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Student's view: Top 10 tips for practice placements

Going on a placement can be a challenge. Chris Martey offers some advice

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1 Prioritise your workloads (both in and out of placement)

It is essential that you prioritise what is important. Take time to focus on the placement since this is, after all, where you will hone on your practical skills.

Juggling the demands of work and home life can be tricky. (‘I need to cook, study, prepare for tomorrow, exercise, and catch up with friends and family’.) Yes you do, but, always keep in mind the minimum expectations of your educator. Ask yourself: ‘What is expected of me tomorrow? Will I be most productive if I get started with my studying when I first get in after placement, or will I need to do something to break the day up first?’

2 Fitting into the team

It can be difficult entering a new setting when social and professional groups have already been established. But remember that clinicians were once students too and will understand your desire to fit in and do well. Try to get the balance right between being friendly and remaining professional. Being hardworking and driven is always good, but you also need to be yourself and allow the team to see where your interests lie, including outside physiotherapy.

Regularly remind yourself that your opinions and clinical reasoning are just as valid as your those of your colleagues (provided you’re justified and evidence based, of course). Be confident enough to put your head above the parapet from time to time. 

3 Punctuality

Be there every day; be there on time. Simple? Yes, but try not to become complacent. Just because you’re staying over the road in the hospital accommodation it doesn’t mean you can leave with five minutes to spare. If your start time is 8.30 in the morning, aim to get there for 8.10, settle in, have an informal catch up with the team and be ready to begin. Preparation starts the night before; make sure you’re well rested.

4 Be organised your placement is in your control.  

Although your educator will always be there to help, responsibilities such as coordinating reams of university paperwork and planning your placement timetable are down to you. Educators will feel reassured knowing you’re organised and can enter into discussions on how your supervision should go, or how you wish to use your spare time to fit in some professional development.

5 Pre-placement visits

Making an early visit to meet the team, having a trial run of your travel routes and scoping your environment will help you hit the ground running on your first day. It will help with first-day nerves and building professional relationships.

However, remember that you’re representing yourself and the university, both in and out of your uniform.

6 Express your opinions – tactfully

It is, of course, good to have your own views and opinions. Evidence-based is best. But try to pick your timing and your surroundings carefully. Should it be mentioned in your supervision time or do you take action and have a quick word at lunchtime? Should you make any comments away from the patient?

A little common sense here will avoid any preventable errors.

7 Know that it’s okay to take a break

There will always be plenty to study and prepare for while on a placement. Even so, it is important to have a break every now and then.  You might, for example, take a couple of hours off as soon as you get back home from a placement, or work straight through until dinner and then relax for the rest of the evening.

Remember, cramming is likely to leave you feeling brain drained and, even worse, your motivation diminished.

8 Reflect on your day-to-day experiences

You will no doubt experience too many things on placement to reflect on each one, but it is useful to scribble down interesting points in a notebook and try to reflect on them later. Do as much as you feel is enough; something is better than nothing. Also, take time to consider your professional development portfolio and the reflections which need to contribute towards this. You never know what will help you in, say, your fourth placement, far from your reflections in the second one. You can use the CSP e-portfolio for this (see link on left-hand panel).

9 Demonstrate initiative

This could mean being confident enough to initiate conversations with the multi-disciplinary team (MDT), or getting on with your administrative work without requiring prompting. If you’re ever uncertain always check with your educator, but showing initiative is often highly commendable.

10 Say YES to opportunities

This placement could present you with an opportunity to see surgery, observe an MRI scan or shadow the pharmacist dispensing patient medications. These are all useful experiences and help consolidate your understanding of healthcare. A patient will one day ask you questions about aspects within other MDT fields. It is useful to understand an array of processes and protocols, making every contact count. You can then refer them on to a specialist.

Remember: placement is a learning environment for you to hone your practical skills, make mistakes and ask questions, with the comfort of having the title ‘student physiotherapist’. Make it count and grasp every experience possible to widen your knowledge base and lay the foundations for a successful physiotherapy career. fl

Placements are often both the most exciting and most daunting part of any physiotherapy degree. How can you make the most of them, excel and remain composed when plunged into the world of work?

First and foremost, it is important to make the most of the support and guidance available from your university, lecturers and the students around you. My university has an excellent pre-placement information pack which has certainly served me well. Having completed a number of placements, here are my top tips.

Follow Chris, a second-year student at the University of East Anglia, on Twitter: @chrismartey See the CSP e-portfolio here

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