Student Placements: Benefit or Burden?
What you can do to make hosting student placements beneficial to students AND you and your organisation.
There’s no denying that hosting student placements requires time and effort. But there are ways of managing student placements that also result in benefits for the placement provider. We will address some common challenges of hosting placements below, and explain some well documented solutions that the Going Rural Health (GRH) team use in their placement planning.
Challenge 1: Supervising students is tough!
Supervising students isn’t necessarily a walk in the park and sometimes it just isn’t someone’s cup of tea. Placement providers talk about how time consuming and isolating supervision can be, and how it impacts on the supervisor’s own workload. Some ways of addressing this include:
- Get training: GRH provides basic, intermediate, and advanced level supervision training a number of times a year for a small fee. Universities are increasingly providing webinars on how to use discipline specific assessment tools and there are also a number of resources available online.
- Collaborative supervision: there is no need to only have one supervisor on a placement. Collaborative supervision has been proven in research to benefit both students and supervisors and can have different formations (Hanson & Deluliis, 2015)
- Two discipline supervisors: you could have two professionals sharing supervision responsibilities
- Multidisciplinary team support: you can have your discipline specific supervisor responsible for the student’s assessment, but the student shares their time across the multidisciplinary team
- Key contacts and mentors: in external supervision models, where the supervisor does not work within the organisation where the students are doing placement, usually means that the students have a key contact/support person within the organisation who they check in with most days. This might be the school principal, the health promotion officer or the gym manager. GRH’s Community Placement Coordinators, and other GRH staff if required, provide mentoring support to students on placement.
- Collaborative learning: students can also be involved in a collaborative learning arrangement, whereby they do their placement with one or more other students who may be the same discipline or different discipline to them. Another term for this is Peer Assisted Learning. Having a peer (or two or three!) to problem solve with, give feedback and support often means that students are less reliant on their supervisor and also allows them to develop other skills such as co-operation and negotiation.
- Promoting student autonomy: whether a student is a 1st year or a 4th year student, is it necessary for them to be with you every second of the day? All students are working towards independent practice so it’s important that they are increasingly given opportunities to work independently, which also gives the supervisor time to focus on their own work. For example, scaffolding techniques can increasingly enable students to undertake patient assessments and low risk interventions. Also, is there a resource that you’d really like developed for your clients that a student could work on? Maybe a video, or some fact sheets or a screening tool? Is there a quality improvement project you’ve been wanting to do but don’t have the time to? Can the students get it started? This leads to the next point of making the placement work for you.
Challenge 2: We don’t have time/we’re too busy/we don’t have enough staff
There are probably few supervisors who don’t feel at least a little relieved when a student/s have finished their placement and head back home. Feeling responsible for the student’s learning outcomes can be hard, but remember, the students are ultimately responsible for their own learning! Here are some tips for making the placement mutually beneficial:
- “If we had time” tasks: when we’re planning placements with organisations we often ask “what are some things you’d like to be doing that you just don’t have time for?” Answers range from wanting to dig into the waitlist, to running a little research project or piloting a new program. So why not get students to do that? GRH have supported placements where physiotherapy students have run pilot chronic pain exercise groups or developed manual handling training packages, and Occupational Therapy (OT) students have made densitisation kits for a hand therapy practice (to mention just a few). This has huge benefits for the students’ learning but also helps you tick of your wishlist!
- Role emerging placements: you don’t need to have a particular discipline in your service to have students do a placement with you. Role emerging placements have been around for at least 20 years and have been shown to provide benefits for students (Lau & Ravenek, 2019) and placement providers (Overton et al., 2009). GRH has experience setting up role emerging placements for physiotherapy, OT and speech pathology.
- Team of supervisors: as previously mentioned, students can have more than one person supporting them during their placement.
- Split placements: perhaps you have staff who are part time or simply don’t want to have students full time but are interested in supervising. Consider splitting the placement across two different sites that have similar “caseloads” for the student. For example, a primary school and a kinder or rehabilitation centre and an aged care facility.
Challenge 3: There’s a lot of planning and paperwork
It’s true that if you want a student placement to go well, you do need to spend some time planning. GRH can support you to both plan the placement and provide guidance and help with the interactions with the university to set up the placement.
Clinical placements are a critical component of a student’s learning, but is reliant on the goodwill of health, education and community organisations to provide learning environments for them. Hopefully the points raised above provide some different ways of thinking about placements, and seeing how you and your organisation can also benefit from the experience. Please contact the Going Rural Health team if you would like to discuss student placements.
Hanson, D. J., & DeIuliis, E. D. (2015). The Collaborative Model of Fieldwork Education: a blueprint for group supervision of students. Occupational Therapy in Health Care, 29(2), 223-239.
Lau, M., & Ravenek, M. (2019). The Student Perspective on Role-Emerging Fieldwork Placements in Occupational Therapy: A Review of the Literature. Open Journal of Occupational Therapy (OJOT), 7(3), 1–21. https://doi.org/10.15453/2168-6408.1544
Overton, A., Clark, M., & Thomas, Y. (2009). A review of non-traditional occupational therapy practice placement education: a focus on role-emerging and project placements. British Journal of Occupational Therapy, 72(7), 294–301.
Claire Salter Parry
Community Placements Co-ordinator
Going Rural Health, Shepparton