Preparing for a placement

In this section you will find information relating to:


Preparing for placement and the university's role in pre-placement planning

Once you have decided to offer a student placement and have considered the options about models of clinical education and approaches to supervision, it is time to address the practicalities of what needs to happen before a student arrives.

Each clinical education placement setting is different. However, all placements require adequate administration and organisation to ensure agreement about the scope and nature of the placement and the responsibilities and consent of all involved. Students need information and orientation to the workplace and the service provision as well as the practicalities of what will be happening and what the expectations and possibilities are during the placement.

Many of the large service providers have excellent support available for student supervisors. These organisations already have in place many administrative and system-wide processes to facilitate student placements. For example, they will already have agreements in place with the universities about the administrative and legal aspects of placements, they will have protocols for getting informed consent from patients/clients of the service, they also might have induction/orientation programs in place for students to complete.

However, when this support is not available, the practical task of setting up all of the systems and documentation to allow the placement to be effective, efficient and safe can seem overwhelming. It is not possible to provide comprehensive templates and checklists that will be applicable in all placement settings. However, the topics in this section suggests the key areas you need to consider and steps you might need to take when preparing for a clinical education placement.

It is important to remember that the university seeking the placement for their students can support your preparation and planning. In this video, Simone Howells, a Clinical Education Coordinator, suggests ways that the university can support clinical educators to ensure placement quality.



Comprehensive and excellent information and resources (checklists, templates of documents etc) about preparing for placements can also be found within:

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Considerations when taking a student for the first time

‘The most important thing you bring into the job of being a clinical educator is yourself… the move into being a clinical educator marks the start of a steep learning curve… marked by anxiety, self-doubt and self-focus as new clinical educators seek to ‘survive’ their early experiences.' (McAllister & Lincoln, 2004, p.163-164).

Quite often the transition from ‘new graduate’ to ‘clinical educator’ occurs within the first two years of practice. First time supervisors can feel apprehensive that they do not know enough yet themselves to start teaching others. There is a useful Occupational Therapy Practice Education Collaborative-Queensland link, ‘Getting started in student supervision’, that points out that your knowledge and skills have probably developed a lot more than you realise. It can be reassuring to know that your professional growth has reached a point where you are now capable of expanding your role (Pereira, 2008).

Bay and Courtney (2013, p.362) suggest that consolidation of some key areas is essential for beginning student supervisors:

  • a good understanding of your workplace’s values, expectations and services;
  • demonstrated self-management, management in the workplace and profession-specific skills; and
  • commitment and engagement in professional development and being a reflective practitioner.

It might also be important to ensure you have support from your workplace (with allowance for time spent in the educator role), from other student supervisors, and from the university seeking the placement.

McAllister and Lincoln (2004) suggest a number of strategies that can be helpful to beginning student supervisors:

  • introductory workshops specifically for new clinical educators
  • targeted selection of students (‘average’ students will be less likely to stress or challenge the beginning clinical educator)
  • sharing the responsibility for the placement with an experienced clinical educator
  • having a clinical education mentor
  • additional support from the university and the provision of clinical education resources
  • active reflective practice about the clinical educator role (e.g. through keeping a journal, critical incident reflection)
  • engagement in a network or community of clinical educators

It is important to remember that to be an effective student supervisor you do not have to be an expert in every aspect of your practice. What you do need to be able to do is model problem-solving and critical thinking about how to approach those aspects.


Tips for managing a workload with a student

  • Prepare a timetable with the student to assist with workload management. This will also help you to visualise what is occurring on a day to day basis and can be used to assist with setting goals for students with their workload.
  • Try to ensure everything is included in the timetable – meetings, patient treatments, reflective time, feedback etc. Some educators find it beneficial to develop a template for a student timetable which can be modified for individual placements.
  • If problems occur with workload management, consider the following:
    1. Reflect on your own expectations; are they appropriate in these particular circumstances? If possible, discuss with at least one colleague (even if they are at another site). Consider if the student is being challenged appropriately. Remember both ends of the spectrum. Some students may find the workload challenging while others may require greater challenges.
    2. Always remember, every student is different.
    3. It is important to regularly review the students’ workload to ensure their learning experience is maximised. Adjust their workload appropriately. Consider the complexity of their workload as well as numbers. Remember, they may never have experienced this before or conversely they may have had similar experiences in previous placements.
    4. Are there any factors which may be impacting on the student’s performance during the placement? These generally relate to:
      1. Student attitude, communication, professional practice, self-management or clinical skills in the workplace
      2. Cultural or linguistic diversity
      3. Health and /or personal issues

When any of these issues arise, it is the responsibility of the student to inform the workplace educator, however this may not always occur and the student’s performance may be affected.

Some causes for the above-mentioned problems can include:

  • Personal Factors – e.g. health issues, disability, difficulty with personal relationships outside the workplace, financial stress, homesickness, cultural and language issues, difficulty adjusting to workload, not well orientated to placement, unclear expectations, not feeling welcome or part of the team, difficulties in the relationship with the supervisor;
  • Learning Environment/ Placement Structure – e.g. multiple supervisors with differing expectations, multiple caseloads with high demand, workload issues (too little or too much), insufficient or unhelpful feedback, limited access to resources and space, poor organisation and timetabling;
  • Clinical and professional competency issues – e.g. lack of knowledge, poor time/self management, unsuitable presentation, difficulties in communicating, poor clinical judgment, difficulty linking theory to practice, not demonstrating clinical reasoning strategies, unsafe behaviour with clients; and
  • Challenging behaviours, attitude or personality – e.g. student may be disinterested, unmotivated, lacking initiative, unwilling to meet deadlines or follow directions, not confident or withdrawn.

If you decide there is an issue, than you need to develop strategies to address this. Please refer to the Managing Difficult Situations section of this website for guidance in this area.

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Pre-placement activities checklist

There a number of tasks involved when organising clinical placements.  The first time you offer a student placement, the preparation and organisation might take a significant amount of time but it will mean you have set up some good systems that will help the placement run smoothly. Subsequent placements will need less preparation.

It might be useful to create a checklist to allocate responsibilities for these tasks within your workplace. The checklist might include some of these activities:

  • Communicate with university placement coordinators about:
    • Schedule and length of placements throughout year and number of placements that can be offered
    • Suitable placement model and supervision approach options – e.g. shared supervision, multiple mentoring, interprofessional supervision, project-focused placement, role-emerging placement
    • The range of clinical experiences that can be offered within the placement (by you individually or in conjunction with colleagues from your own or other professions)
    • Knowledge and proficiency level of incoming students
    • Amount and nature of support to educator and students that the university is able to offer
    • Specific placement requirements (e.g. learning objectives, use of learning tools such as learning contracts or reflection processes, number of clinical hours expected, essential learning experiences, observation versus participation, complexity/nature of cases)
    • Assessment requirements for placement and other university assessment expectations (e.g. case studies or other assignments to be completed while on placement)
    • Who to contact (and when) at the university if there are difficulties during the placement
    • Formal agreement requirements between service provider and university – this might include costs of resources students use or costs of required travel as well as insurance and liability issues
    • Find out what safety checks have been completed (e.g. police background checks, working with children (Blue Card) checks) and current immunisation and First Aid training requirements. Inform the university of any additional requirements your workplace has for students on placement.
    • University processes for assessing and communicating a student’s fitness for placement in a particular health care setting.
    • University processes for determining suitability of a placement setting for a student/s.
    • University processes for identifying and communicating a student's specific learning or personal needs and required support during the placement.
    • Processes that exist to support student mental health and wellbeing
    • Home Visits:  Due to the differing contexts, settings, clientele and associated risks with home visiting, universities rely on the organisation or practice that is providing the student clinical placement to develop or reference a home visit policy specific to their setting. It is recommended that you develop or review a:
      • Home-visit policy which can include:
        • mobile phone use and communication
        • student’s previous contact with the client
        • Clinician’s knowledge of the client
        • Experience required by the student
      • Home visit risk checklist specific to the practice setting and clientele
  • Set up a process to communicate and co-ordinate within your organisation about incoming students:
    • so that everyone is aware of all of the students on placement (each student’s discipline, university, level of education, dates and length of placement, responsible clinical educator)
    • to facilitate other professionals to consider
      • interprofessional opportunities
      • multiple mentoring or shared supervision possibilities
    • to ensure the scheduling of placements fits in with other student placements, staff commitments and workplace requirements
    • to reach agreement within the workplace about the activities students can be involved in and the supervision requirements of these activities
  • Find out whether there is adequate working space for a student (e.g., a desk, access to a computer) and organise access (ID cards, login details, passwords etc) and parking
  • Find out whether there is available living accommodation if necessary
  • Plan the placement structure and timetable
  • Collate or develop learning resources that will help students develop an understanding of practice issues or skills particularly useful in your area of practice (e.g. required readings, learning modules, specific assessment or intervention techniques)
  • Organise orientation documentation and activities
  • Communicate with the student/s:
    • Send out a letter/email of introduction that tells the student all they need to know and do to prepare for the first day. Some of this information might include
      • your contact details, location or map, directions, parking, transport options
      • where and when you will meet on the first day and suggest what they might need to bring with them on the first day (e.g. own computer, lunch, car)
      • confirm the structure of the placement (e.g. placement days and locations, work hours, multiple students/educators, any overnight travel possibility)
      • overview of the nature of the caseload
      • expectations of appropriate dress/uniform
      • any pre-reading or other preparation you need them to do (e.g. familiarity with specific assessments or intervention techniques)
      • any prerequisite courses or learning modules (e.g. Queensland Health’s Student Health and Safety Orientation e-learning module; cultural awareness training)

In this video, Simone Howells, a Clinical Education Coordinator suggests some ways that the university can help you to prepare for a placement.



A note on safety considerations

Safety considerations will vary across settings but must be prioritised early in the student placement. Listen to Hazel Bassett, an experienced Mental Health Occupational Therapist and Clinical Educator, describe key safety considerations when taking a student in a Mental Health Setting.


Which of the areas outlined might be relevant in your practice setting? Does your workplace have any safety considerations that need to be addressed? How would you open a discussion regarding the parameters of supervision? Is there already a resource, structure or network within your workplace that might help you achieve acceptance early in the placement experience? Sign in to complete this reflective activity as part of your CPD log below

Pre-placement activities for the supervisor/clinical educator

There are some individual activities that a student supervisor may need to do prior to a placement:

  • Attend clinical education training or complete or review other clinical education professional development;
  • Reflect on your previous student supervision experiences and think about your goals as a student supervisor during the placement;
  • Try and clear any ‘backlog’ of work (e.g. administration tasks, report writing) to free up as much time as possible to spend with students while they are there;
  • Review the university’s learning goals and expectations for the placement;
  • Think about the learning experiences and opportunities you can offer that might address these goals and expectation.  The Occupational Therapy Practice Education Collaborative - Queensland (2017) provides a 'Preparing for Placement' section that may assist student supervisors create orientation, learning objectives and environments conducive to learning.
  • Consider whether there are projects or innovations that students might be able to do;
  • Collate or update a resource folder of teaching and learning tools that you might like to implement during the placement; and
  • Make sure you have a clear understanding of the student assessment requirements and process.


  • Bay, U. and Courtney, M. (2013). You Become the Supervisor. In K. Stagnitti, A. Schoo, & D. Welch (Eds.), Clinical and fieldwork placements in the health professions(2nd ed) (pp. 355-347). Melbourne, Victoria: Oxford University Press.
  • McAllister, L. and Lincoln, M. (2004). Clinical Education in Speech Language Pathology. Whurr: London.
  • Pereira, R. (2008). Learning and being a first-time student supervisor: Challenges and triumphs. Australian Journal of Rural Health, 16, 247–248.
  • James Cook University (2012) JCU Workplace Educators Resource Package. Retrieved from:



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