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OPINION

'Are we right to concentrate on prospective students’ values?'

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It’s hard to argue against values-based recruitment (VBR): intuitively we all want those who recruit healthcare staff and students to look at a person’s values alongside their technical skills or ability.

In October, Health Education England launched a national VBR framework. This could make it sound like VBR is a new idea, but we’ve just completed a detailed look at the data from an HEE survey of universities over the summer that paints a rather different picture.

HEE’s survey questions focused on VBR linked explicitly to the NHS Constitution.Three-quarters (72%) of nursing courses already do that through the application form (compared with an average of 69% for combined nursing, midwifery and allied health professions). Of the remainder, many assess values in the application form in another way - for example, using values linked to the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s code. That in itself is interesting: with most of the health professionals on the NMC’s register now working outside the NHS, the code has even broader application than the NHS Constitution.

Nearly all (96%) nursing programmes assess candidates for NHS values using one or more method. These include structured and unstructured interviews, group tasks or interviews and multiple miniinterviews.

Half the programmes use two or more of these methods. Based on the data, we can be confi dent that values assessment is an established part of student recruitment, as educators work with employers and service users to select candidates.

But VBR raises three fundamental questions. The first is the focus: are we right to concentrate so much on prospective students? In fairness, HEE has designed its framework to be used by employers, as well as by higher education institutions.

However, its “levers” are weaker so, once again, student recruitment will be the focus, despite ample evidence that most students enter the profession with altruistic motivations, intent on providing good standards of care.

At the other end of the scale, most professionals seen by the regulators for fitness-to-practise issues have been on the register for many years. Students, particularly in nursing, are still too easily a political target. This must change if we’re to attract the very best into the profession.

The second question is about the role of education as a catalyst for change: put simply, can values be taught? Underpinning the view that the period on which our focus should lie is before students even join a course is the implicit assumption that education cannot transform us, values included.

None of us are blank sheets of paper when we enter education - but neither are our attitudes and values set in stone. There is evidence that values can be grown and strengthened, and made more explicit and resilient through education - particularly when academic learning is integrated with excellent practice placements. We should have high ambitions for what education can do for our future and current workforce.

The third area is the balance of focus between the individual and their environment. Despite what we know from many inquiries into care failings over the years, much discussion on health and health education still focuses on the individual and their values, almost in isolation from the system in which they work. VBR is in danger of unintentionally falling into this trap.

The NHS is a key election battleground, so we mustn’t allow ourselves to duck the hard questions of staffi ng levels, morale and burnout across all health professions, and in nursing in particular. If we do, we will be doing our students and our patients no favours.

Jessica Corner is chair of the Council of Deans of Health

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Thank you NT for publishing this lucid and though-provoking piece from a true nursing leader. I'd like to have seen it front and centre on Nursing Times News and hope that Professor Dame Jessica Corner's voice penetrates the shrill screams of politicians pedaling spurious ideologically-driven arguments about "care failings".

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  • Another superb, and thought provoking article from our new chair. Student nurses, and other healthcare workers must not be used as a political football, when we all know that the problems inherent in the system, are not them.

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