Occupational therapy: reflections on practice placements

This week is occupational therapy week (OT week) and our colleagues across the Trust are showcasing the work they do.

As a profession, occupational therapists are on the frontline of health equity and are uniquely placed to understand and tackle the challenges people face. Occupational therapists see health inequalities every day, supporting and helping those most in need.

To celebrate OT week, the Learning Environment Team would like to share some reflections on OT practice placements.

OT practice placements take place throughout the academic year and are increasing due to the need to train more OTs and grow our future workforce. While many teams are experiencing staffing challenges and ongoing issues due to the pandemic, without supporting these placements the situation is unlikely to improve, increasing pressure on our staff.

Petersfield Community Hospital recently embraced a last-minute, out of area OT placement despite being short-staffed. The placement supervisor, Sarah, and OT student Katie were both asked to reflect on this experience.

Katie, Occupational Therapy student’s view:
During the lockdown, I moved away from my university in London to live in Portsmouth as classes had moved online. I decided to look for an out-of-area placement and was supported by Southern Health’s Learning Environment Team to arrange a placement at Petersfield Community Hospital. The team was very welcoming and, during my supervisor’s annual leave, I was well supported by other members of the team. This gave me insight into various roles including rehabilitation assistant, physiotherapist, discharge co-ordinator and ambulance crew, giving me a broader picture of the MDT and patient care.

Being new to the team I was able to contribute fresh ideas and research up-to-date literature and best-practice guidance. I also devised and carried out an unconventional sensory intervention for an end-of-life patient who expressed feeling homesick by providing sensory experiences that represented “home.” My colleagues were eager to help me and my idea was brought to fruition. This benefited everyone involved by increasing the patient’s quality of life, enabling me to gain confidence, skills, and a sense of accomplishment, and the team had new ideas to consider in the future.

During my placement, I felt the effects of limited staffing and imagine my colleagues felt similar or more pressures. My supervisor however was supportive of me setting aside time for reading and placement projects so I could meet my learning goals. As a result, I gained the confidence to advocate for my learning needs in an often-busy environment, a beneficial skill I will need to advocate for my clients, myself, and my profession throughout my career.

This placement also enabled me to develop my manual handling skills, increase my knowledge of equipment and the occupational therapy process. I feel this opportunity was mutually beneficial as my ideas to improve services were well received and supported. I am thankful to Southern Health and the Petersfield Community Hospital Therapy team for supporting my education, career development, and personal growth.

Sarah Hemsley, placement supervisor view:
I was asked to take an out-of-area student at short notice and with limited staff. Initially, I was worried about the lack of staff and the impact having a student could have on our time, I was also on leave for two of her eight weeks placement. As the student was very proactive in sourcing the placement, our team felt this would be one of her strengths and we agreed to support the placement.

Accepting the student meant I needed to understand the different paperwork and processes as she was not from one of our usual Universities. The inpatient therapy team was very supportive and between my OT and physio colleagues, the student was able to continue with their objectives while I was on leave. She was also able to spend time with other Allied Health Care Professionals (AHPs) to develop her learning.

Despite our staff shortages, due to the student’s level of experience, confidence, and maturity, they were a valuable asset to our team. They were able to carry out assessments and develop treatment plans under greater distance supervision, relieving some of our workloads rather than adding to it.

Having a student is an enjoyable and positive experience, observing their progression as they gain skills and they can also be a useful asset to the team. Although the paperwork does take time, this time was recompensed by the student in the way she worked and approached things. They have also given us some service improvements to think about to become more efficient ourselves.

The Learning Environment Team would like to express their thanks to the Petersfield Community Team (Sarah Hemsley, Catherine Simpson, Jane Packer, Kerry Balogun, Ryan Nunez, and their physio and MDT colleagues) for supporting this placement as well as their ongoing support of OT practice placements.

Supporting practice placements is part of the OT’s role and is an expectation of all OTs within our Trust one-year post-qualifying. As a Trust we have many OT vacancies, a situation unfortunately mirrored throughout the country. While there has been an increase in OT students to meet this growing need we need to support practice placements to ensure our future workforce.

Whether you are new to practice education, an OT who has not supported students recently or perhaps you regularly take students but would like to explore ways to expand your contribution to practice placements such as considering the 2:1 model, the AHP practice educators (Cath, Emily, Jennie and Sarah) would be very happy to discuss this with you.

You can contact us at: learningenvironmentteam@southernhealth.nhs.uk

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Southern Health

Southern Health provide community, specialist mental health and learning disability services for people across the south of England.