Nicholas studied BSc Psychology at University College London, followed by MSc Neuroscience at King's College London, and is now on his final placement at NHS England and NHS Improvement
How did you get onto the NHS Graduate Management Training Scheme?
I wanted to work in the public sector, so I applied to a couple of other graduate schemes, but the NHS stood out for me because of its focus on values.
Firstly, I submitted an online application form via the NHS Graduate Management Training Scheme website. I then took a series of online tests, including verbal and numerical reasoning.
After that, I was invited to a face-to-face interview in central London. Both of my interviewers were alumni of the scheme, so it was interesting to learn how their careers have developed.
The last stage was a day at an assessment centre, giving you a feel for what it's like being a graduate management trainee.
What's a typical day like on the scheme?
It varies depending on which placement and project you're working on, but I'm currently on my final placement at NHS England and NHS Improvement, working on a sustainability programme. I divide my time conducting desk-based research, meeting with the programme team, and developing documents and presentations.
As part of the scheme, we have days out of the office where we learn by experiencing (experientials), as well as action learning sets where we explore some of the challenges we face in the workplace.
What have you enjoyed most about the scheme?
By getting involved in so many projects, I'm constantly learning about new things. This was especially true during the orientation, a 20-day period designed to give trainees an introduction into how the NHS operates.
I also found spending time job shadowing in an ambulance, an emergency department, and in surgery, very rewarding. Some of my colleagues spent time in an air ambulance too. The experience gave me exposure to the different parts of the NHS.
Most importantly, I've met so many interesting people. Being on the scheme is like having a special passport; it gives you the privilege of gaining access to people you probably wouldn't meet in a 'normal' job. You'll also get to make some lifelong friends.
What are the challenges?
The work/life balance can be a challenge at times. We study for two qualifications and there have been occasions when essay submission dates and project deadlines have been very close together. This means you have to be organised and manage your time effectively.
The health system is also quite complex and constantly evolving. The jargon and TLAs (three letter acronyms) in the NHS probably don't help.
In what way is your degree relevant?
For most programme specialisms, you'll need a 2:2 degree, but the trainees in my intake have all studied a range of different subjects.
Therefore, the transferable skills you gain from your degree are more important - being able to articulate your ideas clearly and the ability to work with others are key skills you need. As long as you're able to demonstrate the required skills, it doesn't matter whether you have a degree in English or engineering.
How has your role developed, and what are your career ambitions?
On the policy and strategy specialism, we spend most of our time at NHS England and NHS Improvement, although we do also spend six months outside of this environment. My role has changed from working on national policies and strategies to managing projects in a hospital.
I don't have a concrete plan in terms of career ambitions. I'm keeping an open mind for now and hope to take opportunities when they arise. I'd like to continue working on system-wide policies and strategies.
What tips would you give to those looking to apply for this scheme?
- Understand why you're applying to the NHS scheme. For me, it was because my values aligned with the NHS.
- Do your research. When applying, I found the trainee blogs gave me a good insight into the scheme. I also read what was happening in the health policy world - BBC News and the Guardian are good places to start. For more in-depth analysis, I looked at the health think tanks: The King's Fund, the Health Foundation, and the Nuffield Trust.
- Get on Twitter. It's popular among people working in the NHS. Some of my colleagues have organised informal conversations, visits, and flexi-placements (of six to eight-weeks) through contacting people on Twitter.