Monday, 22 July 2013
Making the most of placement - a guest post from an anonymous Salford undergraduate.
Being on placement: the placement jitters
For me, placements are source of excitement and trepidation. This strange combination means that at around two weeks before placement I start to feel a little on edge (cue the ‘turning up for exams without doing any revision/going to Alton Towers in my pyjamas’ dreams). This build-up of butterflies usually leads to me saying something daft within the first 10 minutes to my educator. Why am I like this? A question I often ask myself. I think that it’s because I treat every placement as a potential employer, a 1-10 week-long job interview testing my practical skills, knowledge and clinical reasoning. It’s a bit like being on the Apprentice but with bottle-green trousers. When I finish university, I could be applying for a job at that workplace, so as well as passing my placement, I want them to have a positive impression of me. So, if you feel the anxiety rise as placement creeps ever forward on your timetable. I hereby order that you give yourself a break and let me pass on some things I’ve learned to help you along the way.
Make yourself useful.
I thought that educators get extra time to supervise students; I was surprised to find out that this is not always the case. So educators may have a full caseload AND have to find time to make sure students under their charge have learning opportunities and supervision. I feel that if educators are sacrificing their time to help me learn then I should try and pay it back by trying to lighten the load for them. Basic things like answering the phone, taking messages, tidying up after a group, writing in medical notes and even the old favourite of making a cup of tea for staff (if not on the ward) or brewing up for patients (say, in groups) have gone down well in my experience. I have had feedback that the use of initiative is always welcome (i.e. doing something without being asked). A note of caution here; that what you can do will depend on your placement so always check with your educator first. In my last placement there was a regular routine each morning such as cleaning, setting up the equipment and getting patient notes out for the day. I used to get in early to miss the traffic, so I used to do the morning routine when I first got in.
Go easy on yourself
Whether it’s initial interviews, mini-mental state inventories, or group works, you are not going to be a superstar at something straight away. Go easy on yourself, it takes practise. It’s important to remember that the Oxford dictionary (2013) defines practise as a “repeated exercise in or performance of an activity or skill so as to acquire or maintain proficiency in it”. If you’re finding something difficult, keep trying, it will get better. It’s when you give up that you don’t improve. If you were amazing at something straight away, I would probably label it ‘talent’ and call Simon Cowell immediately.
Placement can be an overwhelming experience and I have heard of students, through the pressure, being nervous about talking to clients in case they say the wrong thing or worry that they won’t be able to answer client’s questions. In less than three years time, I will be seeing clients every day, so I use placement as the time to practice my interpersonal skills. I found that if I have developed a rapport with the client, then they are forgiving if something doesn’t go quite according to plan (common comments I have heard from patients are: “it’s alright love, you’ve got to start somewhere”, “you’re doing fine!” and “don’t worry, we’ve all been there”. If I am unsure where to start I have found if I introduce myself, smile, make eye contact, am able to explain to the client the purpose of the intervention, actively listen and am polite that everything else seems to come naturally. Remember that patients may feel more apprehensive about their appointment than you so anything that can put them at their ease is helpful.
You will be tired!
Even if you are just observing, placement is emotionally and physically draining. So be prepared! Look after yourself, try and get a decent night sleep. Exercise can be a good way of re-energising and shaking away any tension. Make your mornings easy, you don’t need anything else getting you into a flap. Have your uniform (or work gear) all pressed and ready to go, car filled with petrol, lunch packed and some good music for the journey to placement to put you in the right frame of mind.
And finally, make the most of it, learn as much as you can and build some good contacts. I hope it goes well for you.
If you want to read more you can vist my blog TheOTProcess and also Charlotte's blog who diarises her daily experiences of her 3rd year OT Erasmus placement. It's a really good account of how it feels during placement and I certainly respect anyone getting their work experience through ERASMUS (I thought normal ones are scary enough!)
What are your top placement tips?