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Advising young people on a career in healthcare

A new online programme enables NHS staff to connect with teenagers and help them consider their career options.

Ammer Safdar working on his computer

Source: Aamer Safdar

Pharmacist Aamer Safdar helps young people increase their awareness of careers within the NHS using the online mentoring scheme.

When Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust announced it was to pilot a new mentoring scheme in September 2013, I jumped at the chance to put my name forward. The online scheme aims to link staff from the hospital with local young people, who are either not in education, employment or training (NEETs) or still at school, to help increase their awareness of careers within the NHS. It aims to provide them with a boost of motivation and self-confidence. The project is funded by NHS Employers with the web platform provided by Brightside, a charity specialising in helping young people access the career and education opportunities they might not have believed were available to them.

Teenagers are chosen from local schools in the London boroughs of Lambeth and Southwark, mostly from disadvantaged groups that do not usually access higher education. They are invited to sign up to the scheme and are asked to indicate their career interests and reasons for needing a mentor using a checklist. Career choices cover healthcare and non-healthcare options and often students tick more than one. They are then paired with the most suitable mentor. Each cohort lasts for three months and during this time mentors and students log on to a secure website to email each other at least once a week. Full names are not provided to either party.

I have mentored three students. One was not engaged at all and another wanted to pursue a career in psychology or pharmacy and asked for my thoughts and advice. Currently, I am mentoring a GCSE student who will be progressing to A-levels next year. He first contacted me to ask which universities were best and I explained that this would depend on what he intended to study. He had chosen two humanities (geography and history) and two sciences (biology and chemistry) for A-level because he was unsure of what career he wanted to pursue. I encouraged him to consider his specific likes and dislikes, to help decide what sort of role would suit him.

One of the benefits of the scheme is that there are modules available for the students to complete. I assigned my student a module about NHS careers to give him a better idea of the options.  Other modules cover thinking about university, preparing for university and choosing a degree.

After my student completed the careers module, he asked me why I chose pharmacy. The module also helped him discover a range of healthcare related professions, including biomedical scientist, diagnostic radiographer and audiologist.  We discussed his reasoning for selecting these options and what a career in these disciplines might involve, which led him to conclude he wanted to study biomedical sciences. He is now considering swapping from history to maths for A-level, to help support his science studies.

Smiley faces welcome

All conversations on the platform are moderated, particularly those that involve sharing weblinks or personal information. Mentors are encouraged to write in short sentences, use plain English and emoticons (such as smiley faces) and avoid jargon. This is to enable good communication between the mentor and student or NEET where the focus is on the mentoring relationship rather than the mentors simply promoting their individual professions.

Almost 400 young people from the local area have used the mentoring scheme to date. The trust currently has 104 trained mentors, 51 of whom are participating at the moment. Mentors have diverse career backgrounds in both clinical and non-clinical areas, and are at various stages of their careers with differing levels of experience. Each mentor is paired with an average of two young people, which typically involves a time commitment of less than one hour per week.  

The scheme has been well received by both young people and mentors. More than 80% of current mentors believe they have gained or developed skills in online communication, working with young people and building a rapport because of the programme.

Rachel Ogunbayo, menthe of the NHS e-mentoring scheme

Source: Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust

Rachel Ogunbayo has decided to study neuroscience and psychology as a result of speaking to a mentor

“I took part in the scheme because I wasn’t sure what career I wanted to pursue,” says student Rachel Ogunbayo from St Martin’s School in Lambeth. “Now I want to go to the University of Aberdeen to study neuroscience and psychology. I don’t think I’d ever have come to that decision if I hadn’t gone on the scheme. Now I know what I need to do to get where I want to be.”

At the end of each mentoring period, the trust holds a careers fair, which offers an opportunity for the mentors and participants to meet for the first time. A wide range of departments across the trust are represented and young people are encouraged to visit stalls to talk to staff about their chosen career path. Prizes are awarded to most engaged participants and mentors to celebrate their commitment.

The programme is now being expanded across other organisations involved in King’s Health Partners, which includes King’s College London and three NHS Foundation Trusts — Guy’s and St Thomas’, King’s College Hospital and South London and Maudsley.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal URI: 20066071

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