Making Placements Happen

ensuring clinical placements continue

– Even during a pandemic


In ordinary times placements are established through relationships between industry partners and education providers and are based on the needs of the curriculum and the learning opportunities of the host site. Effectively it is an apprenticeship model designed to demonstrate to students how the job is done; it sounds pretty straightforward.

However, like the metaphorical duck swimming on a pond, there is significant amount of work going on underneath that seemingly calm situation.

In public health it is an expectation that health services support student learning at all levels, therefore education providers can rely upon those services to accept, and support, their students (DHHS, 2019). This sets up a context where large numbers of students can be allocated to large health services – makes sense right: greatest number to the biggest service? However we know that students can almost become a commodity as they attract funding for placements: the more students = the more funding can be attracted to that service (McBride et al 2019). This puts significant pressures on the staff who work with and support the students as they aim to deliver a safe and effective learning experience for the students, while also ensuring safe and effective patient care delivery (Flott & Linden, 2016; O’Connor et al 2019). It also means that these staff are critical to the success of student placement experiences, both to the students and to the care delivered, and ultimately to the organisation (Rance & Sweet, 2016). Thus relationships between health services and education providers can often rely significantly on those staff who are ‘on the ground’ teaching and caring. As placement co-ordinators, we see this relationship as critically important and one that requires constant nurturing and support.

The Going Rural Health (GRH) program fosters these relationships with the approach that the placement experience must be of high quality, authentic and valuable to both the student and the host site; something we believe that rural placements can provide as a result of dedicated staff who are committed to training and the embedding of students as part of the care team. It is because GRH values our relationships with the staff and students we support, far more than numbers on a spreadsheet indicating how many students went through a placement in a year.

Behind every student placement there is a team of staff working to ensure the placement meets the learning needs of the student, that the staff supervising the student are skilled and prepared to provide the support and learning to the student when they attend, that non-placement aspects such as access to buildings and resources (e.g. IT) are set up for the student; we even arrange accommodation and financial assistance in many instances.

It is our ideal outcome that a student arrives at a placement completely and utterly unaware of how many staff have been involved, or the number of planning meetings/emails/phonecalls that have gone on to enable the placement to occur. So when a student has a poor experience, or a health service feels the demands are too great, we take that very seriously. These pressures have never been more evident than during the current times of COVID-19. Students have had placements cancelled or rearranged with little notice, health services have had to navigate an ever-changing landscape of safety measure implementation all the while not knowing if or when they might be overwhelmed by an influx of severely unwell patients.

It is a fundamental belief amongst health care providers that patient care takes precedence over education and yet the need for education never abates; it is not feasible to halt student learning if we aim to meet the ongoing demands of health care provision. Many students have been able to adapt to the state of flux, some have even revelled in becoming a team member at such a time of need and have seen the pandemic as a valuable learning experience, both in a clinical context but also in how a team can work together and support one another.

These students are the kind of future workforce we want to foster and sustain. We acknowledge and are grateful to those students who can see what needs to be done and work to make a genuine contribution to the outcomes for the patients they care for and the teams they are becoming a part of. We celebrate their enthusiasm, their role modelling and their willingness to embrace something that is unknown, but by no means unbeatable; not if they are our health practitioners of the future.


DHHS. (2019). Standardised Schedule of Fees for Clinical Placement of Students in Victorian Public Health Services for 2020.Available online here.

Flott, E., & Linden, L. (2016). The clinical learning environment in nursing education: A concept analysis. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 72(3), 501–513. DOI:

McBride, L., Fitzgerald, C., Costello, C., & Perkins, K. (2019). Allied health pre-entry student clinical placement capacity: Can it be sustained? Australian Health Review, 44, 39–46. DOI:

O’Connor, A., Cantillon, P., Parker, M., & McCurtin, A. (2019). Juggling roles and generating solutions; practice-based educators’ perceptions of performance-based assessment of physiotherapy students. Physiotherapy (United Kingdom), 105(4), 446–452. DOI:

Rance, S., & Sweet, L. (2016). Developing clinical teaching capacities of midwifery students. Women and Birth, 29(3), 260–268. DOI:

Keryn Bolte

Student Placements Manager

Lecturer in Rural Student Placement Education

Going Rural Health Wangaratta

Nurse & Midwife