Student clinical education is a process of experiential and contextual learning which involves a partnership between the clinical educator and the student in the clinical practice setting.

Clinical education involves the provision of opportunities for the next generation to develop the philosophies, specific knowledge, skills and attitudes of the occupational therapy profession (Best & Rose, 1996, as cited in Queensland Occupational Therapy Fieldwork Collaborative [QOTFC], 2005).

 Clinical placements in settings that represent the diverse scope of contemporary occupational therapy practice will help to prepare students for the multiple future roles that they may encounter upon graduation (Thomas, Penman & Williamson, 2005).

WFOT guidelines for student clinical education

The World Federation of Occupational Therapists (WFOT) “Minimum Standards for the Education of Occupational Therapists” requires students to complete 1,000 hours of clinical education successfully under the supervision of a qualified occupational therapist or occupational therapy educator with at least one year’s experience. There is no requirement that the clinical educator is on-site.

In recognition of the broadening role of occupational therapy into the previously less traditional areas of private practice, community and non-government health sectors, the revised WFOT guidelines no longer specify that long block placements must each access the traditional three areas of practice (psychosocial, acute physical and paediatrics). Rather that they must expose the student to learning opportunities that:

  • address occupational issues of individuals, their families and communities
  • include people of different ages, with recently acquired or long standing health needs; and
  • are focussed on the person, the occupation, and the environment

According to WFOT guidelines, clinical education experiences across the program should also encompass at least three of the following parameters:

  • a range of personal factors such as gender and ethnicity that are reflective of the population receiving occupational therapy services.
  • individual, community/group and population approaches
  • health conditions that affect different aspects of body structure and function and that cause different kinds of activity limitations
  • different delivery systems such as hospital and community, public and private, health and educational, urban and rural, local and international
  • existing and emerging services, such as services being developed for and with people who are underemployed, disempowered, dispossessed or socially challenged; organisations and industries that may benefit from occupational therapy expertise; or with arts and cultural services.

With regard to the clinical educator role, WFOT specify a requirement for the use of learning contracts and that the clinical educator is responsible for:

  • the supervision and evaluation of the learning contract
  • practice that is inclusive of all people without prejudice and guided by theory and research findings,
  • the quality of the student’s practice and for the safety of the recipient of occupational therapy services.
  • providing supervision that probably includes discussions, review of intervention plans and records, and observation of the student’s actions, that will progress from close, on-site supervision to independent practice, varying with student’s knowledge, familiarity with the practice setting and their learning needs; the context of practice; the complexity of the intervention to be provided and the level of proficiency required for it to be effective; and any safety risks for students or recipients of occupational therapy services (WFOT 2002).

(World Federation of Occupational Therapists [WFOT], 2002, as cited in Hocking, 2003; QOTFC, 2006)

Practice in Australia and New Zealand is undergoing rapid growth in its diversity and scope, with a growing trend for occupational therapists to be employed in the private or non-government sectors. As the definition of clinical education is no longer restricted to the context of clinical areas of practice, and to ensure that current and future changes in practice are represented in clinical education, the Australia and New Zealand Occupational Therapy Fieldwork Academics (ANZOTFA) have developed definitions of student clinical education that emphasise a key focus for clinical experiences to provide students with:

  • a variety of learning experiences
  • independent and autonomous learning
  • self-management and communications skills; and
  • opportunities to demonstrate graduate competencies

(Thomas, Penman & Williamson, 2004 p.79)

Clinical education experiences that expose students to a wide variety of contexts and placement styles and, well planned and responsive supervision during the clinical placement, are integral to the cultivation and expression of these qualities and skills in the student.

OTPEC-Q recommendations

The Occupational Therapy Practice Education Collaborative QLD (OTPEC-Q) recommends all occupational therapists need to recognise that the responsibility for student education lies both within the university sector and the occupational therapy profession as a whole.

According to OTPEC-Q recommendations, each individual has a personal responsibility to commit to the provision of occupational therapy fieldwork opportunities in order to build workforce capacity, and to recognise that the future of the occupational therapy workforce is reliant on students engaging in fieldwork experiences that are reflective of current and future professional practice, including non-traditional and emerging areas of practice.

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