Robert Gordon University (RGU), Scotland’s University of the Year 2021, has a long history of preparing such graduates. Currently Number 1 in the UK for Health Sciences (Guardian), we have extensive experience of what it takes to ensure our graduates are prepared for the rapidly changing health and social care arenas and the challenges they will encounter. Our aim is to equip healthcare graduates, not just with the skills required for today, but those required for the future.
This is best achieved by actively engaging students in the learning experience to develop graduates who can think critically about theory, who can analyse complex information, solve problems, implement solutions, evaluate outcomes and instigate change as a result. Skills that cannot be developed sitting in a lecture theatre. A constructivist learning approach encourages students to review relevant theory before engaging in authentic and active learning activities that enable them to develop a deep understanding of what theory means in practice, scaffolding new knowledge as they progress.
We also help students to understand that working with people is not always straightforward: people and their problems can be complex. Students need to be guided to think about the individual, their specific problems and what each individual needs to be able to do the things that are meaningful to them.
This requires not just theoretical knowledge but also practical experience. While the traditional approach of practicing skills on each other remains appropriate, at RGU we believe that student learning in university can be much more effective. For example, high-fidelity simulation provides students with the opportunity to practice applying knowledge and skills using scenarios with volunteer patients or high-fidelity computerised mannequins. Students can be exposed to very realistic learning situations, which require on-the-spot application of knowledge, problem solving and interventions. This is, however, a safe and controlled learning environment where feedback is gained through reflection on action as well as from peers, tutors, and the volunteer patient. We also believe students benefit from providing real services such as exercise groups and working within the community, but again where they can be supported and provided with feedback and guidance as necessary.
This variety of practical learning opportunities ensures students develop confidence prior to undertaking practice placement where their ability to apply learning really matters. A wide range of assessments also help develop both the overt and hidden curriculum and continually focus on the skills required in the workplace. The result of this learning approach? Graduates who entered the workplace during the pandemic who are now getting on with the job.
Fiona Roberts is a Teaching Excellence Fellow at Robert Gordon University