HFMA Academy: studying during lockdown

01 March 2021 Steve Brown

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The HFMA Academy wanted to understand how these dramatic changes had impacted on those studying for HFMA diplomas. So it asked a handful of learners about their personal experience of studying during the pandemic and in a lockdown.Emily Osgood p

Some 35 learners joined the programme during the year, joining others already on either the diploma or advanced diploma in healthcare business and finance.

Learners have had to negotiate increasing work pressures – long shifts, weekend working and fewer leave days in many cases. Some have been redeployed to support their organisations’ response. Many in support functions have moved to home working. They’ve also seen home lives turned upside down as lockdowns have been imposed and they have taken on increased carer responsibilities or home-schooling duties.

For some, studying has had to be put to one side. For others, online delivery of HFMA diplomas has suited their new way of working. The flexibility of the programme and the fact that it was designed as an online course seem to have helped a number of people.

GP partner Michelle Brennan says the time commitment for studying was already significant, but it became particularly difficult during the pandemic. As well as general work pressures, she has recently taken a vaccination site lead role. Remote study is the only thing that would have worked alongside such commitments and she says that if she hadn’t been granted an extension, she would have struggled to complete her assessment.

Similarly, Georgina Brixey-Worrall, a GP practice manager in Somerset, says that studying has often had to take a back seat to work demands. She is also involved with the local vaccine programme, which means weekend working, and says she is well behind on coursework and assignments.

But while there is no opportunity to take dedicated study time, she says the ‘HFMA has been great at supporting me’ and highlights the benefits of being able to log on ‘when you have the time and energy’.

Others have found that studying can fit in well with working from home. There is less time lost in commuting, although workloads have increased across the board. Zoe Bladon, patient co-ordinator at The Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Foundation Trust, has been working from home for the majority of the year and believes this has increased her capacity for online learning. However, she says: ‘I have found sometimes my motivation levels can be quite low, as I am not changing environments as I would during a usual working day.’

A number of people pointed out that working from home meant that the vast majority of their time was now on screen.

‘It is often difficult to find the motivation to study online having spent the whole day working online,’ says Jonathan Gould, head of finance at Shropshire Community Health NHS Trust. However, he sees the ability to meet other learners online outside of work as a bonus.

Jayne Taylor, senior finance manager at Sheffield Clinical Commissioning Group, agrees it would be good to cut screen time – some form of text-to-speech software or facility would help she suggests. But again, she highlights the flexibility – being able to do a couple of hours early in the morning at a weekend or half an hour at lunchtime.

Ms Taylor is working more flexibly and the studying can adapt to accommodate this. And she adds that, with lockdown restrictions in place, there are at least no distractions from socialising.

‘It has been a difficult year for learners on the programme,’ says Academy head Emily Osgood. ‘However, many have continued to meet the demands of study and have found some balance between work, home and learning commitments.

‘A number of assessments achieved distinctions, which is very impressive given the challenges learners faced. We feel incredibly proud of them, but also of our talented tutoring team, who have continued to provide high level support throughout.’