Wednesday, Jan 19, 2022

The future AHP workforce

Student Practice Placements don’t just provide benefits for students, as Senior Improvement Advisor Lynn Flannigan found out when she and Focus on..


Student Practice Placements don’t just provide benefits for students, as Senior Improvement Advisor Lynn Flannigan found out when she and Focus on Dementia colleague Stephen Lithgow supported Healthcare Improvement Scotland’s first ever Allied Health Professional student placements.

The purpose of Healthcare Improvement Scotland is to enable the people of Scotland to experience the best quality of health and social care, which it does through inspection, improvement, evidence and community engagement activities.

Healthcare Improvement Scotland currently employs around 14 Allied Health Professionals in non-AHP roles throughout the organisation who have maintained their professional registration.

As a registered Allied Health Professional (AHP), I have a responsibility to support practice-based learning. That didn’t stop me feeling just a little apprehensive when my colleague Stephen Lithgow and I– both of us from our organisation’s Focus on Dementia team – were the first AHPs in the organisation to supervise a project placement for two MSc physiotherapy students.

It had been a long held ambition that Healthcare Improvement Scotland would support AHP student placements. For the past few years a small working group of AHPs in the organisation have been working with National Educational for Scotland (NES) and our higher education institutions to bring this into fruition. In October last year, our first two students joined us for a four-week virtual placement from Glasgow Caledonian University.

Learning together

Once they joined us, it was not surprising to find out that our two students, Laura and Shelagh, were just as apprehensive as we were. For them, as physiotherapy students, it was nervousness at being on a placement that wasn’t clinical. For us, it was more about how we could make a placement effective when it was being conducted virtually, as well as how much time it might take on top of the day job. On top of that, for Stephen as an Occupational Therapist, it was whether supervising students from a different profession would work.

“I was a little nervous coming into a placement that wasn’t clinical but my attitude has always been to have an open-mind, which I am glad I did as I have learned so many unique skills that would otherwise have been unknown to me (eg QI and quality improvement methodology). I’ll leave here as a trailblaizer for QI, the work of HIS and imbed quality improvement in my own work.” Physiotherapy Student

To mitigate this, we decided to adopt a 2:2 model of placement so that the two practice educators (Stephen and I) could support each other, and Laura and Shelagh could also support each other. We provided them with a project brief around involving carers in dementia care. The brief specified what outputs were expected and what learning outcomes we hoped to cover. A range of tutorials and interviews with stakeholders were set up in advance for the students which covered topics such as quality improvement methodology, dementia, physiotherapy contribution to dementia and involving carers.

Given the virtual, project-based nature of the placement, we had to give consideration to how Laura and Shelagh could achieve their learning outcomes in order to fulfil University standards.  This included subject matter specific teach-back sessions, a case study example, a hypothetical physiotherapy quality improvement project and an evidence summary of their learning.

Making it work

While our initial concern was that trying to support placements virtually would be hard on all of us, in many ways the online technology such as MS Teams provided great benefits. We could link in with Laura and Shelagh daily for short sessions, and they could access a range of staff from across Healthcare Improvement Scotland, wider stakeholder and carers, which gave them a real breadth of experience.

“In the past few weeks the wide range of learning opportunities, meetings, desk-based research and peer support has provided an excellent opportunity for me to gain an understanding of the dementia pathology and patient physiotherapy intervention, specific issues relating to informal carers for people with dementia, and the QI methodology.” Physiotherapy Student

Where we did have a challenge was around the assessment forms, which were still designed for  clinical placements. We got round it by creating a case study based on the experience of a person living with dementia during the pandemic, and we built questions around that to help assess Laura and Shelagh’s clinical reasoning. Laura and Shelagh provided us with really positive feedback about how the placement helped them gain an understanding of dementia, physiotherapy interventions, specific issues relating to informal carers for people with dementia, and the QI methodology.  We were able to observe their learning develop around quality improvement and how to use tools such as aim statements, driver diagrams and logic models. I think they will take that quality improvement experience with them and incorporate it into their future clinical practice – very few students get that kind of experience.

Everyone’s a winner

From Stephen and I’s perspective, we didn’t feel the placements were too onerous in terms of time, especially as we had so many willing volunteers from across the organisation to help out! For us as practice educators, it also helped support our on-going professional registration, refresh our supervision skills and our subject matter knowledge and expertise.

For Healthcare Improvement Scotland more widely, the four weeks we spent working with Laura and Shelagh has tested the concept of student placements within the organisation, and now we are expanding placements to other AHP groups, and working with other Higher Education Institutions. Having learned from our experience, our nursing colleagues are now also supporting nursing placements. The vision is that all AHPs within the organisation will support student placements and education in some way in future, and we hope to explore other models such as split placements with NHS Boards clinical sites and other national bodies. Providing student placements for AHPs brings so many benefits, including building quality improvement capacity and capability within our future health and social care workforce, raising awareness of non-traditional career pathways for AHPs and enabling AHPs in our organisation to maintain their registration and supervision skills.

It was great to dust off the cobwebs and be supporting students again. We hope that sharing our passion for improving services for people living with dementia and their carers will be contagious to the students that spend time with us and will inform their future practice. It was a very rewarding experience which Stephen and I would fully recommend.


Lynn Flannigan is Senior Improvement Advisor with the Focus on Dementia Team of Healthcare Improvement Scotland



By: talkingdementia
Title: Developing the AHP workforce of the future
Sourced From:
Published Date: Thu, 21 Oct 2021 06:00:00 +0000

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