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Getting the most out of your clinical placement

Work-integrated learning such as clinical placements are extremely valuable experiences. They will provide you with the opportunity to put theory into practice, develop new skills, and network within the industry. A great placement will further your learning and if you play your cards right, it might even lead to a job offer!

With this in mind, we spoke to Associate Professor in Nutrition Rachel Bacon on how to maximise your clinical placement. Rachel is a huge advocate of work-integrated learning (WIL) experiences and has supervised hundreds of students through their placements.

“An internship has the potential to be a long job interview and make the difference in terms of helping you get a job when you graduate,” she said.

“Even if the organisation doesn’t have the opportunity to employ you, they may be a referee, or they could refer you on to other employers so it pays to put in the hard work.”

Here are some of Rachel’s top tips for placements:

Start planning early and research your placement

Researching ahead of time will put you in the best position to land your perfect placement.  Six months is ideal as some of the popular placements can be extremely competitive.

Students can contact UC Careers for help on how to prepare a cover letter, resume and brush up on their interview skills – these are all things you will need when applying for placements.

Pharmacy student on placement

Be strategic about your placement – quality over quantity 

Consider what you want from life or at least the few years. Choose a placement that increases your opportunities because it can lead to the next step in your career.  Questions to ask might be:

  • Where do you want to go after you graduate?
  • Do you want to go on to further study?
  • Do you want to go into the research field?

“I don’t think doing several placements is always the best way to go,” Rachel said. “I think targeting them is a better strategy. It’s fit for purpose, so choose a placement that aligns with where you are now and will help get you to the next point you want to be.”

Physiology student on placement

Use your teachers and networks to help you find the best placement

“My preference would be for students to not approach businesses independently unless they have already established a relationship with that business,” Rachel said.

“We’ve already negotiated with some organisations and have proposals that align with students’ learning needs so it is worth checking with your teachers.”

Learn the team culture

Once you’ve landed your internship Rachel recommends putting in the effort to research the organisation prior to starting and asking explicit questions to understand the team culture.  And, not to forget to make the most of ‘soft skills’ like professionalism, communication, initiation, passion, and enthusiasm.

“The students who excel academically aren’t necessarily the ones who most easily go into the workforce. They’re trained to be critical thinkers and can sometimes make supervisors feel threatened or uncomfortable,” Rachel explains.

“Using these skills can show your interest and intelligence but in a way that makes you fit in with the community and culture and can take you a long way in terms employment opportunities,” Rachel said.

Physio student on placement

Don’t be afraid to ask questions or request feedback

It’s natural to be eager to impress during your placement but it also perfectly acceptable to ask when you don’t know something. Students aren’t expected to know everything and supervisors are there to help support you to learn and develop in those weaker areas.

Another daunting prospect may be asking for feedback especially as many fear it will be negative.

“I think you’re responsible for your own learning and development,” Rachel said. “You  don’t have to take on board every piece of feedback but if someone is generous enough to give you some time and invest in trying to help you move forward, you should seriously consider what they say and see what you can take from that and use in your development.”