Evaluation of a virtual practice placement: a model to increase student capacity

This project evaluates nursing students' feedback on a week-long, non-assessed community virtual learning placement facilitated by ARU and HCRG Care Group, and offers a model to increase student capacity at a time when frontline staff are under particular pressure.

A smiling nursing student in a breakout area

Healthcare systems around the world face challenges regarding training and retaining nursing and care staff, with 47,496 nursing vacancies noted in the UK in September 2022.

In the UK, there are a record number of nursing registrants (788,638), with 2022/23 seeing the highest number of new joiners in the register in a single year – more than 52,000. The current plan is to increase the number of pre-registration nurse training places by 25%.

ARU's Dr Amanda Wagg has worked with HCRG, one of the UK's largest independent providers of community healthcare, to establish and offer a week-long, virtual, non-assessed community placement to sustainably support this increase in student capacity, as well as the demands that this ambitious target puts on frontline staff.

The offering, called Holistic Overview of Community Healthcare, is based on the blended learning model Wagg and Morgan (2022) introduced as a new direction for student nurse training.

The placement is designed to reflect the fact that more, and increasingly complex healthcare is now being delivered in the community, and students therefore require a wider range of experiences in this setting than previously (Fanning, 2022). Due to the variety of patients who receive community healthcare, it is relevant to all nursing pathways.

On the placement, students explore how an individual’s healthcare needs can be met holistically within the context of the whole family and community. The model additionally responds to the focus on primary care in the NHS Long Term Plan (2019).

ARU and HCRG trialled this blended approach in June 2021. It has since been rolled out to over 300 students, and is now established in the 0-19 service and all adult services.

This research reviews students' evaluations of the placement in order to recommend a model of good practice. It presents a working mode, an overview of the learning content, benefits of the approach, important considerations, and future recommendations for any other areas considering how to balance an increase in student numbers with existing pressures on frontline staff.

Wagg, A. J. and Morgan, K. (2022) 'Online Virtual Nursing Placements: A Case Study on Placement Expansion', SAGE Open Nurs., 8, 23779608221117392. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1177/23779608221117392