New innovations in the development of practice placement education for student dietitians
This is a descriptive survey set in the interpretative paradigm in keeping with the tradition of ethno-methodology. Dietitians (n, 113) and students (n, 23) involved in practice placement were surveyed using questionnaires and focus group interviews. Qualitative analysis of the data was carried out using thematic network analysis (see Attride-Sterling 2001).
A total of 69 (61%) questionnaires were returned from practice placement educator dietitians and 22 (95.6%) from the students trained by this group of dietitians. The dietitians undertaking student training varied in their professional experience and involvement in training, as highlighted in Table 1. It is evident that a wealth of experience with dealing with students exists amongst the practice placement educators with 53 (77%) having been involved in student training for more than 3 years.
Although there is a real lack of training in teaching and assessing students (only 22% reported having had formal training), a conscientious process to rectify this has been put in place, with each training centre offering intradepartmental induction. Some 71% of practice placement educators have either had some formal training or have availed of intradepartmental induction. However, 20 (29%) practice placement educators reported that they had no training on teaching or the assessment of clinical skills in students.
The thematic network analysis of data (see Watson et al. 2002) revealed six global themes (Table 2).
3.1 Bridging the gap between academia and practice placement
The students experience difficulty in changing learning environments and have a poor insight into what placement entails at the outset. It was reported by 45% that they were not sure what they needed to do to gain competence. Disparity appears to exist between the higher education institute (HEI) academic staff and the practice placement sites with a lack of guidance on the use of the assessment system suggested. Different interpretations of the assessment criteria exist and definitions of terms are not always clear. There appears to be poor understanding and acceptance among the practice placement educators of the ‘natural gap’ which exists between college and placement with practice placement educators believing there is a need to spend time revising initially so as to prepare students for patient encounters. Practice placement educators would like more information sharing about students and more flexibility or ‘power’ to make changes.