What’s a clinical placement in health sciences really like?

What’s a clinical placement in health sciences really like?

Imagine your first day in a health career. You step onto the hospital ward or into the clinical room for the first time. There are real patients under your care. Imagine if your knowledge came solely from books or that one placement mid-way through your degree. It would be terrifying – and not just for you.

As a health student, you need to build practical skills from day one. Clinical placements throughout your degree allow you to explore the range of career options open to you, while building your confidence and hands-on skills.

We spoke with La Trobe student John Chen, who’s studying a Bachelor of Applied Science and Master of Podiatric Practice [1], about the clinical skills he’s gained in three unique settings: at La Trobe’s on-campus clinic, in a local community health centre and at a Scottish hospital during an overseas exchange.

Translate theory into practice at our on-campus clinic

Like John, your first clinical experience could be at one of our on-campus public clinics. Under clinical supervision, you’ll diagnose and manage patients to bring to life the theory you’ve learned in lectures.

“At La Trobe’s clinic, I can apply my knowledge in a way that I wouldn’t be able to in the classroom. It’s a better way of learning. And observing the clinical supervisors is highly motivating. It helps me understand where I need to improve and sets the bar of excellence quite high, which is good,” John says.

Being in the clinic also boosts your self-confidence.

“It’s exposed me to a range of different patients. The more patients you see, the more confident you become in your ability to meet their needs,” John says.

Work alongside specialists at a community health centre

For your next clinical placement, you might step off-campus. External placements – like John’s placement at Carrington Health, a community health centre in Box Hill – are a valuable way to build your professional network and connect with the wider world of allied health.

Being in a community health setting, you get to see more of an integrated approach. You’re not only working closely with podiatrists, but with physios, exercise physiologists, speech pathologists and even endocrinologists,” John says.

This hub-like environment also means you get to see an array of health problems and work on patients with more complex conditions. For John, this meant patients with diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.

“Carrington Health has an advanced foot clinic, which means they get some patients from the Box Hill Hospital that come in with wounds. You might deal with certain types of ankle or foot injuries that you wouldn’t see in a high-risk setting. And you might see children as well.”

Grow your global mindset at an overseas hospital

As an allied health graduate, you’ll have the opportunity to work not only in Australia, but also overseas*. For instance, Australian registered podiatrists can work in New Zealand, Scotland and Singapore. To get a taste of working abroad, John took a semester exchange to Scotland with Glasgow Caledonian University.

“Working for the National Health Service in Scotland was a really amazing experience. I was based at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, where I was exposed to a lot of high-risk feet, with patients who are more susceptible to losing a limb because of ulceration and wounds,” he says.

International work experience also gives you a bigger picture impression of the global healthcare landscape. Working in Scotland, for example, deepened John’s knowledge of how different health systems influence how you manage patients.

*Subject to international travel restrictions by health authorities to reduce the spread of COVID19

La Trobe podiatry student John Chen took an exchange to Scotland, where a clinical placement with the National Health Service spurred his passion for treating ‘high-risk’ feet.

Communicate confidently with patients and peers

Perhaps the most important thing clinical placements have taught John is how to interact empathically with patients.

“I learnt that asking the right questions is really important in helping diagnose the patient’s condition, but also to formulate an appropriate management plan. The patient always has the answers to their problem – you just have to ask the right question to draw it out,” he says.

“But also genuinely caring for the person as well. Always making sure they feel comfortable. Always asking and reassuring them. I met a podiatric surgeon in my time over there and asked him what he could share to help me on my career path. He said, ‘Always make sure your patients are at ease.’ Out of everything he’d experienced, that was the main thing.”

John believes these people skills are key to succeeding in allied health.

If one of your strengths is that you’re a people person, you have good communication skills and you genuinely care for people, this is such a great opportunity to do that. Podiatry for me, it’s not just about the feet, it’s more about the person themselves,” he says.

Discover your dream job

Ultimately, your clinical experience can influence where you take your future career. For instance, John discovered through placements that there’s more to podiatry than routine foot and nail care. He’s now focused on a long-term career in surgery.

“Ideally, I’d like to work as soon as I graduate next year in a public hospital. My experience with high-risk feet helped me realise that I really enjoy that part of it,” he says.

“In the long-term I’d be looking at surgery. That’s obviously a few more years of study. There’s an opportunity to go back to Glasgow to study that, which is very exciting, because I miss Glasgow a lot! I think podiatry can take me all around the world.”

If you’d like to help people be their healthiest self, find out where a Health course at La Trobe University can take you.

[1] Now the Bachelor of Podiatry (Honours).