Meet three healthcare apprentices helping to build the future of our NHS, and join us in continuing to champion their vital contribution today

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By Andrew Lovegrove | 5 February 2021

An Apprentice Respiratory Physiologist, an Apprentice Team Administrator, and an Apprentice Healthcare Support Worker are all finalists in this year’s Our Health Heroes Awards. Find out who will take home the UNISON Apprentice of the Year national crown by booking your free place at the March 23 virtual ceremony today.

Never before has the entire UK population been more aware of the invaluable contribution our health and care staff make. Perhaps lesser known however, is how many of this workforce are healthcare apprentices, and the key supporting role they play across such a diverse range of positions in healthcare organisations, throughout the country.

Here at Skills for Health we have always looked to shine a light on our healthcare apprentices, championing this vital route into the sector, and celebrating the diversity of opportunity and value they bring to the workforce. In the last twelve months, the magnificent impact they make has only intensified, as they all stepped up to play an enormous part in the COVID-19 response.

Angelo Varetto, Head of Standards, Qualifications and Apprenticeships, Skills for Health said: “We will long remember the incredible contribution that our healthcare apprentices have made to the workforce this year. The integral part they have played in the health sector’s ability to continue delivery of services, even under the most extreme circumstances, must be recognised, and serves to reinforce the key supporting role they play across our UK healthcare organisations every day.”

The UNISON Apprentice of the Year Award highlights our bright stars of the future. Individuals who have not only gone above and beyond at their organisation, but act as advocates and ambassadors for apprenticeships as a route to healthcare careers, in both clinical and operational roles.

Sara Gorton, Head of Health, UNISON said: “Now more than ever it’s vitally important the work of the entire NHS family is recognised and celebrated. The Our Health Heroes Awards offer the perfect opportunity to pause, reflect and recognise the outstanding contribution of staff from across the service. The dedication, application, and skill of the wide range of high-calibre nominees is truly inspiring. Entrants have all gone the extra mile to improve patient care, whether directly or indirectly, and their commitment to providing high-quality service throughout the most difficult of circumstances is truly humbling.”

This year’s three UNISON Apprentice of the Year Award finalists are:

Janine Pring joined the Respiratory Physiology team at North Bristol NHS Trust as an Apprentice Respiratory Physiologist in September 2018. Since then, she has demonstrated that she is an excellent team player and proved quickly that she would be a real asset to the team. Janine is valued by all her colleagues, both within, and outside the Respiratory Physiology Team. She communicates effectively and brings cheery poHealthcaresitivity and a can-do attitude to everything that she does.

Janine said: “Since joining the respiratory physiology team, I have never looked back. Being an Apprentice Respiratory Physiologist to me means that I can do what I love best, helping patients. Be that by providing diagnostic testing to help diagnose a respiratory condition to providing reassurance and understanding to patients in times of need. Every day I have a sense of achievement where I have been able to provide a vital service for patients and put a smile on someone’s face!”

Janine has put her learning into practice from day one and is always striving to develop her practical skills and knowledge to become the best that she can be. Her insight into her field is excellent, and a colleague commented that he was very impressed at the teaching session she prepared and delivered on spirometry, as part of the education of respiratory junior doctors.

Janine has performed excellently in her academic studies. She has a determination to succeed and plans her study time to ensure she is studying efficiently and smartly. She has strong self-study skills and is keen to initiate projects and receive feedback to help her studies flourish. She said: “Within my role as an apprentice, there have been many memorable experiences and opportunities that have been available to me that you would not get as a student on placement. The most important one is feeling part of a great team within a clinical setting working together to support, empower and care for all patients who walk through our doors.”

Janine always puts the patient at the centre of everything she does. She is very professional and friendly to all patients and performs diagnostic tests to an excellent standard, demonstrating that she can deal effectively with challenging, or difficult situations. Patients have commented that they like her relaxed style and professionalism. She is caring, empathetic and kind to both her patient and colleagues.

Janine has always been extremely helpful to the airways team. She volunteered to make a patient leaflet for a new test, helping to push forward innovative changes. North Bristol NHS Trust are now the only hospital in the South West and Wales to offer this test, and the leaflet that she produced is sent to every patient who attends. She has also been involved in producing a patient information video to support a new home spirometry service. Janine has been an essential part of the development and support of these innovative new services.

Janine has demonstrated that she is able to adapt to change, particularly during the pandemic where she supported the PPE Bronze cell with fit testing, during a very busy and anxious time for staff at the trust. The PPE Bronze cell were very impressed with Janine’s professionalism, ensuring staff safety was put first. They commented: “Nothing was every too much trouble and she was always available to help out – a truly integral part of the team.”

Janine said: “Being an apprentice in the respiratory field throughout the pandemic has allowed me to be part of the wider NHS network, meeting other colleagues in different roles from across the hospital. My experience of mask fit testing many staff across the trust, has been a key highlight of my learning journey working through COVID-19. This experience has allowed me to understand and have a wider outlook on the many different roles within the hospital, and how each role is vital to keep the motto of the NHS alive.”

Her passion for respiratory medicine and apprenticeships makes her well poised to be an ambassador for both respiratory medicine and this vital route into the sector. She has demonstrated this by sharing her experiences as an apprentice with others, both inside the Trust, and externally by supporting careers events and giving talks to college students. Janine said: “My apprenticeship has allowed me to meet so many other different professionals working in the wider healthcare science world and understand their role in patient care, allowing me to see and experience the wider picture and vital work they do.”

Janine’s peers say: “We are so grateful that we have such an energetic and bright individual working within our team, and we are confident that she will continue to achieve highly during the remainder of her apprenticeship and become an excellent Respiratory Physiologist.”

Jonathan Hall, Non-Medical Education Manager, North Bristol NHS Trust said: “Janine is a shining example of an outstanding apprentice. Throughout this challenging year, Janine has continued to put her patients first and drive innovation to improve patient care. She has gone above and beyond supporting other areas of the Trust with essential fit testing of PPE for her colleagues. Healthcare Apprentices like Janine help strengthen and build the future of the NHS. This nomination is truly well deserved, congratulations Janine.”

Janine added: “When I discovered I had been nominated for this prestigious award I was shocked and humbled. Being an apprentice gives me great pride and is a rewarding piece of my life that I will never forget. The apprenticeship and respiratory team here within the trust are amazing and have been my true inspiration for my journey so far and my journey yet to come. This award is for all the hard work our fantastic team here at North Bristol NHS Trust have done, and continue to do, so patients can be provided with the best care possible, and how during this pandemic there has been no exception. They are truly the real heroes that we all should aspire to be!”

Sofia Goodchild, Apprentice Team Administrator at NHS Castle Point and Rochford CCG, has a caring and compassionate approach to all those who use its services. With a natural curiosity and drive to understand reasoning beyond simply meeting set objectives, Sofia has cogitated how effective commissioning forms the foundation on which the pillars of frontline healthcare stand, and the role of quality improvement in the pandemic response.

Sofia unpicks the finer nuances of commissioning healthcare services and has shared her insight at multi-organisational forums. Representing the organisation and supporting a week-long community engagement event, Sofia met with a volunteer group and spent time understanding their views and thoughts. Her colleague said: “I witnessed Sofia explain the vision for the future, obtain their recommendations for improvements, and encourage each individual to share what is important to them for accessing and receiving healthcare.”

Sofia understands the need to maintain a positive attitude to feedback and rejection of ideas, and the benefits of continuous development in pursuit of quality outcomes. Astute and logical, she has the ability to separate personal sensitivity when receiving critical feedback, focusing objectively on the wider benefits of learning where improvements can be made. This requires a level of professionalism and emotional intelligence that some individuals may never develop in their lifetime of work.

Sofia understands the importance of challenge and openness to change, so much so that she regularly seeks it, and has been known to question senior colleagues whether there are better ways forward or suggest alternative opportunities for innovation. As a result, she generated enough trust and responsibility to lead a project which is delivering specialist equipment to local care homes to support individuals following a fall.

As an empath, Sofia was able to put herself in the individuals’ shoes, understand the distress in a delayed response following a fall, research suitable solutions, and used her compassion to drive the project forward.

An inspirational ambassador for healthcare apprenticeships, Sofia recently presented an account of her personal experience and learning as an apprentice to the entire organisation (over 100 people), demonstrating a great deal of bravery and self-understanding. She provided a vulnerable and open account of her thoughts and feelings of entering the NHS world straight from school, in adjusting to the demands and pressures of providing pandemic support, and her thoughts on the future direction of change.

Sofia regularly exceeds expectations with her work, support to the entire organisation, and rising to the challenging, last-minute changing demand of working for an NHS organisation through a pandemic. She has regularly worked late into evenings and weekends while battling the isolation of working behind a screen. Her colleagues said: “Sofia should be extremely proud of her capabilities, resilience, and critical thinking. She is an asset to the NHS.”

Tricia D’Orsi, NHS Alliance Director, Castle Point and Rochford & Southend CCG said: “Sofia is one of our CCG stars and I am delighted that she has been recognised in this way. It’s been a particularly challenging year for all of us, and Sofia has more than risen to the challenge, showing great talent and immense potential as a future NHS leader. During these difficult times, it’s so important that we recognise and celebrate the achievements of our incredible staff. Staff like Sofia who inspire us all and give us hope.” 

Sofia added: “To be nominated for this award so early in my career is such an incredible honour and I’m so grateful to be shortlisted. I feel so fortunate and privileged to work with such inspiring people, especially at this extremely challenging time. I hope this achievement inspires future individuals to apply for a healthcare apprenticeship, especially in the NHS.”

Isa Khan started the Level 2 Healthcare Support Worker Apprenticeship at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust in June 2020, in the height of the pandemic. Isa had no experience in healthcare and was unsure of what to expect and initially struggled with delivering personal care. Isa overcame this challenge with support from the team and has now embraced all aspects of ward life and is always keen to develop his skills.

Isa is a valued member of the team, with one of his strengths being teamwork. He communicates well with others about tasks that need completing or escalating issues with patients. Isa willingly offers his support to others and took on housekeeper duties recently, in addition to usual tasks to ensure the smooth running of the ward.

When new Health Care Assistants start, he will help them with clinical skills he is competent in, for example urinalysis. Showing others how to do things has also helped Isa’s learning and understanding, and he is gaining confidence in the things he does. Nothing is too much trouble for Isa, and he always does things with a smile on his face.

An area Isa has excelled in is with mouth care. During initial training, he learnt the importance of mouth care and the impact of not receiving this care, so when Isa noticed this was an area of personal care that often got missed, he made it his mission to change that, and now champions it throughout his work. Daily checks are completed to ensure all receive mouth care and that it is recorded. Isa is also setting up an initiative on the ward so staff will be aware if patients have dentures, glasses, and hearing aids, as these often get lost and are a significant drain on resources within the Trust.

Isa is a superb role model for others and during his short time with the Trust has already been involved in raising awareness for Black Lives Matters. He is developing a poster for the ward area around Black History month and is involved with the BAME network, to raise awareness across the Trust. Isa has also spoken of his experiences as an apprentice as part of a Trust careers video.

When observing Isa on the ward his colleagues are impressed by his positive approach to patients, he is caring, gentle, and takes the time to listen to patients and their needs. Feedback received from staff and patients is that Isa has a supportive and gentle bedside manner and is compassionate with the care he gives. Isa can often be found sitting chatting with patients so they have company, and you can see what a lift he makes to their general mood.

This apprenticeship has confirmed for Isa that a career in health is definitely for him. He has career aspirations of becoming a Trainee Nursing Associate, eventually progressing to a registered Nurse and possibly an Advanced Clinical Practitioner in the future. Isa has family members who work at the same Trust and who have all inspired him through their hard work and achievements.

Isa said: “When I heard that I had been nominated for the Apprentice of the Year Award I was extremely happy and excited that I had a chance to prove to myself and others that I can be the best I can be.”

Voting has now closed for the UNISON Apprentice of the Year category, winners will be announced at the Our Health Heroes Awards ceremony on March 23. The winner will be announced by Roz Norman, Health Services Group Executive chair, UNISON.

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