How a Team Approach to Practice Education Combatted the COVID-19 Effect
Terri Grant, School of Allied Health and Community
This case study demonstrates how effective leadership has led to increased placement capacity that resulted in occupational therapy and physiotherapy students at the University of Worcester meeting their placement requirements as the country went into lockdown in 2020. In addition, it demonstrates how we have prepared for a 350% increase in placement capacity over a 6-year period.
The Practice Education team was developed in 2018 after the professional regulatory body identified the need for an increase in staff dedicated to placement development. I saw the opportunity to develop a more integrated strategy, suggested the creation of an integrated team to my line manager and agreed to lead its development. Staff recruited into the team came from clinical practice with little to no education experience. I developed the team vision as innovative and positive whilst keeping quality at the heart of the team, ensuring that no-one ran away with their ideas to the detriment of the students (K6). I encouraged the team to adopt the approach of not rejecting any placement idea, but instead asking, “How can we make this work?” Each team member learned to take on a role of supporting new placements that they had helped to generate, providing them with a sense of ownership and pride in the work.
Crucial to maintaining quality was the ability for all team members to challenge one another. This was achieved by working closely together and I took care to present myself as someone who was prepared to be challenged by the team on my decisions. This enabled the team to develop robustly whilst remaining supportive of one another to deliver quality learning experiences for the students.
The impact of this positive team development was that no occupational therapy or physiotherapy student had a placement cancelled during the Covid-19 pandemic, in contrast to common practice in other HEIs. Students who were due to commence their final placement in April 2020 were able to do so, with some adjustments, in order to graduate on time and join the workforce to support the NHS response.
As the new team developed its identity and began to increase placements, student module feedback also improved. Frequency of negative qualitative comments about the variety of placements reduced and feedback from placements, particularly non-traditional ones, about the impact of student involvement on patient care increased.
To capture this and celebrate the positivity of engaging in an unusual placement, I developed a placement blog titled “Interesting Therapy Placements”, which showcases some of the more unusual student experiences in a positive manner and is publicly accessible, with the aim of encouraging more innovative placement opportunities. Some of the placements the team have innovated include student lecturers, 100% virtual overseas placements, corporate NHS placements, and development of an interprofessional student-led clinic within a private physiotherapy practice, amongst others. Engagement with the blog via Twitter analytics demonstrates a broad reach, including retweets by professional bodies.