Supporting students on placement

Supporting students on placements is paramount to the future success of the clinical workforce. The number of healthcare students from all clinical disciplines in placement is huge and in some disciplines continues to grow.

Over the last 50 years there has been an increase in the number of medical school places in the UK. At the end of 2021 the Medical Schools Council said the number of places was set to rise to 9,500 per annum. In 2020, the number of applicants accepted to nursing courses increased by 25%.

Placements offer these students the opportunity to learn skills including communicating with patients and other team members. However, there is an associated financial cost. In 2021/22 the tariff for an undergraduate medical placement was £33,286. The tariff for a non-medical placement was £3,856.

It is therefore vital placements offer real value to students, allowing them to become confident and competent healthcare professionals. However, we hear anecdotal evidence that many students struggle to gain sufficient teaching and experience from their placement. It appears the main issue is a breakdown in communication between the placement supervisor and the student.

So, what are the benefits of clinical placements and how can supervisors support students on placement?

Why do placements matter to students?

According to NHS Health Careers, clinical placements help students learn key skills, including  communication skills, physical examinations, clinical skills and professionalism. This immersive practical learning also allows students to network with potential colleagues and make crucial career decisions by giving them a better insight into their chosen careers.  Placements also provide vital opportunities to apply their skills and knowledge to real life patient care.

Placements are also a great source of motivation for most healthcare students. Their courses usually consist of hours of lectures and reading. Being able to experience the environment they will be in once they graduate can give them a much-needed boost to continue with their studies. Also, learning from experiential and reflective learning is paramount.  You need to know that you can apply your academic learning to real-life patient care.

What do supervisors gain from supporting students on placements?

Traditionally, people believe mentees have the most to gain from mentee/mentor relationships. However, that is not always the case.

As a placement supervisor, you are given a direct link to future healthcare professionals. This gives you an opportunity to shape the future of the NHS, inspiring and motivating the next generation. You can develop your leadership and communication skills and gain insight into what the future of healthcare might look like.

You can impart your personal wisdom and give all the advice you wish someone had given you at the start of your career. Many mentors find they gain a lot of personal satisfaction from supporting and motivating students on placements.

How to communicate with students on placement

Below are some simple tips to help ensure effective communication during student placements.

  • Identify their aims: At the beginning of the placement, discuss the student’s aims and objectives so you are both sure of what they want to gain. You can then help meet realistic goals.
  • Check in regularly: By keeping regular contact you can quickly identify any potential issues before they have a significant impact on the student’s experience or learning.
  • Give constructive feedback: Walsh (2010) advised that providing feedback is a key part of supporting students in practice.
  • Engage in conversations about the profession: Find out what areas of the industry your student is particularly interested in. You can then support them to gain extra experience related to their interests.
  • Highlight interprofessional collaboration: Even if the student shadowing you is not pursuing your profession you can still impart wisdom and foster enthusiasm.
  • Avoid cynicism: Healthcare professionals face many challenges and it can be hard to maintain a positive outlook. However, it is important to be positive when interacting with your student. Negative statements about the future of a profession can be incredibly demotivating for students.

Supporting the future of healthcare

Students are the future of healthcare in the UK so it is in everyone’s interest for them to gain the best possible experience.  And for them to want to stay working in clinical practice.  All students should feel supported during placements by both their placement provider and supervisor.

Using the top tips above will help you ensure open communication with your students and improve their overall experience.

Further support

Video: UNISON’s top tips for clinical placements

TED series: The secret to giving great feedback

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