My experience joining the Temporary HCPC Register during Covid-19
When I reflect back over the last few months it is amazing to think how much has changed. It’s incredible how we have all stepped up, in our own ways, to adapt to the new normal we find ourselves in. We could never have anticipated how much our lives would change in such a short space of time, even in early March as we prepped our final university assignments for the semester. As final year student dietitians my colleagues and I were in the midst of perhaps one of the busiest semesters of the four-year degree programme. We had completed all our clinical placements, sat our final exam, and we were submitting our professional portfolios, final group work and dissertation research projects. Then University came to an abrupt halt and we had to quickly adapt to new ways of working; we moved to online learning and managed complex group work projects in new and innovative ways.
I had already secured a dietitian job working for the military medical services on graduation, however when Covid-19 suddenly started to look serious I was keen to support the NHS in any way I could. I contacted the Dietetics department of my local Trust and offered to support the department as a volunteer. Things quickly escalated. The Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), which regulates the dietetic profession, announced an emergency Covid-19 register. This enabled eligible final year healthcare students to support the NHS early. Normally students who have not yet been awarded their degree cannot join the HCPC register. Even then, newly qualified dietitians often take on a clinical support role until their full HCPC registration is confirmed, which can take a couple of months. Yet, within a matter of weeks I was attending a local Trust induction and preparing to start work in the NHS as a band 5 dietitian. It goes without saying this was a very different start to my dietetic career than anticipated, but I was proud to be in a position to be able to support my local NHS.
Suddenly I found myself in a weird transition. I am a final year student dietitian with a dissertation and a final group work project to complete, and I am also a practising dietitian assessing patients on the wards and determining their care-plans. Not only this, PPE is now essential when you enter each ward. Carrying out my dietetic consultations in a face mask and visor was never something I ever experienced in my training, but now it is a normal way of working. It is hot and uncomfortable and sometimes patients struggle to understand me if they previously relied upon lip reading. It has definitely made me reflect on how important our eye-contact, body language and facial expressions really are and I make a concerted effort to smile more at patients and colleagues alike. Even with a mask, a genuine smile really makes a difference.
The Trust has been extremely supportive throughout my transition; I work part-time, flexible hours so I can continue to prioritise my University commitments, while also having the preceptorship support as if a full-time, permanent member of staff. I have been made to feel very welcome in the department and, irrespective of how busy the other dietitians are, they always have time for my million-and-one questions.
The journey from university student to a student practicing as a newly qualified professional has been a mix of excitement, nerves, pride and more nerves, but on reflection the emergency HCPC register has presented me with an amazing professional opportunity. The transition from student to newly qualified practitioner was always going to be a daunting one, but doing so early in my training (and during a pandemic) has taught me so much about the importance of the dietetic profession and also about myself. Had Covid-19 not happened, I would have left clinical practice to pursue a role in Defence. Now, I can combine the two. I have learned so much in a very short space of time and I feel my confidence and resilience grow which each ward visit. Most of all I feel extremely honoured to be able to contribute in some small way and so early on in my career.
Thank you to all at the School of Clinical and Applied Sciences, Leeds Beckett University and to staff at the University Hospitals Derby and Burton NHS Trust for all your guidance and ongoing support.