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Boosting recruitment and retention through taster days

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We have taken a 'hands-on? approach to the recruitment of students interested in pre-registration nursing courses (specifically adult nursing) by introducing a taster day at the University of Worcester.

We have taken a 'hands-on? approach to the recruitment of students interested in pre-registration nursing courses (specifically adult nursing) by introducing a taster day at the University of Worcester.

These have been extremely successful in attracting individuals to undertake a nursing programme, and has enabling them to gain experience by undertaking supervised activities in clinical skills laboratories.

Our midwifery colleagues had already successfully staged midwifery taster days, so with this shared information we decided to deliver some to promote adult nursing.

At the Institute of Health, Social Care and Psychology, recruitment to our pre-registration courses have always been healthy, with the commissioned numbers from the local Strategic Health Authority being met, through both the bursary and trust scholarship routes.

However, we had some concerns about retention rates for students and providing a positive student experience. Students leave nursing programmes for various reasons, but some have reported that the experience has not lived up to their expectations because they were not aware of the realities involved within nursing.

Some of these aspects have been about study at diploma/degree level while working full-time in healthcare placements. In addition, student age ranges vary with a large majority being mature students who were exploring a change in career.

With maturity come life experiences, but this also means that many of the students found that they were juggling their social/home life and this compounded the stress already experienced through studying full time and recognising how emotionally demanding nursing was.

This is where the taster days aimed to provide a realistic prospective and create an awareness about the realities of a full-time nursing course. Some students can be ill-prepared about the academic and practical challenges that student face.

Mature students in particular can suffer from a lack of confidence that is shared by many potential adult students. The taster days provide a good insight into the challenges they may potentially face, They ensure that potential students have their 'eyes opened? through asking questions and discussing their concerns with nursing students.

The day also helps to augment the requirements for direct patient care, which is stipulated as any entry requirement for the adult nursing programme at this institution and encouraged by the NMC.

The potential students also observe clinical skills demonstrations and are then able to gain experience and learning using clinical equipment under the supervision within the clinical skills laboratories.

The responses we have received at the end of the taster days from the written evaluation forms completed by the participants reflect how well received the days have been.

Some of the comments were:
? An interesting and informative taster day! It helped me to decide that I definitely want to pursue my nursing career at this university?. (Student had applied and visited several universities).
? Thoroughly enjoyed this taster day. I?ve been trying to decide for a long time if nursing is for me and today has shown me that it definitely is! The best part for me was being able to use some of the equipment and listening to the student nurses and knowing that they had worries and fears about starting too!?
'The taster day has further strengthened my aspirations to embark upon my nurse training. I feel as though I have a greater insight to the programme offered and the commitment needed to succeed.'

The taster days are currently offered three times a year and are always oversubscribed, so we have also provided evening sessions to enable people who are working during the day an opportunity to attend.

The day consists of:
- An overview of the adult pre-registration programme (course content, work based learning and assessment schedule)
- Supervised skills practice (blood pressure, temperature, pulse etc) in a clinical skills laboratory
- An audience with existing student ambassadors (a mixture of students across the three years).
- The start of ongoing support prior to application from the professional support officer.
- Attendees are given an information/application pack
- Attendees are informed of the Institute website that provides information about application process.

The format has provided a valuable opportunity for potential candidates to discuss the realities of becoming an adult nurse.

The questions raised with the existing nursing student nurse ambassadors reflect the very real concerns that potential new students have about the nursing course, such as coping with theoretical aspects of the programme.

This is pertinent given that some of the potential candidates had been out of education for some time. There have also been questions regarding the meeting of competencies within practice placements and the role of clinical mentors.

Financial concerns have also been voiced, especially on how to survive on a bursary and meeting childcare arrangements. Reassurance has been given along with practical and helpful advice from the nursing students.

For virtually all the candidates the most exciting part of the day has been taking part in the supervised practical skills sessions. These workshops are interactive and have been facilitated by both nurse lecturers and student nurses.

The involvement of nurse lecturers and student nurses has enhanced and strengthened the teaching and learning relationship that exist within the institute, providing a rich experience for all concerned.

The types of skills that were demonstrated were taking blood pressure and temperature. Attendees also used manikins to demonstrate cardiac compressions and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. We had other pieces of equipment on display and set up the skills laboratories as an example of a six bedded bay in a hospital ward.

In summary, the days have provided a more balanced, realistic insight into becoming an adult registered nurse.

It is our intention to monitor if those students who were successful at the end of the nursing course had, in fact, initially attended a taster day. This information will be extremely useful in helping to improve both the recruitment and retention processes for future nursing students.

Karen Latimer is a senior lecturer at the Institute of Health, Social Care and Psychology, University of Worcester. Tel: 01905 8555379, email:

Robert Dudley is the programme leader: pre-registration nursing studies at the Institute of Health, Social Care and Psychology, University of Worcester. Tel: 01905 8555235, email:

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