This information is intended to provide you, the student with greater awareness of the learning experience that can be gained from a clinical placement in a private practice setting, and also introduce you to some of the considerations unique to occupational therapy and clinical education in this field.

1. Learning opportunities for student clinical education in private practice

Occupational therapists are continuing to expand and increase their professional place in the area of community based health practice. Approximately 25% of the Queensland occupational therapy workforce are based in private practice, and the proportion of clinicians seeking roles in previously less traditional, yet ever-growing, roles of health promotion, case management and consultancy, continues to increase. (Rorke, 2005).

“[Clinical] placements in this area can provide occupational therapy students with a unique and timely learning experience” (Potts, Babcock & McKee, 1998).

It is important that occupational therapy students be exposed to clinical learning opportunities that refl ect the changing trends and expanding settings of the occupational therapy professional workforce, “in order to service the needs of the communities into the future” (Rorke, 2005).

Private practice as a clinical education environment offer an exciting and new clinical experience and provide many valuable learning opportunities students’ professional growth and development (Potts et al. 1998)  

Some of these opportunities include:

  • Access to a diverse range of contexts and delivery systems in which to apply a variety of skills, including: home environmental or work-site assessments, vocational rehabilitation, case-management, home or school based paediatric services; physical rehabilitation, ergonomic solutions, workplace wellness, counseling and more.
  • Experience of the business side of community health care provision
  • Skills in networking, consultation, group education, home and environmental assessments, functional assessments, and intervention Awareness of working within budgetary and legislative constraints
  • Professional reasoning and development of professional relationships for successful creation, promotion and running of a business
  • Development of formal report writing skills
  • Involvement in administrative projects such as marketing strategies, continuing education, updating of resources.
  • Observe and spend time with other professionals in private practice and within the health care delivery system such as rehabilitation case managers.
  • Develop an identity as an occupational therapist and an understanding of the occupational therapy process.

(Potts et al, 1998; Rorke, 2005)

At times in this private practice setting, the consistency and variety of hands-on student clinical experiences may fl uctuate. Nonetheless, there are many valuable learning opportunities that can enable you, the student to progress toward more independent levels of professional practice, and to develop your knowledge, skill and attitudes relating to the person-occupation-environment relationship and, its relationship to health; therapeutic and professional relationships; the occupational therapy process and professional reasoning and behaviour.

For instance, during quieter times, you may be given opportunity to:

  • Work-shadow your clinical educator performing assessments and interventions,  thus learning from observation, note-taking and writing of “draft” reports based on your observations.
  • Discuss with your clinical educator your observations, priorities and goals for intervention, and devise a treatment and evaluation plan to stimulate the clinical reasoning process.
  • Take responsibility for the planning and setting up of a client consultation such as an assessment or treatment session, from which competency, clinical reasoning and understanding of appropriate use of assessment tools can be gained.
  • Conduct part/s of assessments or consultations in areas you have demonstrated competency such as assessing range of motion, performing oedema massage, performing assessment interview of background medical history, or providing demonstration of manual handling with appropriate level of supervision.
  • Work on a practice relevant project such as development and/or evaluation of a new or existing program; development of resources for the practice such as client manuals, brochures, education programs and occupational therapy resource materials.
  • Contribute to business-related goals such as undertaking marketing, administration or community networking activities.
  • Develop greater appreciation of the value of occupational therapy from the cost-dimension of service delivery and private practice.

(Doubt, Paterson & O’Riordan, 2004; Rorke, 2005)

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2. Desirable student characteristics and attributes for working in a private practice setting

It is preferable that the prospective student:

  • Has an interest in gaining the experience of a clinical placement in private practice.
  • Be ‘self-starting’, with a balanced degree of initiative, self-directed learning and willingness to take on responsibility quickly.

“I expect that as the placement develops, so too does the students’ ability to find the structure and put it in place.” (K. Adam, personal communication, May 10, 2007)

  • Utilises open communication skills – able to communicate explicitly and openly your clinical reasoning, as well as any issues of concern, so that service delivery systems can keep running.
  • Is comfortable working with a reasonable level of independence and autonomy.
  • Be accepting that the degree of hands-on experience may fl uctuate, however be able to appreciate the unique clinical and professional benefi ts that can be gained through participation in valuable activities such as project work, work-shadowing, networking or quality assurance.

(K. Adam, personal communication, May 10, 2007)

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3. Confidentiality and Intellectual Property

When sharing the use of information, materials and resources specific to, and generated by, that practice at which you are undertaking your clinical placement, your awareness of, and respect for, the intellectual property rights of the Practice and practitioner is very important, as is that of your own rights to intellectual property created by yourself whilst on placement or during the course of study at the university.

Each QLD university will have their own policy that regulates the protection, management and commercialisation of university intellectual property. For detail, ask your local university academic staff or placment coordinators.

In addition, the practice at which you undertake your clinical placement, may have developed their own such confidentiality agreement, articulating the Practice’s expectations about access to information, resources and handouts and the photocopying of resources that are unique to the Practice or facility, as well as to that which you have intellectual property rights.

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4. How can I find out more?

You can talk to peers who have already completed a clinical placement in a private practice setting. More and more students are gaining valuable experience in the private sector, and you'll be surprised by the breadth and diversity of opportunities out there.

You can talk to a practitioner in private practice about their particular practice setting and their experience working privately.

You can join a private practice special interest group through OT Australia, Queensland membership.

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5. How do I secure a clinical placement in private practice?

Talk with your university teaching staff and/or fieldwork organiser about your desire to secure a private practice placement. You may find there is the perfect opportunity out there - you just have to ask!

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6. References

Potts, H. Babcock, J. McKee, M. (1998) Considerations for fi eldwork education within a private practice.

Canadian Hournal of Occupational Therapy. 65(2) pp. 104–108

Rorke, L (2005) “Clinical Education in Private Practice – creating win-win-win for students, universities and private practitioners” [Discussion paper] Queensland Occupational Therapy Fieldwork Collaborative, Australia.

The University of Queensland (2007a) Student placement preference form. Division of Occupational Therapy.

The University or Queensland (2007b) Student placement preference guidelines. Division of Occupational Therapy. Australia.

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