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Learning at the coalface

Darragh O Keeffe reports on new efforts to provide quality clinical placements for the health professionals of tomorrow.

Providing students from various disciplines, such as nursing, physiotherapy and podiatry, the opportunity to learn and work together in aged care facilities is the goal of new interprofessional clinics. 

The innovative teaching model, which it’s hoped will provide for quality student placements, is the result of a Commonwealth-funded $1.8 million partnership between South Australian aged care provider, Helping Hand Aged Care, and the Division of Health Sciences at the University of South Australia.

The clinics, which will be both residential and community-based and located in rural and urban areas, aim to provide high quality clinical education and training for health students while at the same time adding client services to Helping Hand. They will ensure quality supervision and mentoring – currently a big issue in aged care placements – while ‘conversational cafes’ will allow for the students to debrief and share learning experiences.

Another component of the program will include enhanced student induction and orientation, through newly-developed online materials.

“Some of the clinics will be discipline specific, others will be interprofessional – and that’s the really innovative part. We’re hoping to be able to transfer students to areas they haven’t worked in or been exposed to before,” says Megan Corlis, director of research and development at Helping Hand Aged Care.

The program will develop seven interprofessional health and wellbeing clinics – four residential-based (North Adelaide, Mawson Lakes, Parafield Gardens and Ingle Farm), two community-based (Salisbury and North Adelaide) and one mobile (covering Clare, Jamestown and Port Pirie).

“The mobile van will enable the students to perform some treatments and it will carry a range of equipment they wouldn’t ordinarily get access to. The mobility factor is exciting. It can go far north, for example, and really access rural areas,” says Corlis.

With regards to the facility-based clinics, Corlis says one of the key goals is familiarising the students with residents, through a conversational café. There they can meet residents over a cup of tea, talk about what it’s like to be elderly, what their thoughts, hopes and fears are.

Not all the facility-based clinics will be the same. “Some might not even have four walls; the clinic might be a group of students operating together in an area of the facility. The goal is to maximise the quality of the placement, allowing good clinical supervision – a huge issue in aged care. It means the students can go out as a group, possibly go to a resident’s room and spend time with him or her. They can support each other, build confidence, debrief afterwards and work consistently with the same people,” says Corlis.

“Towards the end of their placements, we could have a nursing student, a physiotherapy student and an occupational therapy student doing advanced assessments and treatments together in the facility.”

The community-based clinics, meanwhile, are still in development, being informed by the results of a trial clinic previously run with a group of physiotherapy students. Corlis says it will essentially be a self-referred, free service for people in the community.

“The students get to assess the person, provide some treatment, follow up and possibly provide referral to a health professional in the community when their time in the clinic finishes,” she says.
Whichever clinics the students are placed in, be they attached to a facility or in the community, the idea is that they are given an opportunity to learn and work together, says Dr Esther May, dean, Health and Clinical Education at Uni SA.

“These students, as future professionals from different disciplines, need to learn to work together. There’s a clear educational need to provide them with the opportunity to do that. They need to learn to respect each other, understand each other’s roles within the team and learn to effectively communicate,” says May.

“That’s important across the board, which is why the clinics are interprofessional. We’re not limiting it to any discipline. Its open to pharmacy students, physiotherapists, podiatrists, exercise physiology, nursing and even midwifery,” says May.

“Another benefit to the student is around project work,” says Corlis. “Its relevance can be enhanced the student is based at a facility, simply because there is access to aged care staff and their insight, knowledge and expertise.”

Under the model, students will go on placement in the clinics for either four or eight weeks. Some will be assigned to specific clinics, while others may go on rotation between residential and community.

“Time spent in the clinic really depends on the placements, and we’re still working through the details around that with UniSA,” says Corlis. “We’re hoping next year to free up some of the placement times. Essentially, though, the clinics will become part of the students’ usual placements. The goal is to change the placements to best showcase aged care, providing an enhanced experience where students can gain the skills needed for now and the future.”

Helping Hand and UniSA have been working together on the clinics for some time, Corlis says.

Having previously trialled earlier versions, they are aware of what’s needed to make them effective.
It’s still early days. May and Corlis have just hired a number of key staff to begin setting the clinics up.

“The funding just started in July, so we’re still very much in the planning stage, detailing how it will work exactly. We’re now just putting the staff on the ground to help set this up,” says May.

“We’re also currently focussing on designing web-based education packages for the students,” says Corlis. “They will cover everything from student induction to supervision, mentoring and clinical education components. The good thing is that the student can always go back to these at any time.”

The first clinics started in October. That will most likely involve a group of student nurses located in one area of the facility focusing on good quality care and practice – essentially maximising the experience. Others will start then in November, says Corlis.

“Beyond improving student placements generally, we want to improve resident outcomes and having interprofessional clinics, where different disciplines can consult, converse and collaborate will help bring that about,” says Corlis.

“By early January I’m hoping to get out and start presenting on this. We’ll certainly have a clearer idea by then. We’re hoping to develop guides, outlining the different elements of this, which other providers can use and pick up. Therefore, in the design, we’re trying to make the central elements transferable. We’re hopeful this could be a big impact on student placement and support,” she says.

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