I started a secondment with NES in September 2021 as part of the AHP practice education placement recovery programme. I was attracted by the opportunity to do something proactive in what felt like a very stagnant pandemic world. I’ve been registered as an occupational therapist since 1986 and the education of pre-registration students has always been a part of my work. During my career I was an academic for sixteen years with direct teaching with a research interest in student assessment for learning. I’m explaining this because I’ve come to realise that the situation that AHPs are in, of potentially not being able to graduate our pre-registration students, has come as quite a shock to me.
The issue isn’t new by any means, yet the reasoning is never fully identified and therefore never fully grasped and addressed: it’s complicated. Universities need to expand and develop their programmes in keeping with the Scottish Government’s need for a timely, qualified AHP workforce and this need is growing. Why, when there are thousands of AHPs in Scotland, do the Universities never have enough offers to comfortably allocate placements to students? What are the apparently insurmountable challenges that prevent individuals, services, and organisations from ensuring that each AHP has an identified responsibility for offering a placement? In overly simplistic terms it makes me think no placement, no graduates, no workforce – quite scary when you consider Scotland’s ageing population and the need for specialist intervention from AHPs.
As part of the scoping for the projects I have been involved in developing and implementing in NES it’s clear that, for those practice educators who are happy to share their thoughts and feelings about this topic, most would prefer a traditional one to one placement delivery with a student. That makes sense from a familiarity and experience point of view. If we have experienced this method of placement delivery ourselves as students then we kind of know what to do, how to do it and what to expect in return. We have probably created resources and tutorials in readiness and are comfortable with this format of delivering a high-quality placement. The pandemic created a new, blended, hybrid way of working for some, and for others it created a working environment that is quite correctly following additional infection control or similar new procedures. I wonder whether this has created some of the hesitancy to offer placements although that wouldn’t account for the lack of offers pre-COVID.
The remit of my NES post is to support the restoration of placement provision as well as helping to create new opportunities that are in keeping with new ways of service delivery (e.g., hybrid working), in a wider range of settings and in a way that is viable: modern, diverse, and sustainable. I’ve found this aspect very interesting and very galvanising to meet so many people who share a passion for student pre-registration education. However, this passion doesn’t always translate into placement offers as I am increasingly finding sometimes there are no offers because people are tired and need a break as they have had a continuous stream of students. Perhaps it’s timely for AHP practice educators to pause these offers and think about other ways they can still deliver placements?
I recently supported students on a role emerging, project based, peer assisted learning placement via long arm supervision as one of my projects for NES. I used NES resources to learn about and refresh my understanding of these methods of placement delivery. My reflections on the experience are that it wasn’t ‘easier’ and it didn’t take any more time than a traditional delivery. Actually, it felt pretty equal albeit without any physical contact. What it did do though was allow the placements to go ahead and the standards of the learning experience to be maintained. Maybe this is one part of an answer about how to recover placement opportunities, but we won’t know if we don’t try them.
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