Navigating placement as an Occupational Therapy student in the era of COVID-19

COVID-19 has undoubtedly altered every aspect of  how we think, act, and respond. The challenges and complexities that an individual  with an illness or disability already faces has only been further compounded by the addition of ever changing policies and procedures.

As an OT student entering this new realm of healthcare, the fear and  anxiety of the unknown can feel like an added burden to the stressors that already exist with commencing a practice placement. However, it does not have to be. If anything, these changes only make it more imperative that  we understand how essential and impactful our roles as Occupational Therapy practitioners have become. Our patients need us now more than ever before. We are the faces that they see through some of their  most challenging moments in life and we are often now their pseudo families. 

In order to navigate fieldwork as an OT student, the following five strategies will help serve as a  foundation so that each student can have the greatest potential to successfully steer through this new  world and meet the needs of their patients.  

1. Prepare.  

Oftentimes a lack of knowledge is what creates the greatest anxiety when entering a new placement. The addition of the virus does not change this. Do not be afraid to ask questions.  Take advantage of pre-communication with your placement educator. This is the time to ask  questions so that you can center your focus with prep work on diagnoses, documentation, precautions, infection protocols, etc. specific to that clinical site. Remember standard  infection protocols are the same; however, additional precautions/policies may vary based  on what clinical setting and/or company you are at. Having this information will give you the confidence and insight that you will need heading into placement.  

2. Take initiative.  

The old saying you get what you put in will never be as true than as a student. Take  ownership of your learning. This means that you take advantage of every aspect that a site  may have to offer. As you build your knowledge and grow more comfortable, take the  opportunity for challenges by asking for them. Though they will put you out of your comfort  zone, they will force you to develop clinical reasoning and interpersonal skills that will help  to fertilize your foundation of knowledge as an entry-level practitioner.  

3. Be observant

Social isolation may be one of the most challenging aspects that has come from the safety  regulations put into place for COVID-19 for not only the patients but for healthcare  professionals. It has never been more essential for OT practitioners to understand and  recognize the importance of mental health and the role it plays within health and wellness and quality of life outcomes. As a student developing a heightened awareness of this will  assist you with creating a plan of care and intervention process that provides opportunities to prevent adverse mental health changes and will assist you with recognising warning signs  in order to address it. Be observant of the clinicians around you and how they utilise  therapeutic use of self and communication with their patients. This can become your best  resource. 

4. Adapt.  

Flexibility is key. As knowledge on this virus accumulates so does the variance in policies and  procedures in healthcare. Go into your fieldwork with the understanding that what may be  in place at the beginning will undoubtedly change many times. Though adapting to these  changes can be challenging, maintaining a positive attitude that these changes protect your  patients and you will help you adjust smoother.  

5. Communicate

Do not be afraid to express your concerns, questions, ideas, and suggestions. Sometimes a  new face brings more creativity and a new viewpoint that is needed within a seasoned  clinical team. It is important to not only communicate between the interdisciplinary team  but with the patients and their families. Virtual communication has become vital due to the  virus and creating new ways in which to disseminate information to families and provide  opportunities for social interaction with your patients will be crucial to sustain quality  mental health during a patient’s rehabilitation.  

Utilising these tips will help you better navigate this new era in occupational therapy healthcare.  Remember- one of the few constants in life is the inevitability of change. Healthcare has changed.  Rehabilitation has changed. Thus, so must we and we can!

Author: Jessica Harvey

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