New innovations in the development of practice placement education for student dietitians
The B.Sc. in Human Nutrition and Dietetics is a Level 8 (honours) programme (see Bologna Agreement 1999) run jointly by the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) and the University of Dublin (Trinity College). The programme is designed to provide an integrated training in the science of nutrition and dietetics and its application to human health and well being both at the individual and community level. To fulfil professional requirements, it includes 30 weeks of placement-based studies, 24 of which are currently undertaken in a variety of health care settings in Year 4 (see European Federation of the Associations of Dietitians 2005 and Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute 2005). Students must be deemed competent to practice professionally as a dietitian in order to successfully complete their B.Sc. degree. Research undertaken (see Bowles 2008), on the Irish system of practice placement education for student dietitians indicated that students experienced difficulty in changing from the academic to the workplace learning environment, and had difficulty understanding at the outset what the practice placement education entailed and what they needed to do to gain competence. Practice placement educators reported a lack of guidelines and assessment criteria. In response to these issues, the programme team and personnel from the DIT Learning, Teaching & Technology Centre initiated the development of practice placement learning outcomes and performance indicators, staged competence criteria for monitoring students on placement, staged formative and summative assessments and general guidelines for practice placement education. This paper discusses the collaborative approach between the higher education institution and the practice placement educators on this work-based learning partnership. The partnership work has highlighted the need for an inclusive approach to all practice placement settings which facilitates the creation of a clear support structure for placement mentors/assessors. A standardised, explicit assessment process that contributes to progressive skills acquisition and the requirement that practice placement is fully integrated into the academic curriculum have, furthermore, been identified. Self-directed learning, self-assessment and reflective practice are professional skills which need to be viewed as outcomes of practice placement and the training of practice placement educators must be within a process that acknowledges and uses their experience.
Keywords: dietetics, practice placement education, progressive skills acquisition