Students’ vital role in NHS first

In an NHS first, students from HSDC Alton have taken part in a pilot project to shine the spotlight on an essential but lesser-known career in the NHS. In a day of immersive learning at the college’s mock operating theatre last Thursday, they watched live surgery being performed at University Hospital Southampton and learnt about the critical role played by the Operating Department Practitioner (ODP) while mirroring the tasks performed by the ODPs before, during and after surgery.

This event is the first of its kind piloted for the NHS; a new, hybrid way of delivering careers education through a combination of virtual and in-person delivery. This unique experience offers talented potential NHS workforce the opportunity to meet key staff and enables students aged 16-18 to ‘access’ clinical spaces not usually available to them. 

The day was organised by NHS Hampshire and Isle of Wight’s 350+ Careers Programme, which seeks to inspire the next generation about the 350+ different careers in the NHS. The programme collaborated with HSDC Alton to launch the mock operating theatre last October, designed to be a practical learning space for the college’s T Level and A Level students.

Kat Millmore-Davies, Education Outreach Lead for the 350+ NHS Careers Programme, says: “The ODP plays such a critical role in an operating theatre, and they’re usually the last person a patient sees when going to sleep and the first they see upon waking, yet the role is suffering a skills shortage because not enough people know about it. Our students were tasked with a range of activities – from weighing swabs and identifying instruments to performing post-operative observations like taking blood pressure and using their maths skills to calculate drugs and medication.”

During the day, the students, who are studying T-Levels in Health, Healthcare Science and A Level Biology:

  • participated in a variety of practical, simulated tasks including a caesarean section, instrument selection and mannequin intubation, overseen by qualified ODPs Joshua Bulleyment (Teaching Fellow at University of Portsmouth) and Bethanie William (ODP & Practice Educator for Main Theatres, Isle of Wight NHS Trust). These tasks mirrored a patient’s journey, including instrument selection and mannequin intubation
  • undertook a written maths task focusing on measuring anaesthesia and pain relief according to patient weight and height  
  • witnessed a live operation streamed from University Hospital Southampton, met consultant cardiothoracic surgeon Mr Aiman Alzetani and ODP Miss Elizabeth Riley, focusing on the role of the ODP throughout, and met the wider multi-disciplinary team
  • heard from ODP degree students from University of Portsmouth and ODP apprentices from University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust
  • performed a simulated caesarean section

Aiman Alzetani, Cardiothoracic Surgeon, says: “UHS has been Offering Virtual Work Experience (VWEX) for students interested in medicine since the start of the pandemic when access to a physical one was suspended, but this is the first VWEX incorporating in-person delivery and concentrating on a less recognized but very vital role within hospital operating theatres. As one of the largest employers in the south, UHS, with the help of local higher education providers, looks to  talented students from around the region to fill these important roles, supporting the local economy and boosting employability.”

Helen Lowes, National Allied Health Profession (AHP), Education and Training Lead for Operating Department Practitioners at NHS England, says: “This project is a unique insight into a career as an ODP. It is a brilliant way to inspire young people and to inform them about how critical the role of the ODP is in operating theatres while showing them the practical routes into these careers. We look forward to further collaborating with the 350+ NHS Careers Programme team to develop this offer.”

ODPs and ODP students from Isle of Wight NHS Trust, University of Portsmouth and University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust guide students through practical tasks in the college’s operating theatre
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