Onboarding for health and social care practitioners transitioning to academia

This blog has been contributed by Professor Claire Thurgate, Head of the School of Nursing, Allied and Public Health, Kingston University and Dr Beverly Joshua, Head of the School of Health Sciences, University of Greenwich.

The United States of America (USA) recognised the need to attract, recruit and retain health care academics since the 1990’s to ensure they had a qualified academic workforce that could meet the future workforce needs. Despite the experiences in the USA and the impact on student recruitment the challenges to academic recruitment in the United Kingdom was not published until the Council of Deans of Health academic staffing census in 2019. Within the last year Health Education England (HEE) and National Health Service England (NHSE) have acknowledged the need for an appropriately qualified workforce to facilitate the delivery of sustainable high quality, evidence-based education which supports current and future workforce needs.

Leaving practice and entering academia requires the individual to transition through a period of  ‘confusing nowhere of in-betweenness’ – the channel between what was and what is. Transition requires an individual to let go of former roles, disconnect from previous support, experience a loss of familiar reference points, integrate new knowledge, alter behaviour, learn new roles, make adjustments between former and new expectations and ultimately change their definition of self. As new academics onboard to academia their experience will vary with many being assigned a mentor, completing mandatory training, observing teaching and completing appropriate teaching qualifications. If new academics are to be supported through this period of in-betweenness the onboarding process needs to be reviewed to enable new academics achieve self-efficacy.

Onboarding should be formalised, commencing prior to an individual starting in their new role, and individualised to allow the individual to experience the complexities of being an academic. Such programmes should involve new academics completing a needs assessment to self-evaluate their current knowledge and skills and identify their individual development requirements. This could include mapping professional development to resources available, loosely structured seminars facilitated by experienced academics, monthly professional development workshops, online self-paced modules supported by a School or Faculty co-ordinator.

Competency-based frameworks can be used to structure the onboarding process and may include such domains as, planning and preparation, learning environment, facilitating learning, professional responsibilities. Other formal onboarding programmes include competency-based faculty development plan, which consists of a competency-based educational learning needs self-assessment, an individualised faculty development guide which provides milestones for measurement and online self-paced modules mapped to each core competency.

Academia cannot underestimate the importance of formal onboarding as an intervention to support and retain academics. We are reviewing our onboarding process and now keep in touch with our new academics prior to their start date. This includes touching base and supporting them to gain more understanding of the role of an academic, the environment and topics they may be teaching.  We are developing staff development linked to an individual needs assessment and providing a more formal timetable of events. While we hope that these initial actions will support the transition to higher education and a sense of belonging, we recognise that there is a role for the use of technology in developing a formal onboarding programme which ensures clear engagement, evaluation and link to an individual’s appraisal and personal development plan.