The way we train clinical engineers in the NHS is changing. In this post Andrew Goldsborough explains what this means for NHS employers, trainees and prospective applicants.
Between 2019 and 2021 the Clinical Engineering curriculum was reviewed and revised by the National School of Healthcare Sciences (NSHCS). Changes implemented from September 2022 will have a significant impact on the future of the profession, with a greater emphasis placed on developing trainees’ versatility and critical thinking over specialist subject knowledge.
Every Scientist Training Program (STP) specialty has a curriculum that follows the NSHCS framework. This comprises three distinct module types: core, rotation and specialist. Prior to 2022, clinical engineers would choose a further specialism within the clinical engineering domain (Clinical Measurement, Device Risk Management and Governance or Rehabilitation Engineering) before starting the STP [NSHCS, 2021].
Now however, the three individual specialisms within clinical engineering have been removed so that all clinical engineers follow the same path over the 3 year training period. While the core modules in the new curriculum are broadly the same as previous years, the rotation modules are significantly different – focussing on skills and experience to be gained outside of the specialist subjects. Meanwhile, the specialist modules now encompass training for the essential skills and knowledge that are expected of any newly qualified clinical engineer, regardless of their department or ‘sub-specialism’ [NSHCS, 2022].
Implications of the changes
The change in content and structure of the new curriculum represents a significant shift in pedagogy from a prescriptive, specialism-based approach to a broader systematic approach. This change aims to give clinical engineers a ‘toolkit’ of skills that can be applied to tackle any challenge. It also fosters a culture that encourages inter-disciplinary team working; with several months spent in rotations outside of clinical engineering.
The major benefit of effective inter-disciplinary working between departments is that a more integrated, safe and professional quality of care is delivered to our patients. Recent healthcare policy is driving the need for greater multidisciplinary working, and a key commitment in the NHS’ People Plan is to support the expansion of multidisciplinary teams in primary care through HEE training [NHS, 2020].
The rotational modules now enable clinical engineers to experience work in other departments/hospitals/trusts where they are able to learn from and collaborate with other like-minded members of the scientific community. Gaining skills and experience on secondment with Medical Physics, Bioinformatics or Clinical Computing can be invaluable to the education of a trainee clinical engineer.
As evidenced during the COVID pandemic, a workforce that is capable of adapting to acute challenges through the logical application of scientific research and reasoning is invaluable to the NHS. Clinical engineers staffed the front line in Nightingale hospitals, were responsible for the rapid delivery and integration of ventilators and creatively used their resources to deliver PPE in times of national shortage (8000 face shields supplied to front-line staff – NMPCE blog). A greater emphasis on critical thought and problem solving from an early stage in the STP training will only strengthen the scope and utility of the clinical engineering community. After completing the previous curriculum, trainees felt they were only eligible to apply for jobs in the specialty they trained in [Scott, 2022]. This is no longer an issue under the new structure, with trainees able to adapt to and apply for a Band 7 role in any of the three former specialist areas.
NSHCS (2021). Historical Curriculum Libraries – STP Documentation. Available at https://curriculum.nshcs.org.uk/programmes/stp [Accessed 10th November 2022]
NSHCS (2022). Specialty: SPE3-4-22 — Scientist Training Programme | Curriculum Library. Available at https://curriculumlibrary.nshcs.org.uk/stp/specialty/SPE3-4-22/ [Accessed 10th November 2022]
NHS (2020). WE ARE THE NHS: People Plan for 2020/2021 – action for us all. Available at We-Are-The-NHS-Action-For-All-Of-Us-FINAL-March-21.pdf (england.nhs.uk) [Accessed 10th November 2022]
Scott R (2022) Rationale to support the Clinical Engineering Clinical Scientist STP Curriculum revision 2022. Available at https://nshcs.hee.nhs.uk/publications/rationale-to-support-the-clinical-engineering-clinical-scientist-stp-curriculum-revision-2022-by-dr-richard-scott/html/ [Accessed 10th November 2022]