Career advice

Higher-level learning: why flexible advanced education is good for services and staff

Nurses educated at advanced level have a transformational effect on services and patient care

Advanced clinical practice programmes have an important role to play in strengthening nursing teams

The Herculean efforts made throughout health and social care in recent months have been nothing short of awe-inspiring.

With no end in sight to the pressure placed on our health services by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to consider how the sector can better serve its patients on a day-to-day, operational level.

But thought must also be given to how we can invest in a hugely important component of the UKs health service its people.

Nurses with advanced qualifications boost teams in so many

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Advanced clinical practice programmes have an important role to play in strengthening nursing teams

Nurse education that can be accessed in a flexible way supports the needs of the individual but also their employer Picture: iStock

The Herculean efforts made throughout health and social care in recent months have been nothing short of awe-inspiring.

With no end in sight to the pressure placed on our health services by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to consider how the sector can better serve its patients on a day-to-day, operational level.

But thought must also be given to how we can invest in a hugely important component of the UK’s health service –its people.

Nurses with advanced qualifications boost teams in so many ways

Over the summer, we saw a period of lower risk levels from coronavirus as working patterns and staffing levels began to return to some semblance of normality. But with the number of cases rising again, it is vital employers consider how they can boost their workforce in the long-term.

Embracing high-level education programmes, such as advanced clinical practice courses and non-medical prescribing qualifications, is a very real means of doing so.

‘For employers who not only want to boost their workforce’s skill sets but keep their teams motivated and engaged, investment in learning is key’

As advanced clinical practitioners (ACPs) and non-medical prescribers (NMPs), we know the significant lift these roles give to a workforce. Whatever the specialty, the level of assurance these professionals bring to a team rarely goes unnoticed.

From the way they communicate with patients and colleagues to their advanced decision-making abilities, the end result is always the same; adaptability and proficiency is bolstered, as is the team’s collective confidence and performance.

With the depth and robustness of the sector’s workforce under more scrutiny than ever, these qualifications are held up by both the NHS Long Term Plan and the NHS People Plan as being transformative in the workplace.

Value of learning to individuals’ career development and the wider workforce

From our own experience of working on the front line, we know health workers who go on to become advanced clinical practitioners or non-medical prescribers improve the care patients receive.

For health and social care employers, who not only want to boost their workforce’s skill sets but keep their teams motivated and engaged, investment in learning and the promotion of career development is key.

But how can employers, who are already operating in a challenging environment, find the capacity to enrol their staff on Master’s-level degree courses?

Flexibility is key, and employers should consider how blended learning can help with this.

Online learning offers the chance to fit the course around work and family commitments Picture: Jay Williams

Blended learning gives nurses flexibility and choice about when the study

Employees on blended learning courses can fit their educational needs around their professional commitments; online lectures can be accessed whenever, wherever, as can a course’s entire inventory of in-depth learning resources, from forums to interactive activities.

From an employer’s perspective, upskilling and education are possible without having to sacrifice workforce capacity.

While this flexibility is critical for employers, it can also be of great importance to students. Unlike other courses – where rigid academic timetables take great chunks out of much needed down-time – more flexible options mean students can complete their studies at their own pace. This is especially important for those juggling family and caring commitments.

For there to be genuine transformation in the healthcare workforce, where skills are prioritised, learned and retained, both students and employers need this extra flexibility.

Flexible high-level education will strengthen the workforce

The Open University offers a broad range of course options for high-level health and social care education. As other universities move to establish their distanced-based learning offerings, at the Open University we have been able to fine-tune our purpose-designed distance learning to ensure all our students have the very best in online learning.

Healthcare staff have shown remarkable resolve and resilience over the past few months, and will no doubt continue to do so as we move into the winter months. As we look to a post-pandemic future, NHS employers must consider how their workforce can be protected and strengthened for the years ahead.

Acknowledging the importance of flexible, continuous, high-level education is as important a step as any.

Advanced-level Open University programmes suitable for nurses

Courses include:

MSc in advanced clinical practice

  • Takes 2.5-4 years to complete and incorporates a non-medical prescribing module
  • Encompasses the four pillars of advanced clinical practice: clinical practice, leadership and management, research, and education
  • Develops the core capabilities for advanced clinical practice and area-specific clinical practice, as well as clinical and strategic leadership skills

Advanced clinical practitioner degree apprenticeship

  • Can be completed in a minimum of 29 months
  • Topics include clinical practice; leadership, management and collaborative practice; education and facilitation of learning; research and enquiry-based practice

Postgraduate certificate in non-medical prescribing

  • Covers knowledge and skills required for safe prescribing practice and critical understanding of clinical and practical issues
  • Deals with legal and ethical implications of prescribing and issues underpinning applied pharmacology
  • Completion entitles nurses to apply to the regulator for annotation as independent and/or supplementary prescribers
  • Shorter, 7-13-month course now open to applications for the February 2021 intake

Further reading


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