New degree apprenticeship route to qualification sees first successful graduate

This national apprenticeship week, United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust (ULHT) is celebrating their first occupational therapist to have undertaken the new trailblazing degree apprenticeship standard for occupational therapists and physiotherapists.

This new way of learning allows employees to attend university as well as practical placements in order to become a fully qualified occupational therapist or physiotherapist.

Rebecca Cooney is the first staff member at the Trust to undertake the degree apprenticeship and has now qualified as an occupational therapist (OT). Rebecca joined the Trust in 2017 as an occupational therapy assistant and started her degree apprenticeship to train as a qualified OT in April 2019, becoming a fully-fledged OT in November 2021.

This new type of apprenticeship route expands the offer of integrated university and practical training helping to offer develop opportunities to grow existing talent. ULHT was given ministerial approval to lead on the development of the first ever degree apprenticeship for the roles of physiotherapist and occupational therapist (OT) in 2017.

The aim of the degree apprenticeship is to boost numbers of allied health professionals (AHPs) in a bid to tackle both local and national staffing shortages. It has provided local hospital staff with an alternative route to becoming a registered healthcare professional.

Rebecca attended Sheffield Hallam University as well as undergoing a variety of placements including community based, paediatrics, and mental health. The course offers a wide range of practical experiences to help students like Rebecca apply their OT skills in a variety of settings.

As a newly qualified OT, Rebecca now works permanently at Pilgrim Hospital, Boston as an occupational therapist within the surgery and orthopaedic team.

Rebecca Cooney said: ““My journey at ULHT began in April 2017 when I started as a senior occupational therapy assistant, within the orthopaedic and surgical team. I was supported and encouraged by my team in applying for the new apprenticeship that was going to start after only one year of being an assistant within occupational therapy. The OT apprenticeship started in April 2018 and I was privileged to be part of the first cohort nationally. I was moved to the medical team within Pilgrim Hospital and I was allocated a mentor.

“During my time within work during the course, I slowly built on the theory I learnt at university and put this into practice. Over the time of the course with the support of my mentor Hollie I was able to develop my competencies in completing OT assessments, interventions, discharge planning and managing my own caseload. I will now be focussing on completing my preceptorship programme to continue to develop myself further in Occupational Therapy”

Hollie Andrews, Team Lead Occupational Therapist at ULHT, and Rebecca’s mentor said: “Rebecca has worked so hard over the last three years, pushing herself to the limits at times, to overcome some of life’s unexpected hurdles along the way, showing resilience and determination.

Rebecca is now applying her new and widened knowledge, skills and practice as an occupational therapist within the Surgery and Orthopaedic Team. We are really delighted to be able to offer this learning opportunity to team members like Rebecca so that we can retain and develop our already amazing staff members.”

Anita Cooper, Divisional Lead Clinician and a registered AHP at ULHT said: “Our occupational therapists form part of our Allied Health Professions (AHPs) who work in a variety of roles across the NHS and within our Trust. As fully registered professionals, they provide assessment, diagnosis, treatment, support and advice for people in a variety of settings and throughout their life. Apprenticeships offer a new way to help people join a team and then develop and grow their career. With over 14 different AHP roles within the NHS, Social Care and independent and voluntary sectors there are a lot of opportunities for someone looking for a career in healthcare. We hoped that through being part of the trailblazer group to develop and offer this opportunity to staff that we would see an increase in our number of registered physiotherapists and OTs and following Rebecca’s successful learning, we are now seeing the benefits of that. As Rebecca has shown an ability and eagerness to learn can help grow your career in a field you know you already love working in.”

Interested in finding out more and becoming or becoming an Occupational Therapist – you can discover more about this rewarding and diverse role at or what to know more about apprenticeships visit:




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