How to develop and manage project placements
Project placements refer to placements where the focus is for the student(s) to undertake a prescribed project(s) that the organisation / service has nominated. The host organisation may or may not employ an occupational therapist. When two or more students work together on a project, placement feedback suggests they feel more supported.
Benefits of project placements
- Broadens the range of services students experience
- Exposes students to new and potential areas of practice
- The student develops project management skills
- The student works directly with staff from a variety of disciplines and develops team skills and communication skills
- Host organisations (who do not employ an occupational therapist) gain first hand experience of what occupational therapy can offer
- The outcome of the project is beneficial for the organisation
The focus of project placements is to complete a defined project relevant to occupational therapy practice, whether that be the development of an individual or group program for clients; a resource kit, handout, or education package; a research and literature review of a certain topic; an audit or survey; or specific task analyses or workplace assessments, to name a few. Students may have direct client contact, usually as a part of the project.
Where there is an occupational therapist employed within the organisation, supervision would be provided by that occupational therapist as per any other placement. Where no occupational therapist is employed within the organisation, the student is supervised on-site by a suitably qualified non-occupational therapist within the organisation, and by a qualified external occupational therapist on a regular basis (usually weekly). The role of the supervising occupational therapist is to provide support, guidance, advice and assistance in developing the project, as well as guiding the student to focus on the occupational therapy role within the organisation. Liaison between the on-site supervisor and the supervising occupational therapist is essential for the success of the project placement.
Here are some tips for developing project placements
- Contact the university fieldwork team to discuss your ideas for potential projects.
- Liaise with the manager/director of the organisation you have identified as benefiting from an occupational therapy student about your ideas for a project within that organisation. If you are an external occupational therapist the university can assist to link you with an organisation that could benefit from an occupational therapy-related project.
- Be organised! Define the scope of the project (with the on-site supervisor as appropriate) or discuss the range of project options available for students to choose PRIOR to the start of the placement.
- Include the student in discussions about the scope of the project or in selecting an appropriate project that is of interest to them in the first day or two of the placement, if not before the placement starts.
- Determine timeframes for the project with the student, as well as appropriate times for supervision throughout the placement.
- Encourage the student to experience a variety of activities within the organisation other than those related to the defined project, e.g. assist with manual handling, handwriting, mobility, or dressing program for a student in a special school. If you are an external supervising occupational therapist:
- Discuss learning opportunities and expectations of the student with both the student and the on-site supervisor to keep communication open and clear.
- Liaise regularly with the on-site supervisor about student progress and professional behaviour so that their input is included when you are engaged in supervision sessions with the student, and when you are evaluating student performance.
- When possible arrange to observe the student within the organisation, whether that may be while they are running a group session, interacting with clients, or giving a presentation to staff.
- Encourage the student to explain and define the occupational therapy role to others within the organisation and to focus on the specific occupational therapy skills and knowledge that would be of benefit i.e. Where OT fits!