Improving the training of our nurses

Sian Shaw

Sian Shaw has developed technologies that move the all-important records of a nurse's training from paper to online. The benefits go far beyond making it impossible to leave them on the bus.

If you stopped the average man or woman in the street and asked them which profession they felt it was most critical to train properly it's highly likely that 'doctor', 'nurse', 'teacher' or 'pilot' would come up on their list.

So when Siân Shaw, an ARU Senior Lecturer in Nursing came up with a clever concept that would improve the training of nurses, it is small surprise that soon the NHS was very interested.

Siân feels trainee nurses need all the help they can get: 'Being a student nurse is hard work and more stressful than most degrees. You have to work late and early, deal with dying people and you can feel on your own as you may be the only student nurse on a ward. If you haven’t made a mistake you are either not telling the truth – or you have not been in practice. We must support them as much as we can.'

She looked at the way their progress is recorded when out on the many 12-week practical placements – whether in nursing homes, hospitals, GPs’ surgeries or patients’ homes. These placements form 50% of the course. Siân knows from personal experience that the recording of a nurse’s training is cumbersome and not user friendly. Every piece of information is hand written in a fat wadge of comb-bound papers carried around by the student – everything from whether they have passed the module on administering medicines, to their level of courage (e.g. in speaking up if things go wrong).

They sit down with their mentor from time to time to fill in sheets about their achievements and grades in their assessments. And from time to time it gets photocopied to protect against the obvious danger: leaving it on the bus or losing the original.

Lost records, faulty records

The process of copying however, is itself prone to human error. What’s more nurses have been known to burn their records to celebrate passing their degrees. This means the university does not have a full record; nor do mentors or students, and they may be needed for references.

Isolated students

There is another problem looking for a solution that has emerged of late. When Care in the Community came in around the year 2000, this meant that nurses do an ever larger part of their training in more diverse locations, where there is no internet. So how are they to stay in touch with their academic tutor? With 1,500 students across three years this can be a challenge. “The students are spread across three campuses 50 miles apart, and when they are on their practical placements they can feel quite isolated. They are mentored by a senior nurse, but will see their personal tutor only once during a placement.

Nursing shortage

This is set against the backdrop of a serious shortage of nurses in the UK. It is therefore “…in everyone’s interests that nurses do as well as they can and pass”, says Siân, especially when it costs £60-70,000 to train a nurse over a three-year degree. Average failure and drop-out rate to date is 20% nationally, although at ARU this is an impressively low 5%.

The solution is Siân’s brainchild and is a technical one: an all-singing, all-dancing app Called MyProgress. She was initially inspired when she heard about medical students using a similar app, and wondered if she could adapt it for nurses. It has been commended by the National Medical Council and the NHS stepped in to fund it in two rounds, after successful early trials funded by ARU.

A human, digital solution

MyProgress allows the student, their tutor and their mentor to log all aspects of the student’s progress online – and crucially when they are out in the field they can add data on a tablet without needing access to the Internet. It gets synched later.

Early trials with 30 students in 2015 expanded to the current large trial of 180 students plus mentors and tutors. Siân is ably assisted by an ARU marketing graduate, Erasmo Musci, and is making the project a subject of her PhD. “The great thing is that this could be used on any course with a practical element – such as in social work or paramedicine.”

The project is really taking off and proving to reach its ultimate aims: to make the experience of studying nursing firstly a great deal better organized, and secondly a great deal more supportive of nurses. Coming soon to a hospital near you…


The benefits of ‘MyProgress’


X Paper records

√ Records on ‘MyProgress’ app

Marks are calculated manually


Spreadsheets add up marks automatically; can also produce other metrics eg time sheets

An inert paper document

Tutor can use the app to send/post supportive messages to the student, eg congratulating them when they pass a module

No means of sending alerts to tutors, mentors or students


System will flag up reminders of deadlines and a student’s overall progress as green, amber or red

Cannot pick up late completers. Tutors can go for weeks or months without seeing a student’s progress

Tutors can quickly see when students are coasting or flagging so they can intervene in a timely manner

Students can falsify dates

Digital clock in the app logs true time that assessments are completed

Entries can be falsified



NHS likes the absolute governance the app provides – it offers total accountability and assures high quality of training

Nurses often have a steep learning curve in IT when starting their first NHS job


Makes nurses tech savvy for entering the NHS, which is increasingly digitised

Time is wasted leafing through a thick document to locate a topic

Is searchable so can quickly find different topics in their training

Can be lost or damaged

Is held up in ‘the cloud’



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