Growing our own ODPs through apprenticeship degrees


Growing our own ODPs through apprenticeship degrees

Our operating theatres have a diverse range of colleagues, from consultant surgeons and scrub nurses, to theatre support workers and recovery practitioners…and everyone in between.

But this week we’re celebrating our team of operating department practitioners – more commonly known as ODPs - because Tuesday 14 May is National ODP Day after all!

ODPs work across our different type of operating theatres, and even in our emergency departments, critical care units, and pre-operative assessment clinics.

And there’s a brand new way of getting into a career as an ODP - an apprenticeship degree run by the University of Birmingham, which has been incredibly successful at the trust so far.

Sally Boggie, our theatre practice educator and ODP apprentice lead, and also an ODP herself, explains how colleagues have grown their career through the ODP apprenticeship.

“We’ve always had ODP students at the trust, but they’ve traditionally had to self-fund through expensive student fees to get into the position, which was pretty difficult for many people as they still needed to pay their bills,” she says.

“With apprenticeships becoming ever popular in the NHS, we started to offer the ODP apprenticeship, and although it’s run by the University of Birmingham, it offers local classes in Exeter, making it much more accessible for people in Somerset.

“What makes it even more attractive is that our apprentices are now getting paid while learning, so it’s a lot easier for them to manage their commitments outside of work.

“We now have three final year apprentices at MPH who are due to qualify in the next couple of months, and a further 13 within their first and second year, which is a fantastic news for recruitment to our operating theatres.

“At YDH we have one first year apprentice, as well as a number of ODP students who are direct entrants, although we now only recruit through the more-rounded apprenticeship model.

“The apprenticeship is particularly useful for our healthcare assistants, as we can support them from entry level into the trust, and we can help them with the Level 3 healthcare apprenticeship too, so they can go straight onto their ODP apprenticeship.

“It gives them that clear career pathway, so they know there’s progression available in our operating theatres – very much a ‘grow your own’ model, where our HCAs can become registered practitioners.

“Once a colleague qualifies as an ODP and they become registered, they’re able to work in all three areas of the peri-operative environment – anaesthetics, surgery, and post-anaesthetic recovery.

“While some ODPs choose to specialise in one area, such as anaesthetics or scrub, others have dual roles – giving them a really broad experience.

“When they finish the apprenticeship and graduate with a BSc (Hons) in Operating Department Practice, they can register with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) to become registered practitioners.”

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the role of an ODP has gained in profile, and has showcased the skills they have, and how they’re so transferable.

Sally continues: “The growth in awareness of ODPs is clear, as so many have branched out into other non-theatre areas, such as our critical care unit at MPH, and even in our emergency department at YDH, as well as our pre-operative assessment clinics.

“And of course nationally, there’s a big drive to get ODPs recognised as well, and awareness days like ODP Day really help!

“Two of our ODPs, Natasha Adams and Laura Ramsey, worked in our operating theatres as healthcare assistants for over ten years, with no clinical experience, and our other third year student Magda Woods previously worked in our critical care unit during COVID-19 before she started her apprenticeship.

“We’ve now seen them all the way through their ODP training, to become qualified professionals – it has been so fantastic to see them grow in their careers.

“Our apprentices now do their surgical first assistance training in their final year, which is an extended role where they go on to assist our surgeons – there’s lots of directions that they can go in, such as leadership, or moving to different departments like critical care.

“It’s fair to say that the apprenticeship is certainly not easy, as it’s a degree so a lot of work goes into it, but once they finish then they come out as well-rounded practitioners.

“They have a lot of time to integrate into the teams during their apprenticeship, so they’re pretty much ready to hit the ground running as an ODP when they finish.

“Colleagues in our theatres have told me that our apprentices are such a massive help, as even though they’re students, they are very much part of the team, and by the end of the course they come out as amazing practitioners.

“It’s worth saying that the apprenticeship isn’t only for colleagues who work in theatres, but anyone who works in the trust. For example, we’ve had some apprentices who have no previous theatre experience, such as from our eye clinic and even medical secretaries – it’s for anyone and everyone!”

Speaking about her apprenticeship, Natasha Adams says: “It has not only helped me progress professionally and academically, but it has also given me so more self-belief and confidence in myself.

“I would recommend this pathway for anyone interested in a career the operating theatre department!”

Magda Woods adds: “My favourite thing about being a degree apprentice is being able to use the knowledge I’ve learnt at university almost straight away. It’s incredible to see things in practice that instantly improve patient care.

“I love all the skills that you gain whilst training as a scrub, anaesthetic and recovery practitioner but also as a surgical first assistant (SFA).

“As an SFA, you get to follow the patient perioperative journey, and contribute significantly to patient care by ensuring seamless surgical assistance, while maintaining patient safety and quality outcomes.

“Assisting during operations and having that front view makes me feel incredibly privileged, to be able to learn from the surgeons.”

Laura Ramsey says she first entered theatres as a healthcare assistant 11 years ago, and has always admired the role of an ODP.

“Becoming an ODP was always something I wanted to achieve, but I couldn’t give up my job to do so,” she says.

“This apprenticeship route enabled me to gain access to higher education in a way that suited my family situation, with the added bonus of being in a trust that I already worked for.

“Support from the university and the trust has been amazing, and I would encourage anyone who is thinking of becoming an ODP to look into this route.”

If you like what you’ve heard and are interested in becoming an ODP, contact Sally on

Happy ODP Day!