How NHS-R Community do The Apprentice…

By Zoe Turner

One of the tasks on the Apprentice a number of years ago was for the contestants to put on a corporate event, at no small cost to the people attending I might add. It’s a tale often told because one of the contestants was gluten free and no one had accounted for dietary needs amongst the contestants so the poor ‘gluten free lady’, as she was known, was served a fruit salad.

The reason I’m apparently going off tangent so early in a blog, is that it struck me that the Apprentice is all about throwing people in at the deep end and seeing how they cope. It’s entertainment but clashes with the premise that these are potential apprentices to a ‘British business magnate’ (as Wikipedia calls him). Contrast this with NHS-R and how I came to be attending the Train the Trainer event at the end of 2019 and then helped to run the first of 3 local courses this January, having only just started learning R around 2 years ago.

Analysts have many expectations made of them. They have to be technical, able to interpret data and communicate themselves clearly to non-analysts. Very rarely though will an analyst be expected to train others. Some may produce or present some training to support or mentor fellow analysts, and even then my experience has always been on the receiving end. Coupled with the fact that I’ve never really had a burning desire to teach, it was a surprise to find myself on a course on how to deliver the NHS-R ‘Introduction to R’ workshop.

The reason I did it is that my involvement with NHS-R has led to this natural consequence of training others. I started with attending the course myself, then presented at the conference and facilitated an Introduction Course run by NHS-R but hosted by my Trust. I then didn’t hesitate in agreeing to taking on the training.

NHS-R Community held their first two-day Train the Trainer event in Birmingham organised through AphA (Association of Professional Healthcare Analysts). I was supported to go on this by my manager, Chris Beeley, who is a huge advocate of R and Shiny. Whilst he himself has run several workshops over the years I, notably, have run zero!

At the TtT (got to get an acronym in there) I had the opportunity to meet lots of motivated people from around the British Isles who were as keen as I was, not only to learn how to teach R but also to talk about data – that happened quite a bit in the breaks. We had an opportunity to present to each other, and that was useful as I learn especially from watching others. Everyone has their own style and it gets perfected over time but I was hugely impressed by how engaging people were and how quickly they could read about a subject that was new to them (we looked at the RStudio presentation slides and then go on to express clearly what they’d just learned.

I could go on about what I learned at the course, but the proof of its value is in what I did with it. And so on 17th January, Chris and I held a workshop for 15 people from various organisations; some had travelled as far as London and Portsmouth, such is the commitment to learn R. Chris led the workshop and I did the live coding/support role which took the edge off that ‘first time’ feeling.

This idea of having at least two people in a workshop is a good one, even when the trainer is very experienced. Chris, for example, is very used to running workshops alone, but inevitably people get stuck or things don’t work as they should and so I did the helping while Chris moved between training and coding. It felt, to me at least, like the burden was shared. It helped to ensure that no-one in the group was allowed to fall behind so far that they just gave up.

Chris and I had gone through the slides beforehand as he’d not gone on the TtT course, and having not written them himself, I wanted to make sure he’d know what was covered. What reassured me was that, as he presented the course, there wasn’t a part of it that I didn’t understand myself and couldn’t cover if I had to take over at that moment. And so the day wasn’t as nerve-racking as I anticipated, and I had fun – which must have been noticeable to the group, as I had an email commenting on how we are clearly a happy team!

Whilst I haven’t actually run a workshop, I think the process I’ve gone through to get to this point has certainly built up my confidence to do it. I’ve taken every opportunity NHS-R community has offered, from doing the introduction to presenting at the conference, and so this next thing – to run the training myself – hasn’t been so scary after all. I feel like a happy and well-supported apprentice of NHS-R, and the great thing about NHS-R in this is that everyone can be an apprentice too – you just have to get involved.

Being open-source, all the slides for the trainer course and the introduction course are available on GitHub:

Train the Trainer course materials can be found at:

Course materials for the underlying Intro to R course are found at:

Zoë Turner, Senior Information Analyst, Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust.

@Letxuga007 and curator of @DataScienceNotts (formerly known as @AppliedInfoNotts)

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