Student recruitment to reflect NHS values

Dr Denyse Hodgson, PPI Faculty Lead; Laura Pattinson, senior lecturer; Jo McNamara, senior lecturer, Sarah Naylor, senior lecturer; Vicki Knowles, service user; Martin Colley, service user; Tracy Green, service user; Myra Wilson, service user; Jo Stone, faculty recruitment lead.
Sheffield Hallam University
Patient and Public Involvement


This was a recruitment project based in the faculty of health & well-being in response to drivers from HEE and the NHS, and relevant to all health and social care professional courses. The challenge was to use a variety of methods of PPI in the recruitment process in order to assess candidates' suitability for the courses. We use interview, group work and other tasks designed to assess knowledge of the health and social care profession, ability to work as part of the team and technical skills. In order to assess the candidates' attitudes to care and the values they identify with [1-3].

This was done in different ways by the subject teams with the shared aim of assessing candidates' aptitude to a career in the caring professions:

  1. service user and carer input into designing recruitment materials
  2. service user and carer involvement in designing the interview process
  3. service user and carer sitting on interview panels
  4. service user and lecturer co-production of talking heads

Service user involvement in the recruitment material was a feature of most of our pre-registration courses which resulted in clear messages about the people the university wanted to attract to courses. Some course teams focused on PPI in the design of interview questions and the scoring matrix that would be used.

A group of service users regularly sit on some interview panels and their feedback is a valuable perspective on the candidates suitability. Typically the service user looks for 'good communication' 'eye contact' 'experience of care' 'caring personality'.

In nursing and radiotherapy the use of talking heads as part of the recruitment activity has been trialled in the last year. This involves filming a service user or actor talking about their experience of care in the NHS and the clip is shown to the candidate before interview. Evidence suggests that although an actor can accurately reflect experience, feedback demonstrates that the 'real experience' of the service user provides an authenticity that can have a powerful impact on the candidate. In the interview, the candidate is asked to give their thoughts about the 'talking head' and typically issues are discussed around dignity, compassion, specific issues of care and general views about humanity. The candidate is also asked how they might improve that care. In some instances service user who sits on the panel may ask that particular question in the interview and how the candidate engages with them is assessed. Specific criteria have been developed that allow a 'score' to be determined which is added to the scores of 'team working' 'study skills' 'motivation and knowledge of the specific profession'.

What are the Aims?

By involving service users the aim was to better assess NHS values of care and provide a balance in scoring that may be weighted towards academic ability without their input. Challenges in PPI for interview processes are linked to consistency and the need to train those involved. Arguably, the talking head approach can be used with all candidates across all subject areas.

Who was/is involved?

Sheffield Hallam University and local service users, Partners in Learning.

What has changed/will change?

We now have a more consistent approach to recruitment that places PPI at the centre. Evidence from radiotherapy recruitment events in 15/16 have demonstrated that the activity using the talking head clearly differentiates candidates and has often been influential in offering the candidate a place. In the longer term this could be evaluated as the student progresses through the programme and via feedback from clinical palcements.

What lessons have we learnt?

The process of developing this project has emphasised the importance of organisational commitment to PPI and its value in recruitment.

Contact details

Dr Denyse Hodgson, Faculty of Health & Well-being, Sheffield Hallam University 0114 225 5579

Links to further information and resources

1. Department of Health. Delivering high quality, effective, compassionate care: developing the right people with the right skills and the right values. England, Williams Lea for the Department of Health. 2013.

2. Department of Health. Education Outcomes Framework. England. 28 March 2013.

3. NHS England. Putting Patients First: the NHS England business plan for 2014/15 – 2016/17.