Supporting diverse learning needs on clinical placement

What will you find on this page?

What is a culturally and linguistically diverse student?

Factors to consider when supporting culturally and linguistically diverse students

How can you support culturally and linguistically diverse students?

What is a culturally and linguistically diverse university student?

Within the tertiary education setting, there are two main groups of culturally and linguistically diverse students:

1.     Domestic students: these students may have been born overseas, have a parent born overseas, or speak a variety of languages.

2.     Students from overseas who are completing their tertiary education in Australia.

Factors to consider when supporting culturally and linguistically diverse students

In addition to meeting the placement requirements, evidence suggests that student supervisors need to be aware of additional factors when supporting culturally and linguistically diverse students on placement. Supervisors need to:

  • Acknowledge that students will be adapting to new cultures, settings, systems, customs, and languages in the placement setting.
  • Also acknowledge that students will bring diversity in new cultures, settings, systems, customs and languages that might drive creativity and innovation in the placement setting.
  • Identify ways to teach and support students to adopt a problem-based learning approach.
  • Acknowledge that this student group will be adapting to the nuances and expectations of communication (for example, where students need to communicate and negotiate their workplans directly with their supervisors when, in their own culture this communication approach would not be considered appropriate).
  • Identify ways to teach and support student demonstration of language proficiency and awareness of spoken, written and colloquial language.

This can lead to some culturally and linguistically diverse students:

  • Taking a longer time to adjust into their placement site.
  • Requiring time to understand how their cultural values impact on the way their learning occurs and how this can apply when adjusting to the placement setting.
  • Experiencing difficulties with communications such as:
    • writing
    • negotiating
    • expressing their workplan or ideas with their supervisors
    • following instructions
    • seeking clarification on the expectations of the supervisor and the placement organisation.

When these issues arise, it is important to remember that every student is an individual and understanding your student is essential. If your student is experiencing difficulty during placement, utilise the ‘Tools For Educators’ as a framework to identify the problem and develop strategies to address it.

You may also like to use the following strategies/ideas developed by the University of Tasmania with your student to assist them working through any challenges they encounter:

  • Reassure the student that it is normal to feel apprehensive in unfamiliar circumstances – you can provide an example where you have felt this way.
  • Foster respect and improved understanding by encouraging the conversation about the student’s cultural diversity. This can put people at ease and facilitate interpersonal interactions.  If people express a wish to hear more about your story, be prepared to tell only those parts of it that you are comfortable talking about.
  • Suggest the student seek assistance from the University – there will often be student advisors who can support the student through their placement experience

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How can you support culturally and linguistically diverse students?

In the video below, Anne, a clinical educator in speech pathology at the University of Queensland outlines some factors and strategies to consider when supporting a student from a culturally and/or linguistically diverse background:


Create positive learning environments:

  • Provide a structured and supportive orientation for entry into a new placement setting. Additional time may be required to provide this orientation.
  • Be familiar with the requirements for assessment. Spend time working with the student to be explicit about what they will demonstrate, how, when and why, and how these will link with the assessment.
  • Allow for a flexible approach to placement and consider reasonable adjustment to placement structure if the student requires additional time to adjust to the cultural diversity at their placement setting (not because of the student’s inability to practice).
  • Plan to provide additional time to allow students to connect theory with practice in a placement setting that may be culturally unfamiliar.
  • Use modelling (where relevant) to provide students with an example of how the client interaction could occur. 
  • Provide materials in advance so the student has adequate time to process the language and prepare for the placement experience.
  • Be aware of different learning preferences.
  • Initiate conversation to acknowledge:
    • their experiences
    • their reality e.g., communication approaches
    • the value of their experiences to the university community
    • the existence of, shows interest in, demonstrates knowledge of, and expresses appreciation for the student’s ethnicity and culture.
  • Assist students to achieve their potential including skill development, cultural adjustment, English language proficiency, computer literacy, information literacy etc.
  • Assist students to understand the importance of self-reflection in terms of their performance, development and professional expectations.
  • Set clear expectations.
  • Offer support when experiencing cultural insensitivity or when facing feelings of isolation and uncertainty, and in dealing with racism.
  • Withhold judgment and set your assumptions aside.
  • Acknowledge that cultural generalisations exist, but they do not apply to every individual or every situation

Use inclusive teaching and language approaches:

These resources define and provide strategies for inclusive teaching approaches:

Use a variety of communication strategies:

  • Be complete, explicit and pay attention to the other person’s response.
  • Be alert for different meanings.
  • Avoid metaphors, colloquialisms and jargon. Define any jargon that you must use.
  • Attempt to be clear while avoiding the over-simplification of terms as it may seem insulting.
  • Always provide a why. Cultural patterns or rules may seem arbitrary if unexplained. If a student is uncomfortable with a decision or situation, explaining why is important, particularly if the issue is non-negotiable.
  • Use a variety of communication strategies such as writing, listening, speaking slower, asking students to repeat an instruction, using visual aids, giving simple instructions, and prompting students to ask questions. This variety is important when providing an introduction to the placement setting, and placement tasks, but equally important when providing performance feedback to the student.  You may like to refer to the 'Providing feedback' page of this website to consider this in more detail.

Be culturally responsive:

A culturally responsive supervisor who can discuss and provide guidance on multicultural issues is greatly valued by students on placement and evokes greater student satisfaction with the supervision provided. This includes supervisor awareness of their own biases and values, and reflection on how these biases and values may impact on their assessment, teaching and judgement of students.

The following resources link to eLearning opportunities, information and tools to support your professional development in becoming a culturally-responsive student supervisor:

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  • Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2018. Australia’s health 2018. Australia’s health series no. 16. AUS 221. Canberra: AIHW
  • Kristina Mikkonen, Satu Elo, Heli-Maria Kuivila, Anna-Maria Tuomikoski, Maria Kääriäinen, (2016) Culturally and linguistically diverse healthcare students’ experiences of learning in a clinical environment: A systematic review of qualitative studies, International Journal of Nursing Studies,Volume 54, Pages 173-187,
  • UNSW Sydney (20196) Equity Groups: Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (Culturally and linguistically diverse) students.  Accessed October 2021 from: and linguistically diverse-students
  • Brennan, E., Horne-Thompson, A., & Clark, I. (2013). Strategies to support the success of culturally and linguistically diverse health students during clinical placements : a systematic review. Focus on Health Professional Education, 15(2), 78–93.
  • Siggins Miller Consultants (2012). Promoting quality in clinical placements: Literature review and national stakeholder consultation. Adelaide: Health Workforce Australia. Retrieved from:
  • University of Tasmania Student Centre (2012). Cross Cultural Awareness and Communication. Retrieved from:
  • Attrill, Stacie & Lincoln, Michelle & McAllister, Sue. (2019). International students in professional placements: supervision strategies for positive learning experiences. 10.1111/1460-6984.12516#.XejH6zgeRA0.twitter.
  • Liikanen, E. (2019). Culturally and linguistically diverse healthcare students’ experiences of the clinical learning environment and mentoring: A qualitative study. Nurse Education in Practice, 41 doi:
  • Lee, DC.A., Newton, F., Yu, ML. et al. Supervisors’ experiences in supervising higher education students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds during work-integrated learning of health and non-health courses. High Educ 81, 665–683 (2021).
  • O'Reilly, Sharleen & Milner, Julia. (2015). Supporting culturally and linguistically diverse students during clinical placement: strategies from both sides of the table. BMC Medical Education. 15. 175. 10.1186/s12909-015-0458-3.




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