T Levels and the NHS: the case of the Royal Devon University Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust


This is one of several resources showing different opportunities open to T Level students when they finish their T Level course.

The employer

Royal Devon University Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust delivers emergency, specialist and general medical services across Devon and parts of Cornwall. It is Devon’s largest employer with over 15,000 staff working in acute hospitals in Barnstaple and Exeter, as well as community inpatient hospitals, outpatient clinics, and primary care services.

The Trust has a large apprenticeship programme, with over 500 staff currently on apprenticeships in a wide range of jobs. It also provides a variety of work placements and internships giving first-hand experience of working in the NHS. The first T Level students started their industry placements with the Trust in 2023 at North Devon District Hospital and Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital.

Opportunities for students

“I feel huge pride and satisfaction in helping young people to make a good choice”

Of the 32 students completing their T Level:

  • 14 are going on to university to study nursing, midwifery, or paediatric nursing
  • 12 are going into employment with the Trust as Health Care Assistants or on the staff ‘bank’  where they take on temporary shifts at the Trust hospitals
  • Four are planning to start an apprenticeship with the Trust
  • Two are taking a year out to think about their options.

Lucy Warner is Young Workforce Facilitator at the Trust. In her view, these are good outcomes for the students which will also benefit the Trust in the longer term.

“Devon is largely a rural community. We don’t have any problems with students travelling to their placement because the college is only two miles from the hospital. But many places in the county, including Barnstaple where North Devon District Hospital is located, aren’t close to any major town or city. North Devon District Hospital is the most remote hospital in England , so we are very focussed on growing our own workforce.

“As we are now one trust covering the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital and the community hospitals as well, the opportunities for staff and students to develop have increased, which is a positive in attracting our future colleagues.

“I’ve been at the hospital for 20 years and I’ve noticed that young people who are born and brought up here may go away for a time, but many of them come back later to work locally. They feel a bond with the area.” 

And in any case, Lucy says, the dividends are felt straightaway, regardless of where students eventually go to in their careers:

“I feel a huge sense of pride and satisfaction in helping young people to make a good choice. We give our T Level students the opportunity and experience to decide for themselves, including deciding what’s not for them.

“We help them along the way.”

Key lessons about the placements

“It gives the students a feel for what they want, what they’re comfortable with”

Lucy Warner is clear about how industry placements help students to develop the skills they need for a career in health.

“First, they learn the physical skills needed to work in a healthcare environment, where you can be on your feet for hours at a stretch doing physical tasks with or for patients. Some students are very happy with this aspect of the work but it’s not for everyone. I’d rather they realise that early on and avoid make a career choice that’s not right for them.

“It gives them a feel for what they want and where they’re comfortable. Do they feel happier in a ward environment or in outpatients? It makes them ask questions about themselves too, like ‘Is this too busy or noisy for me? Would I be better working somewhere calmer?’

“Second, they learn the patient-centred skills that are at the heart of the healthcare professions. Patient observation, talking with patients, carrying out procedures, discussing patient care with colleagues.

“Third, they learn about the opportunities open to them as a healthcare professional. The rotation model we use in our placements means that students consider areas of work that maybe they haven’t ever thought about before. So we help them to make a more informed choice of career pathways into apprenticeship, general nursing, specialist nursing, and so on.”

Placement models

The Trust’s extensive experience in work placements over the past 15 years provides a solid foundation for hosting T Level students on industry placements.

School students in Year 10 have been offered work experience at the Trust since 2010. Four-week work experience placements have been offered to health and social care students since 2015 in areas such as pathology, clinical wards and theatres. The scheme was extended to business studies students in 2020.

Supported internships are offered to young people aged 18-24 with learning disabilities. They give a unique opportunity to gain real life work experience placements in one of the Trust’s two acute hospitals. They are delivered in partnership with three providers, Petroc, Exeter College and Pluss. 

Lucy Warner, who leads work experience programmes in Barnstaple as the Trust’s Young Workforce Facilitator, says: “Facilitating a wide variety of opportunities for young people over such a long period means that we understood what’s needed for T Level students before we started the placements.

“We’ve built a model for day release and rotation across different departments and functions, so young people can experience what it’s like to work in a variety of clinical and non-clinical settings.

“The model we use in the north of the county consists of day release and rotation across different departments and functions, so students can experience what it’s like to work in clinical and non-clinical roles. It’s a bit different in the east, where the students come for two days a week in their second year along with block release. Both models seem to work well.

“Our supervisors are used to looking after students and giving them meaningful experiences. We provide mentoring training for all supervisors involved in work experience and placements, whether they are ward managers, healthcare assistants, nurses, physiotherapists or any of our Trust colleagues.”

Recruitment for the first T Level group at the North Devon District Hospital started in September 2022 with a talk to students explaining the opportunities available, followed by interviews with applicants in November. Students selected for placements were invited with their parents to an informal meeting in January 2023. This was, for some students, an introduction to the hospital. They then met their supervisors and went through a formal induction in February before starting their placements in March.

Placements were planned to take place in Year 1 and Year 2 of the two-year T Level course. Year 1 students started with two initial teaching days to learn about the Trust and its working practices. This was followed by one day a week on placement from March to June, when students went on a planned weekly or two-weekly rotation to experience the work and work environment in different departments.

At the end of Year 1, students were asked to choose four options for where each of them wanted to go back to in Year 2.

Their Year 2 placements were built around three out of their four preferred options. Teaching days took place in September to prepare students for returning to clinical areas. They were delivered by clinical staff and included information about safeguarding, infection control and dementia. Between September and January, students then spent one day a week for nine weeks in their chosen placement areas.

Challenges and solutions

Challenges Solutions
Student onboarding
  • Introduce students to the hospital at an informal meeting
  • Carry out a structured induction with students
  • Deliver teaching days to build their confidence in the hospital environment
Student attendance
  • Ask students to tell us when they cannot attend
  • Say that they must:
    • Call and email the placement department
    • Email the placement coordinator to verify placement hours
    • Inform the provider
Provider communication
  • Hold quarterly meetings with the provider:
    • Meetings chaired by business liaison team
    • Each faculty attends for 20-30 minutes
    • Meetings also attended by work placement coordinators
Work tasks and activities
  • Create handbooks with Do's & Don'ts for students and supervisors
  • Say to students that in the first year they are expected to observe and work within their own capability
  • Ensure that more confident students are not held back from getting involved in basic tasks as soon as they are able


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