What supports allied health students on placement to begin to think, feel and act as a health professional?

Mrs Linda Furness1,2,3, Dr  Anna Tynan1,2,4, Dr Jenny Ostini2

1Darling Downs Health, Toowoomba, Australia, 2University of Southern Queensland, Toowoomba, Australia, 3Griffith University, Gold Coast, Australia, 4University of Queensland, Rural Clinical School, Toowoomba, Australia

Background: Clinical placements support student health professionals to become effective practitioners by integrating their knowledge and skills and supporting their development of professional identity so they come to ‘think, feel and act’ like a member of their profession. In a study conducted by Ashby, Adler, and Herbert (2016), practice education was identified by 98% of occupational therapy students across five countries as having the greatest influence on professional identity development. There are few studies examining the impact of clinical placement on the development of allied health students’ professional identity. The purpose of this study is to examine the influences on development of professional identity in allied health students undertaking clinical placements in a rural and regional health service.

Methods: Qualitative thematic analysis. Focus groups were audio recorded, transcribed verbatim and analysed thematically.

Results: 17 allied health staff whose roles support clinical education in the health service; 11 new graduates and 12 students representing the professions of Physiotherapy, Speech Pathology, Social Work, Nutrition and Dietetics, Psychology and Occupational Therapy, participated in separate focus group discussions. Refinement of themes was undertaken through the framework of ‘thinking, feeling and acting’ as a member of the profession. Three themes were identified: experiences supporting learning; socialisation and connectedness; and ‘unzip the student suit’.

Conclusion: When clinical educators acknowledge and implement strategies to support students to ‘think, feel and act’ as a member of their profession, it strengthens their professional identity. Other staff in the service and contact with patients also plays a key role in supporting development of students’ professional identity. These results highlight the need to consider orientation activities and opportunities for workplace connections, provision of quality learning experiences and balancing student learning and autonomy with patient care in supporting students to think, feel and act’ as a member of their profession.


Linda graduated as an occupational therapist in 1989, and since that time has worked in rural and regional service delivery. She has worked in a number of clinical, case management, management and education roles.

Linda is currently employed as a Clinical Education Support Officer and Clinical Education Leader – Adult Physical within the Occupational Therapy Clinical Education Program (OTCEP). OTCEP supports the clinical education of pre-entry occupational therapy students and new graduates in Queensland Health Hospital and Health service facilities. She is also involved in a number of research projects aimed at enhancing rural and regional occupational therapy service delivery.

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2015, Melbourne (11th NAHC)

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2019, Brisbane (13th NAHC)

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