proved to be the case.
- I find BHSF to be an extremely supportive organisation, I have a great manager and Mentor who encourages me to step out of my comfort zone, while at the same time providing excellent advice and guidance. I mainly work for two customers which allows me to develop a relationship and an understanding of the business needs, however sometimes I am required to provide OH services to other companies, which is challenging, but also quite a refreshing change.
- BHSF provide extra study leave days each year for the degree programme. The degree requires a lot of extra learning and input; however, it is extremely enjoyable and made easier by the fact that it is a subject I enjoy.
- I have worked in many different environments and jobs, but occupational health is definitely my ‘best fit’, I love the fact that you can make a difference in people’s lives, and I have a good work-life balance. I am always learning new things in the job and the interaction with others is rewarding, and the scope to offer advice and input is limitless.
- BHSF feels like a family, and in the time that I have been with the company I have felt supported and appreciated and would recommend this….to anyone who is wishing to pursue a career in occupational health”.
Our trainees and fully qualified OHAs are growing their careers with some now in senior roles and others tracking into management. They are our best-kept secret and most important asset so continuing to invest in our people and their futures is a win-win for all.
We keep abreast of the latest changes and developments in OH and provide ongoing CPD for all our staff. We are committed to developing and contributing to the field of OH and being part of the wider OH community of practitioners.
Looking forward we are busy planning for our September 2023 intake of trainees and look forward to welcoming them into the business. We know the benefits of investing in our clinicians and through this programme, we continue to build up our business resilience for the future. We now have a large, dynamic and enthusiastic team. Please do reach out if you would like some more information.
Fiona McGill – Head of Clinical Services.
I have been in OH for 17 years. I entered as a trainee having never worked in this field and came directly from an NHS setting. I am now the head of clinical services for a nationwide OH provider. I completed my formal qualification from Robert Gordon University and have worked in many different industries in my OH Career. I am passionate about supporting, encouraging and developing those in OH and those who want to break into OH and pursue a very rewarding career path.