What to know before going on placement

Most health and behavioural science programs have a placement course at some point during the degree.

From my experience, placement was, and still is, one of the most nerve-wracking yet amazing student opportunities. It’s the time where you get to put all your hard work to the test and practically apply your knowledge to real-life scenarios.

Here are some of the tips that I have picked up from my placement experiences.

For information on your placement immunisation and documentation requirements, head to the Faculty of Health and Behavioural Sciences Placement guide.

Being nervous is completely normal

Placement or any new environment can be nerve-racking because it is full of the unknown. Worrying about something that hasn’t happened yet isn’t productive, even though it’s completely natural to do. The main worry I had before going on placement was about correctly applying the skills and theories I had learnt and putting them into practice when working with real people. I had to remind myself that even qualified professionals never stop learning and all of my supervisors were once in my position. Placement supervisors are generally very understanding and patient, and will make time to answer your questions. So try to turn those nerves into excitement and enthusiasm. If you really struggle with feeling nervous then these tips for controlling nerves might be useful.

Prepare thoroughly

Some placements require a pre-placement interview. This is an opportunity to meet the organisation, determine what hours they require you to work and find out whether there is anything they would like you to research before placement starts. Regardless of whether or not you have to do an interview, don’t underestimate the importance of making a good impression. Do your own research to find out what the unit specialises in, what client demographic they work with, and what their organisational values are. Compare the types of care and support provided with the professional practice skills you would like to develop so you have some goals in place to work towards throughout your placement. Doing these things can not only prepare you for what your placement will involve but it also demonstrates to your supervisors that you are proactive and ready to learn. 

Dress appropriately for the job

If you don’t have a uniform it can be tricky to know what to wear. What you wear can vary depending on the organisation you are working with. From my social work placement experiences, government placements generally call for smart casual, whereas a community service may be more relaxed in their clothing. Possibly do a walk by and have a look at how other staff are dressed, this may be a good indicator of the organisational dress culture. Some basics that you will get heaps of wear out of are the standard black pants, simple shirts and some very comfortable shoes. If you are on a budget then op-shops are the way to go, as you’ll find some great business wear while supporting a local charity at the same time.

Take care of yourself

This one is a no-brainer but self-care is so important on placement, as is maintaining a healthy work/life balance. It can be very tempting to either come in early to prepare or stay later to have everything done – however this can be a very bad habit to get into it. You can place yourself at risk of burning out. Working on time management and prioritisation is key. It can also be beneficial to make time on your days off to do meal prep, have some fun, and spend time with your loved ones – even if it’s only for a few hours. This will help recharge you batteries and ensure you get everything you can out of the placement. You have to take care of yourself before you take care of others.

Your supervisor is like your Dumbledore

Your supervisor is essentially your mentor in applying theory and skills into practice. Rest assured, your supervisor will guide you through the process. As you grow in confidence they will help you to become more hands-on with your clinical role. Don’t be afraid to ask questions While it can be scary to ask what you may think is a silly question, they generally prefer having someone who is passionate, curious and asks questions. Be willing to take opportunities to learn, but always know that it is perfectly ok (and actually expected) that you won’t know how to do things – that’s why we are students, after all.

Accept that you will most likely make mistakes

Making mistakes is a normal human experience and some of the most valuable learning opportunities comes from mistakes we have made. We have to remember as health students that the people we have the privilege of looking after are real people. Everyone, no matter how competent, brilliant or passionate they are will make a mistake at some point in their career. The most important thing is to know how to deal with it.

  1. Let someone know as soon as you recognise a mistake - little problems can be resolved.
  2. Take a moment to reflect on what happened, debrief the situation with the mentor involved and make a plan for what you will do next time. This shows you are professional, honest and have integrity.
  3. Breathe. Give yourself a hug, have a short break and remember you are a student who is still learning. You’re human and mistakes do happen.  

Making mistakes feels awful at the time, but try not to stay in a negative frame of mind about it as this is just wasted energy. Don’t let the fear of making mistakes hold you back from a light-bulb moment, and realise experience is never wasted – it takes you one step closer to the professional that you’re striving to be.

Create a LinkedIn account

Consider creating a LinkedIn profile. Essentially LinkedIn is a professional social media platform that also works as an online resume. There are a lot of articles on what to include or write in your profile, but the basic rule of thumb is to ensure that you use a professional tone with a flair of your personality. This applies for everything from your choice of photo to the language you use. LinkedIn can be used to keep in contact with the people you meet while on placement and also build your professional network – you never know when an introduction could lead to a future job. Be considerate that some professionals are not comfortable being connected with students and others may not even use LinkedIn. On that note, make sure it’s obvious that you are a student on your LinkedIn profile – it can be misleading if you don’t.

Build a positive reputation for yourself

Do you want to be known as someone who is unreliable or someone who is dependable? Start to think about what kind of reputation you want to build for yourself. My tips below are obviously not all encompassing of what a “good reputation” looks like as you will figure out your own style along the way, but they’re a good starting point.   

  • Be punctual, and if something unexpected happens then communicate it to your supervisor.
  • Be sure to complete tasks you’ve committed to, and stick to deadlines that have been agreed upon.
  • Be organised – I do this by writing tasks down and keeping track of what I need to do.
  • Show initiative within the limits of your role as a student.  
  • Follow your supervisor’s instructions, and if you didn’t understand something then ask for clarification.

Thumbs up for a positive attitude

Most importantly, start every shift with a positive attitude and be open to learning new things. Enjoy getting a taste of what your future career will be like and try to soak up as much of the wisdom as possible from the people you engage with on placement.

Last updated:
28 June 2022