Tools for students to manage difficult situations on clinical placements

The Queensland Occupational Therapy Fieldwork Collaborative (2018) has identified the following characteristics as being desirable for a student undertaking a clinical placement.

It is preferable that the student engaging in a clinical placement:

  • Demonstrate enthusiasm.
  • Be interested in gaining the experience the clinical placement can offer.
  • 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 student's 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 fluctuate, however be able to appreciate the unique clinical and professional benefits that can be gained through participation in valuable activities such as project work, work-shadowing, networking or quality assurance.   

These characteristics will help prevent difficult situations from arising.  Challenging behaviours can be defined as any behaviour, clinical performance or health status that is impacting on a student’s ability to meet the requirements of the placement, profession or workplace code of conduct 

Difficulties may arise due to many factors including:

  • personal stress,
  • stress relating to other commitments (work, family, university deadlines),
  • cultural conflict,
  • culture shock,
  • unclear expectations,
  • lack of confidence,
  • inadequate feedback regarding performance in previous placements,
  • limited clinical experience,
  • negative experience in previous clinical placement,
  • readiness for learning.

What do you do if a difficult situation arises?

(Based on tools for educators)

If possible:

  • Identify the problem
  • Communicate with an appropriate person (e.g. Clinical educator, university representative, student support services)
  • Reflect on any feedback provided
  • Seek support
  • Develop strategies.

Once the issue has been isolated, brainstorm solutions with the educator.  Strategies and outcome measures should be established so you have clear expectations and an opportunity to gain competency in the desired skill.    Remember, looking after your mental health and well being is always important and especially when in a new environment and facing new challenges (Beyondblue, 2012). Beyondblue has developed a booklet for students attending rural placements,’ When the cowpat hits the windmill’.  The information and strategies can be applied to your situation. Please also refer to the Maintaining Emotional Wellbeing section of this website.



Please Note: References remain valid until superseded by later research. The resources referenced here are regularly reviewed and are considered current and relevant to the topics presented.

  • Australian Learning and Teaching Council (2010). A guide to supervision in social work field education (revised edition). Retrieved from:
  • Beyond Blue (2012). When the cowpat hits the windmill. Victoria. Australia retrieved from:
  • National Rural Health Students Network (2011). Rural placements guide: How to make the most of your rural placement. Melbourne, Australia: NRHSN. Retrieved from:
  • Nemeth, E., & McAllister, L. (2013). Learning from failure. In Stagnitti, K., Schoo, A., & Welch, D., Clinical and fieldwork placement in the health professions (2nd Ed) (pp. 115 – 127). Melbourne, Australia: Oxford University Press.
  • Occupational Therapy Practice Education Collaborative-Queensland (OTPEC-Q) (2018). The clinical educator’s resource kit Retrieved from:


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