Recently the SoR tabled a motion about whether to make work experience mandatory prior to commencing a radiography degree in the UK. Surprisingly, it failed to pass, even more surprisingly for the reason that apparently some students find it difficult to get work experience as their local hospital may not allow it.
I feel that this raises a few issues which need to be addressed:
1) Radiography degrees in the UK are funded by the NHS for domestic students. This means that upon graduation, you end up with an internationally accepted degree, with good job prospects, and nowhere near the £27k debt that your flatmates were lumped with. It also means that a lot of money is wasted when students drop out of the course, which happens, a lot. Attrition rates are around 40% nationally, which is shocking, and surely must be at least in part due to students not being prepared for what they’re expected to do.
In my year group, 53 started the course in September 2009, but only 39 graduated in 2012, and I know from talking to some prior to their departure that it was because they were not expecting it to be what it was. Our first placement was within 10 weeks of the course starting, and this was the point of the first exodus. Obviously the academic workload was a major factor for some people, but other reasons I’ve heard range from “I didn’t know I’d get vomited on” to “I can’t stand the sight of blood!”. Even a day’s shadowing would give enough insight into our exposure to bodies and their fluids. One student I spoke to recently asked me how long it takes to become a radiologist once you begin radiography training. I explained the difference, and she seemed genuinely surprised that one didn’t lead to the other.
Personally, I find this level of ignorance unacceptable; in the internet age where information is a few clicks away, and emails can be sent with minimal effort, it really isn’t difficult for people to show an interest in the career they’ve decided to pursue. Which brings me to:
2) Apparently some hospitals don’t accept work experience students. This is an issue which needs to be fixed but it can also be avoided; if a hospital isn’t interested in teaching the next generation of healthcare workers then quite frankly, it’s not somewhere a student should be interested in visiting anyway, because that’s a crappy attitude. I’d be interested to hear the reasons a department could give, so please, if you’re aware of any, leave a comment or two below.
So then it’s up to the student- if your local hospital won’t let you visit, go somewhere else! You’ll have to travel to your placement sites once you’re enrolled anyway, so this really can’t be regarded as extraordinary effort. I appreciate that people have jobs and kids and other commitments, but this is your future career we’re talking about. Is it really too much to ask?
As everyone is probably aware, the NHS is under constant pressure to cut costs, and like most huge organisations is quite wasteful in places. Stupid things like paying over the odds for toner cartridges, or allowing boxes of sterilised orthopaedic equipment to expire, unused, in store rooms, spring immediately to mind as things that I’ve personally encountered. On the subject of NHS funded education, one idea I’ve heard thrown around is to make drop-outs to pay the NHS for the tuition that they received, but I fail to see how that’s enforceable. Especially from students who drop out of further education entirely.
Another way of ensuring value for money could be to make it so that NHS funded students must work for the NHS for n years post graduation, something I assumed was already in place prior to fully researching the degree. This wasn’t an issue for me before signing up as I wanted to work within the NHS anyway*, but I was genuinely surprised to discover that the NHS would pay for your education and then you could bugger off to a private practice as soon as you graduate. Interestingly, in my research for this post I discovered from a UoP lecturer (thanks Mark) that of my year group only two graduates went into the private sector immediately, which isn’t terrible. Also, one went into the priesthood, so that’s… different. And apart from another graduate who left healthcare entirely, and one who has successfully avoided the Alumni’s radar, the rest went into the NHS for their first posts.
*There was a short period of time where after meeting Noel Fitzpatrick (the Supervet) at the UK Radiological Congress in 2012 and talking to his chief radiographer when I desperately wanted to work at a veterinary practice, but after composing an email to them with my (not exactly huge) CV attached, I let it sit in my drafts for a while before deciding to get some experience in the human world first.