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Case study: Involving patients and the public in recruiting healthcare students

Good interpersonal and communication skills are essential characteristics for anyone wanting to work in healthcare. And who better to assess those skills in prospective students than the people they may one day be caring for?

The Faculty’s School of Health Sciences leads the way in engaging patients, service users and carers in their recruitment process for their undergraduate speech and language therapy and midwifery courses.

Why involve patients and the public?

It was a change in rules from Health Education England in April 2015 that prompted admissions tutors on the BSc Speech and Language Therapy (SLT) course to involve the public in their recruitment process.

New rules required them to conduct an individual structured interview which had to include an assessment of values.

"A major part of our commitment to values-based recruitment was the decision to include service users as interviewers", says Dr Elaine Lockton, Clinical Lecturer in Speech and Language Therapy.

"We wanted to have a range of interviewers from different backgrounds, including service users and carers. In this way we could really begin to ensure that the interviews aren't just a further test of academic skill but really do assess applicants' values and ability to interact with people in a compassionate and professional manner."

"We wanted to have a range of interviewers from different backgrounds, including service users and carers. In this way we could really begin to ensure that the interviews aren’t just a further test of academic skill but really do assess applicants' values"

Dr Elaine Lockton / Clinical Lecturer

But involving the public in recruitment was a natural progression for the programme, which has long looked to service users to inform their teaching.

"For a number of years now we have invited service users to contribute to the programme in various ways including taking part in lectures, research projects and workshops. In 2014 we established an advisory group made up of service users and carers who have accessed SLT services," says Elaine.

"It was through these links that we approached a small number of service users and carers who we felt had the necessary skill set and interest to take part in recruitment. Fortunately for us they were very keen to be involved".

Getting service users involved

For the BMidwif Midwifery course, it is a professional requirement that all prospective students are interviewed prior to being offered a place, but previously this was carried out only by lecturers and clinical midwives.

Alison Busby, Senior Lecturer and Admissions Tutor, was involved in extending this process to service users and, working with the University, she developed a half-day training which also allowed the team to hear from the service users about what characteristics they wanted to see in student midwives.

"Locating motivated service users was important to us", says Alison. "We started by contacting representatives of our professional body who already had a number of people who helped with conducting audits of local maternity units. They circulated our request amongst their team and we had a number of responses."

"Every year some people drop out, so I recruit new team members for each cycle. I do this by accessing a variety of local groups, including Manchester’s BME Network which has helped me recruit women from various cultural groups across Manchester."

What are the benefits?

As well as increasing the University’s accountability to students and the public, and helping to raise the standards of our courses, the process has a benefit to both the interviewer and interviewee.

"The main benefit to service users is that it puts them at the centre of the process", explains Alison. "Including them has helped the interview panels be more representative of the communities of Greater Manchester, and it ensures that our selection criteria includes characteristics that are important to them."

"For the student, a diverse interview panel made up of a lecturer, clinician and service user gives more scope for challenging assumptions or preconceived ideas about candidates. It also conveys to them the message that service users are important and at the heart of the services they will provide as midwives."

"The main benefit to service users is that it puts them at the centre of the process. Including them has helped the interview panels be more representative of the communities of Greater Manchester."

Alison Busby / Senior Lecturer and Admissions Tutor

Overall the feedback from service users is that they feel valued and appreciate the opportunity to fulfil an important role, gain experience and develop new skills. One representative in the midwifery interviews even used it as a stepping stone to employment, going on to secure a position interviewing and training volunteers.

It has also been a positive experience for participants in the speech and language therapy interviews, with one interviewer reporting feeling "very valued" and that it "boosted their self-esteem". Another said "it was very worthwhile to have some influence in the future of speech and language therapy".

"We are very proud to be involved in something that not only helps to shape the future SLT workforce but also integrates clinicians, service users, carers and lectures who all have the shared purpose and focus of recruiting the best, most professional future SLTs who have a passion for helping and improving the lives of people with speech, language, communication and eating and drinking difficulties", says Elaine.