Published on 05 February 2024
At a time of ongoing national NHS staff shortages, the University of Sunderland hopes to boost north-east healthcare by developing a highly-skilled workforce through its Higher and Degree Apprenticeship programmes.
This week, as part of National Apprenticeship Week 2024 (Monday 5 February – Sunday 11 February), the University is shining a light on the inspirational work of its apprentices, partners and staff, while helping to plug the skills gap in the healthcare, leadership, digital and engineering sectors in Sunderland and the wider the north-east.
Lance Gourley has been balancing working as a healthcare assistant for South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust with studying a Registered Nurse Degree Apprenticeship at the University.
The 32-year-old believes apprenticeships play a pivotal role in developing a skilled NHS workforce and filling the skills shortage.
Lance, from Murton, County Durham, said: “I worked as a healthcare assistant for four years before I began the apprenticeship in January 2021, so I already had a lot of knowledge and experience to bring to the programme and to my role as a nursing apprentice.
“Tackling NHS staff shortages is vital in providing safe, effective patient care, which each and every colleague strives to provide, so I’d say to anyone thinking of doing this apprenticeship, just go for it. There is nothing to lose but potentially a lot to gain.”
During his studies, Lance received STAR award which is given by the South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust in recognition of the brilliant work apprentices do in making sure patients are given high-quality care.
Gemma Taylor, Workforce Development and Education Manager at the Trust, said: "Lance is a shining example of how an apprenticeship can be a fantastic way into a fulfilling and successful career, whilst continuing to earn a salary throughout the apprenticeship.
"We have a fantastic relationship with the University of Sunderland and opportunities such as the one Lance followed up proves there are lots of ways into working in the NHS.
"That's whether it's to become a nurse or any number of roles, on the frontline working with patients or in one of the many departments who play a part in running our organisation. The range of careers is huge.
"We hope National Apprenticeship Week helps those looking to take their next step think about how it could be right for them and welcome anyone who would like to find out more to get in touch with us."
Lance’s role as a healthcare assistant has continued to progress as he takes on more responsibility to expand on everything he has achieved during his apprenticeship.
Lance, who will graduate in January 2026, said: “My favourite part of the apprenticeship is the living labs. Getting to work with the facilities is amazing, it’s exactly the same as being out in practice. I love learning about the anatomy of the human body and also the pathophysiology of it.
“There is a lot of work that goes into an apprenticeship and challenges like time management of working, essays, exams and studying, but it will all be worth it. Plus, you are never alone. There are always people who will support you, like lecturers from the University, colleagues and peers.
“As I’ve progressed through the apprenticeship, my confidence has grown. It’s helped me become more proactive rather than reactive. I’ve built on my skills and knowledge, and I now feel like I can deal with emotional situations and patient conflict more independently.”
Once fully qualified, Lance hopes to go into emergency care, an area he enjoyed working in most while on placement.
Sue Brent, Head of the School of Nursing and Health Sciences at the University of Sunderland, said: “We are delighted to see how well Lance is doing and I would encourage anyone thinking of entering healthcare as a career to consider the apprenticeship route.
“The University’s School of Nursing and Health Sciences works closely with its partner organisations and all of our apprenticeship programmes are delivered in close collaboration. This opportunity allows apprentices to gain hands on experience in the working environment but with support from the University academic teaching team as well as key staff in the workplace. Apprentices are paid to learn on the job and spend a percentage of time in other areas gaining experience as well as 20% of their time in off-the-job learning/study.
“It is more important than ever that people consider a career in the NHS and apprenticeships are a fantastic route in for many across many of the different healthcare professions.”
There are currently 386 students on the University’s Registered Nurse Degree Apprenticeship.
Professor Laura Stroud, Dean of Health Sciences and Wellbeing at the University of Sunderland, said: “Apprenticeships play a hugely important part in securing the future healthcare workforce, with apprentices having the opportunity to earn and learn whilst building skills, knowledge and experience. The insights they gain helps with their future career choices and creates strong relationships with employers.”
Since launching in 2016 with just a handful of employers, the University’s degree apprenticeship scheme has grown year on year. Now partnering with more than 100 organisations, the University is currently educating and training more than 930 apprentices working on programmes from Level 3 to degree level across a range of sectors and job roles.
Sir David Bell, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of the University of Sunderland, said: “As a professions-facing university, we believe that providing high-quality apprenticeships is a vital part of our role as an anchor institution embedded here in the north-east of England.
“For our apprentices, it is a terrific way to enhance their own career prospects and job opportunities. At the same time, we give something back to the region’s employers in providing them with the skilled people they need to succeed and thrive in the future.”
This is the 17th annual National Apprenticeship Week, a week-long celebration that takes place across England, showcasing the impact apprenticeships can have on communities, local businesses and regional economies and how they all benefit from the impact of apprenticeships.
To find out more about Higher and Degree Apprenticeships at the University of Sunderland click here.