Dozens of primary care clinicians are volunteering in local secondary schools to provide healthy living advice and encourage young people to build a career in the NHS.
It’s all part of the Health Ambassador programme which launched last autumn with 19 junior doctors speaking at seven of the borough’s secondary schools.
Dr Eugenia Lee, the Gallions Reach Health Centre GP leading the programme, says the trainee GPs provide advice on health and wellbeing issues that the pupils want to learn more about.
“We had a brainstorm amongst ourselves and thought that 15 year olds would probably want to learn more about sexual health and mental health challenges. The schools told us that while those topics were important to pupils, they also wanted to learn more about how to navigate the NHS to get the right health advice and treatment. Some asked about the health checks people can do on their own bodies while others wanted information on staying safe at music festivals.”
But it’s not just young people meeting clinicians out in the community. The trainee GPs – and a host of other health professionals enthused by what they had heard – have volunteered at food banks, children’s centres and shelters for homeless people.
As well as seeing these services close-up, the health professionals have been offering advice and health checks – such as blood pressure and weight.
It’s back in the classrooms though that the junior doctors, their ranks now swelled by NHS colleagues ranging from practice managers to nurses, podiatrists, occupational therapists and even several psychiatrists, might have the most impact long-term.
Dr Lee explains: “Year 12 students interested in studying to become a doctor do work experience at our practice – and at others. We had noticed that these really clever young people educated in comprehensive schools did not seem as confident as their counterparts from private or grammar schools. That is really what made us think of going in to meet them at their schools and from that we have started mentoring them.”
The health professionals explain the wide range of careers available in the NHS, roles beyond the doctors and nurses usually mentioned in the media (important though they are). The full range is captured best at careers fairs the ambassadors and NHS colleagues have organised for schools across Greenwich, Lewisham and Lambeth – which hundreds of young people have attended.
The ambassadors have advised individuals on the university courses or post-school education and training (such as apprenticeships) best suited to the roles they would like to pursue.
“There are more routes into careers like nursing or physiotherapy than you can shake a stick at. Our local providers such as Lewisham and Greenwich hospitals and Queen Mary’s Sidcup have also been fantastic at giving young people a chance to get a close-up look at what the jobs they’re interested in are really like. For example, we arranged for a young woman thinking about being an operating theatre technician to observe surgery.”
The mentors have also been encouraging those local young people aiming for university to have the confidence to be ambitious.
“I’ve got a GP trainee who went to school with the Prince of Jordan in the Swiss Alps and here he is connecting and having powerful conversations with a young person from Thamesmead. All the trainees have found it energising so it has really brought joy into the workplace,” says Dr Lee.
“The trainees have mentored 5-15 students for a whole year so they are very heavily emotionally invested in them. They gave advice on the college applications, the interview, sitting the exams – really walking alongside the students. It’s been so powerful just having an adult come and say ‘you can absolutely do this – go for it’.”
Emily, a local A level student, says: “The programme has been such an amazing opportunity and I have enjoyed it all. It has allowed me to gain insight into several healthcare settings and has really helped me cement the fact that I would definitely like to follow a career in medicine. I had been doubting myself recently, but after speaking with the specialists at Queen Elizabeth Hospital I feel so much more confident in applying for medicine.”
Students have had provisional offers to Oxbridge and other top universities.
That’s why, Dr Lee says, it won’t just be the students and their parents who are fretting come A Level results day.