Supporting Students Whilst on Placements

Supporting students whilst on clinical placements is imperative. The UK hosts tens of thousands of healthcare students, and the number of individuals being accepted into healthcare courses is increasing each year. According to the House of Commons, in 2020, ““the number of applicants from England who were accepted to nursing courses increased by 25%…to a new record of 28,900”.” It is now more crucial than ever to provide robust support to these students throughout their degrees and ensure they amass sufficient experience to bolster their learning and career advancement during their placements.

The  Department of Health and Social Care estimated that for the academic year in 2021/22, the placement tariffs for undergraduate medical placements were £33,286 per student, and £3,856 per student for non-medical placements. Given the substantial amount of money and time dedicated to ensuring healthcare students receive adequate placement experience, it is surprising that many students encounter challenges in obtaining sufficient teaching and experience during their placements. Anecdotally, after hearing stories from numerous students about unsuccessful placements, it seems that the primary issue often lies in a breakdown of communication between the placement supervisor and the student assigned to that placement.

This blog is designed to provide guidance to placement supervisors in supporting students during their placement experiences.

Why are Placements so Important for Students?

NHS Health Careers highlights reasons why clinical placements hold significance for medical students, including “learning about professionalism in medicine” and the fact that “placements can assist with career decisions.” Placements serve as an exceptional avenue for students pursuing vocational healthcare degrees to acquire practical experience and knowledge, thereby enriching and solidifying their learning.

Moreover, placements often serve as a major source of motivation for most healthcare students. Given that their courses typically entail extensive hours of lectures and reading, the opportunity to immerse themselves in the actual environment they will work in post-graduation and to envision their potential careers serves as a powerful motivator for many students to persist in their degree pursuits.

This underscores why it’s immensely crucial that when students embark on these placements, they receive proper supervision and training.

Watch this video by UNISON, the UK’s largest public service union, to learn five top tips for students going on clinical placements: 5 tips for clinical placements

 What do Placement Supervisors Gain from These Placements?

Placement supervisors, are provided with a direct link to future healthcare professionals. This presents an opportunity for you to shape the trajectory of the NHS by inspiring and motivating the upcoming generation. This exposure also provides you with insight into what lies ahead in healthcare, as you hear from these students about the focal points of their courses and their aspirations for growth and contributions in their careers.

During the supervision of these students’ placements, you will be assuming the role of a mentor, sharing your own personal insights and providing advice that you wish you had received before becoming a qualified professional. While it is conventionally believed that mentees stand to gain the most from mentorship, this is not always the case. Mentors can refine their leadership skills and enhance their communication abilities, as well as experience heightened self-reflection and awareness. Many mentors discover that they derive substantial personal satisfaction from supporting and motivating their mentees.

Watch Professor Lindy McAllister of the University of Sydney explore the costs and benefits of clinical placements: Costs and benefits to workplaces of clinical education placements

What are the Best Ways to Communicate with Students on a Clinical Placement?

As mentioned earlier, conversations with students have unveiled that some placement issues stem from inadequate communication on the part of both parties.  Consequently, we’ve compiled a list of actions that placement supervisors can undertake to uphold effective communication during student placements.

  1. Identify the Student’s Aims and Objectives:

At the onset of the placement, engage in a discussion about the student’s aims and objectives. This ensures a mutual understanding of their goals for the placement, enabling you to tailor the experience to meet those specific objectives.

  1. Schedule Regular Check-Ins with the Student:

Implementing regular check-ins allows you, as the placement supervisor, to ascertain the student’s satisfaction with their placement and the extent of their acquired knowledge and experience. Consistent check-ins enable prompt identification and correction of any deficiencies in the placement, preventing substantial negative impacts on the student’s learning experience.

  1. Provide the Student with Regular Constructive Feedback:

Walsh (2010) highlighted that delivering feedback is an essential component of supporting students in practical settings. Offering students consistent constructive feedback serves as a valuable means to ensure genuine learning from the placement and the development of effective practices for their future endeavors.

Watch this TED video on giving good constructive feedback: The secret to giving great feedback | The Way We Work, a TED series

  1. Engage in Conversations about the Profession with the Student:

Throughout the placement, allocate time to converse with the student about the profession and encourage them to stay updated with new industry developments. This practice nurtures positive professional habits, which become even more vital upon their qualification. Furthermore, as their placement supervisor, if you are informed about their areas of interest, you can help them gain experience in those domains and even foster connections with professionals who specialize in those areas.

  1. Highlight Interprofessional Collaboration:

Given the increasing value of interprofessional education within healthcare degrees, it becomes imperative to expose students on placement to real clinical scenarios involving interprofessional collaboration. This practice solidifies the educational principles related to interprofessional.

Watch this video emphasizing the importance of Interprofessional Collaboration for both healthcare professionals and patients: Interprofessional Collaboration UK

  1. Be a Positive Representation of the Profession:

Healthcare professionals and the NHS confront various challenges, and it can indeed be challenging to sustain a positive outlook. However, maintaining a positive representation of your profession is crucial.

Remarks and attitudes like these can be highly demotivating and discouraging for students. Thus, as a placement supervisor, it is imperative to take responsibility for your words and conduct in the presence of placement students.  Supervisors have told pharmacy students on placements that “pharmacy is a dying profession,” as reported anecdotally.

All students should experience comfort and support during their clinical placements from their placement provider and supervisor. Hopefully, the suggestions and tips provided above will assist you in further supporting these students.

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