Preparing for and managing clinical education placements


Why are clinical education placements important?


Students have the opportunity to 'transform their propositional (book or theoretical) knowledge into professional craft knowledge (the knowledge of how professionals get things done in practice) through clinical education placements. While on placement, students also develop their 'professional identity' and develop many of the generic skills (e.g. teamwork, time-management, conflict-resolution) they need for professional practice.

 In this video, Professor Lindy McAllister describes the knowledge, skills and attributes students develop through clinical education.




‘Student learning outcomes will be more successful, and the placement less stressful for all concerned when it is well organised. Clinical educators need to see themselves not only as educators but also as managers of students’ learning programmes…  This involves management tasks in … preparation, implementation and evaluation.’ (McAllister & Lincoln, 2004, p.48)

One of the most important things to think about first is the reason why clinical education is crucial and exactly what it is our students are learning and experiencing while on placement.


The quality of placement you are able to provide

Quality clinical education placements provide individualised and optimal learning opportunities that meet students needs. There are many variables that affect the nature and quality of clinical education placements.

In this video, Professor Lindy McAllister summarises these variables.



The Griffith Institute for Higher Education suggests that high quality clinical education placements:

  • occur in authentic professional contexts where students engage in meaningful activities designed to enhance and integrate learning
  • ensure that students focus on integrating theoretical knowledge with practice (applying their university learning with workplace application)
  • anticipate and manage all occupational health and safety, ethical and legal risks
  • integrate the appropriate range of supports (e.g. learning advisors, counselling) provided by the university and within the workplace
  • align learning objectives, workplace activities and assessment to produce effective, relevant, meaningful and intended outcomes for everyone (but especially students)
  • prepare students, workplaces and work supervisors for the placement
  • efficiently manage and effectively monitor students’ progress during placement
  • effectively administer aspects of the curriculum that indirectly support students’ learning
  • balance the key elements that comprise an effective placement


Siggins Miller Consultants (2012) conducted a comprehensive review of the literature to identify the elements of quality in clinical placements. In this report, they identified enablers, barriers and other key issues influencing quality:

Factors enabling quality in clinical placements:

  • A culture of quality develops positive relationships, actively supports learning and rewards culture for best-practice.
  • Effective supervision characterised by a good supervisory relationship and facilitated through supervisor characteristics, supervisor development and appropriate recognition and reward of desirable supervisor behaviours.
  • Learning opportunities that are diverse and appropriate for student competence and comprise at least in part of supported participation in direct patient care.
  • Effective communication and collaboration between students, academic institutions and placement sites in an effort to adequately prepare for the placement experience.
  • Sufficient resources and facilities to conduct placement activities.

Barriers to placement quality include:

  • Occupational stress which induces states of anxiety that inhibit learning, impair performance and compromise health and wellbeing.
  • Workplace incivility and aggression which threatens the socio-emotional and physical safety of students in the placement environment.

Other issues influencing quality include:

  • Innovation to increase placement quality and capacity.
  • Consideration of rural and remote issues as relevant to increasing quality, capacity and addressing larger health workforce shortages.
  • Issues of diversity, including culturally and linguistically diverse groups, the experience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and the impact of gender and disability.


If there are a number of barriers or challenges you will face providing a placement then you might decide that you are not able to provide an appropriate quality placement. The most common challenge is not having enough time and workload pressure. Lack of resources (physical space, desk space, access to computers) and lack of organisational or workplace support are also common barriers.

  • McAllister, L. and Lincoln, M. (2004) Clinical Education in Speech Language Pathology. Whurr: London.
  • McAllister, L., Paterson, M., Higgs, J. and Bithell, C. (2010). Innovations in allied health fieldwork education. Sense: Rotterdam.
  • Rodger, S., Fitzgerald, C., Davila, W., Millar, F. and Allison, H. (2011). What makes a quality occupational therapy practice placement? Students’ and practice educators’ perspectives. Australian Occupational Therapy Journal, 58, 195–202.

  • Smith, C., and Simbag, V. [n.d.] Griffith Institute for Higher Education Good Practice Guide on Work Integrated Learning (WIL) in the Curriculum. Griffith University.
  • Siggins Miller Consultants. (2012). Promoting quality in clinical placements: Literature review and national stakeholder consultation. HWA, Adelaide.







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