Who wins when multidisciplinary health students have immersive service learning placements in regional communities with high needs and limited services?

Ms Robyn Fitzroy1

1University Centre For Rural Health, Lismore, Australia

The University Centre for Rural Health (UCRH) in Northern NSW was required to double its multidisciplinary health placements to 4,300 using innovative models. The goal was to develop placements beyond the acute care setting, into communities whilst still meeting curriculum outcomes and skill-development needs of over 23 universities. Placements involved high levels of disadvantage including isolation, limited health literacy and limited health services for community. Finding ways to give multidisciplinary health students a broad, inter-professional and community-immersive placement experience required innovative methods and challenged the existing paradigms used by traditional health settings, community agencies and universities.

A model of placement that met curriculum standards, enabled students to provide a community service and met UCRH and community needs was developed based on four key principles; continuous service, site engagement/enhancement, non-traditional supervision and inter-professionalism. Students placed into schools, pre-schools, aged-care facilities and community clinics are exposed to challenging yet positive rural training.

This models provides continuous service at the placement site with student placement blocks, one after the other. Community engagement is a priority so students learn clinically relevant challenges while simultaneously teaching communities about the benefits of these disciplines. Supervision is not one-to-one or necessarily discipline specific and requires students to expand their inter-professional skills and resilience.

Student services in 2018 included:

  • occupational therapy (254 weeks), speech pathology (223 weeks) -7 schools, 2 aged care
  • dietetics (30 weeks) – Aboriginal Medical Services, Red Cross
  • exercise physiology (40 weeks) community clinic
  • social work (36 weeks) – school, headspace, employment agency.

The community benefits are far-reaching as new services are delivered, health literacy enhanced and an understanding of the roles and value of health care therapies alongside general practice is improved.  The multi-pronged impacts of this model, presents opportunities for expansion and replication and benefits both students and communities.

The initiator of this work, Dr Lindy Swain is acknowledged.


Robyn Fitzroy is the Program Director at the University Centre for Rural Health

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