I’m the kind of person that is generally very sociable but it does take me a little while to feel comfortable in new situations, such as starting a job, or attending an event. I know that after the initial awkwardness on my part has passed, I’ll fit right in but I seem to get overly worked up before hand about the preliminary shyness. Probably everybody feels like that. I know I keep it under wraps quite well, so perhaps others do too. Regardless, after one whole semester in the classroom, I was really looking forward to my first year physiotherapy placement back in February, and yet I was also very apprehensive. I didn’t want my shyness to jeopardies the experience or reflect badly on me. After all, when you go out on placement as a student, you are being assessed. That adds a little bit of pressure into the mix.
One of the first things to understand about placements is that the confidentiality and dignity of patients is of the upmost importance. For that reason, I’m not going to discuss any individuals, any cases, or even the location of the hospital I was placed at. Besides, getting into those details is not the purpose of this post. Instead, I want to talk about the experience itself, how my apprehension was misplaced, and how inspiring the physiotherapists and other health care professionals I worked with were.
My hope is that if you are coming up to placement time yourself, you can cast aside any misgivings you might have and fully embrace the experience and opportunity to learn for what it is.
The main thing I discovered during my three weeks on placement is that the team I worked with bent over backwards to teach me whenever they could. The placement was introductory rather than observational. This meant that rather than having to follow and observe for the entire thing, my clinical educator allowed me to get involved with anything we both felt was comfortably within my skill set, including new skills I had only encountered on placement. Until the placement, I had only studied the lower limb on my course but I was able to learn lots about the spine and upper limb during my time there, resulting in my being able to take subjective and objective assessments of new patients. This was only possible because the physios I worked with used every opportunity to explain and demonstrate as I observed, as well as encouraging my participation and developing my still burgeoning clinical reasoning skills.
My learning was not a chore to them, and it will be the same for you. Physiotherapists love what they do and are passionate about inspiring students to be the best they can be. I learned an incredible amount in those three weeks, and a lot of learning I had already undertaken on the course was consolidated at the same time.
In terms of shyness, that was present, of course. I can’t really say it dissipated much during my time but I think that it became a useful reminder of maintaining a sense of professionalism, not only with my colleagues but also with patients. Fortunately, I believe I have an easy and polite manner and so I just made sure to maintain that without becoming overly familiar with anyone. It will be common sense to you, hopefully, by the time you are out there yourself. Just be aware that the world of physiotherapy is a small one and you want to represent yourself well to people who may one day be your employers. Most importantly, however, is the impression you give to patients. My most important trick? Think always of how you’d like to be treated by a health care professional you had come to see, or how you’d like a close family member to be treated. Then again, putting myself into the another person’s shoes is my attitude to interacting with others in general. If you ask me, it’s a good way to be.
The art of patience.
I was concerned before placement that patients wouldn’t want to be treated in the presence of or by a student. My concerns were once again misplaced. If anything, the patients put as much effort into ensuring I learned what I could as my mentors did. They were generous with their time and feedback and I was incredibly moved by the fact that people who were, for the most part, in significant pain or discomfort took time to help me along the way. They allowed me to practice the relevant techniques I’d learned on them without hesitation, asked about my studies and wished me good luck. It was incredibly touching.
The were no negatives really to being out on placement, although the length of time it took me to commute there was longer than I was expecting: up to two hours one way. As I am currently unable to drive and as I live in a relatively rural area, its more a fault of my personal circumstance than the placement system. Most of my classmates had a more reasonable commute time.
Being on placement was also tiring. I think something to do with constantly soaking in knowledge with the added pressure of the evaluation made it particularly exhausting. Have worked my entire life, often in manual jobs with longer shift times and shorter breaks, I was surprised that it hit me so hard but I did feel tired. Fortunately, my work are understanding and I was able to take the three weeks off during my placement. If I had also been working part-time, I might have struggled. Just something to consider if you will be working to support yourself during your studies.
My advice for those heading out for the first time, apart from the common sense pointers I discussed above, is to keep on top of your paperwork. Being on placement entails not only learning, observing, and practicing your skills, but providing evidence that you have done so, not just for the evaluation by your clinical educator, but for your portfolio.
My first tip is to keep a diary. Buy a small notepad you can keep in your pocket and record your experiences as you go along.
One of my mentors advised me that it was also useful to use this notebook to write down any codes, telephone numbers, contact names you might need for your placement as well. This proved very useful; there’s nothing worse than forgetting the staff room code when your stomach is rumbling! After your placement, you may be required to produce written reflections on your placement as part of your assessment. Your diary will prove invaluable at this point.
My final tip is to check and recheck all the paper work you need signed off. It might not sound that exciting but if you can make sure have everything signed off by the relevant people before you leave, you won’t have to chase it up later and your life will be less difficult. Trust me; I have now been there.
My clinical educator was amazing, but so were their colleagues, so was my visiting lecturer, and so was the pre and post-placement support from the University of Salford. You will be ready for your placement by the time it comes around, so don’t fear it! It will be a formative and inspiring time for you. Let me know how you get on and, as always, drop me a line with any questions you might have.
Featured image credit:
Hospital by Adrian Bolton. Flickr. [CC BY-ND 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons.