The good news is that many health programmes already consider creative graduates. In this article, we explain why it might be a good idea if all programmes had a creative graduate entry pathway.

“But don’t you need a science?” It’s a fairly common question when it comes to health entry, and it’s hard to get a clear answer. Institutional reponses can include “we don’t, but I think we’re the exception” to “sometimes dancers get in to physiotherapy programmes, but that’s about it, I think.” And this sense of “maybe, maybe not” isn’t a bad answer, as it accurately reflects variability in entry requirements.

Universities are at liberty to set their own entry criteria for their courses, but most like-for-like courses tend to have the same requirements, plus or minus a few UCAS points. What we wanted to understand was whether a science A-level or degree was a common entry requirement or not, so we had a look at the entry requirements for two of the most available and studied programmes: adult nursing and physiotherapy.

What is letting who in

A science A-level or degree is not usually required for entry into adult nursing. Only 12 of the 75 undergraduate adult nursing programmes require a science beyond GCSE level, and only 5 of the 38 postgraduate pre-registration courses state this criteria. This means that over 85% of adult nursing courses are open to creative graduates, or those holding creative A-levels.

Physiotherapy, however, is almost the inverse of adult nursing. 40 out of the 43 undergraduate programmes require a science A-level or degree. Postgraduate entry is slightly more open, but 10 out of the 26 programmes require science. So, whereas only 15% of adult nursing courses require science, science is a requirement for nearly 75% of physiotherapy courses.

This variability extends to other disciplines: occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, therapeutic radiography and midwifery tend to be more open, whereas fields like podiatry, paramedicine, and nutrition tend to require science. So, “maybe, maybe not” is a good summation of what candidates not holding a science qualification face.

It’s also bit of a postcode lottery

Going back to adult nursing, we decided to map availability against entry criteria to see where a creative graduate might struggle to gain entry close to home. From the map below, you can see that this can be in key creative centres such as Brighton, Bristol and Leicester. There is also one single postgraduate option for those who live in the East of England, including the 13,000 people who study creative subjects there each year.

Note: Criteria as outlined on UCAS. Main campus mapped only; some courses are offered at multiple sites. Yellow indicates science is required for postgraduate entry; red indicates science is required for undergraduate entry.

In Brighton, Bristol and Leicester, creative graduates can still consider other fields of health, like occupational therapy, podiatry and speech and language therapy. Creative graduates would also be likely to progress into nursing via an apprenticeship route, or by taking an Access diploma. The map, however, does serve to illustrate how selection criteria at one university can affect availability for a whole region.

The argument for a national creative entry pathway

Health courses are regulated, so anyone who completes a course will have met a uniform set of criteria. Our perspectives show that people with creative backgrounds and qualifications not only meet this criteria, but they also bring the bonus asset of their creative capability and training into care. In some cases, they also progress into significant leadership roles.

Put simply, requiring science shuts out capable people, and may even inhibit diversity. For example, more men study creative subjects than psychology and sports science combined. It also shuts out those who cannot relocate to study at a university with a more inclusive health recruitment approach. It goes against the ethos of both the NHS and higher education to create these barriers.

The fundamental issue, however, is that creative capability absolutely belongs in health delivery. Dancers unsurprisingly thrive in health professions that centre on movement, like podiatry and physiotherapy. They can express – and not just explain – how the body moves. As the NHS shifts to person-centred care, this ability to express can only enhance the patient experience.

So, how would a national creative entry pathway help? By sending out a consistent message to creative graduates – who form the fifth largest group of students – that they are welcome in the NHS.  This would likely broaden course uptake in areas that have high numbers of creatives, like Brighton, Bristol and Leicester, and aid in recruitment to hard-to-fill courses like podiatry and mental health nursing. At a time of workforce shortages, transience and importantly, transformation, this feels, in our opinion, like the right move to make.


5th June 2020