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A Student’s Survival guide to Placement – transferable skills

Welcome everybody to my second blog post! My name is Charlie and I’m a third-year OT student. I’ve been working with Jo over the past 9 weeks. It’s been an absolute pleasure working with all of the wonderful people in the JBOT community.

As you may have guessed from the title and from my little introduction. I am here to present to you some top tips on how to survive your practice placements. Whether you are studying occupational therapy or embarking on a slightly different adventure this guide may be helpful. I have also put this together to help assist future students, who join the service after I have left. I hope people will find my contribution helpful and will have the same amazing experience that I did. Feel free to digest the information in your own time and remember you can always come back to it later.

Have an open mind


At some point in our journeys, we all have to face things that are difficult. Things that we might not want to do. It is very easy to want to just throw in the towel and give up when things don’t go our way. The advice that I would give is to keep an open mind. Don’t underestimate what an experience can be due to how it may look like at surface level. I’m sure we all know the phrase ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’. This can be applicable in a multitude of different situations.

When it comes to placements, it can be exactly the same. The world of OT is so broad and so diverse, there are hundreds of titles that we could take on. Not all of them will be your cup of tea. However, with being such a diverse career, that means it requires an open-mind and creative mindset.

Occasionally you have to put yourself in challenging situations to realise what your strengths are and which environments you thrive in. Occasionally we all need to see things from a different perspective. As occupational therapists, we are adaptable and inventive. Often not this is part of not only our role but also our identity.

Whether you’re a first, second or third year, or considering becoming a student of OT (or something else). Remember, it’s okay to be put in places that you might not like or want to work in the future. You can learn all that is possible and channel all of those skills into finding something you love.

Having an open mind and being non-judgemental towards the clients and professionals you work with can go a long way. Remember to consider that there are always alternative perspectives and that everything is relative to an individual.

Common sense!!

As long as you are following RCOT and HCPC guidelines, don’t be afraid to point out the obvious or state facts. Occasionally we can get caught up with one-track thinking and miss something important down the line. Generally speaking, at university, we get taught to do everything ‘by the book’. However, even in a perfect world, this doesn’t always happen. As previously mentioned, it’s important that we treat everybody as individuals. Remember that sometimes unpredictable things can happen regardless of how much we prepare for them. As OT’s we are praised for creative thinking and our adaptations and sometimes it’s vital to just use common sense!

Example time! You’re working with a service user who has been given a perching stool to use. However, the service user doesn’t like using it. Every time they sit on it in their kitchen to do the washing up, their knees bang on the cupboards. As an OT what would you suggest?

Well, I can tell you the answer that we came up with might surprise you with just how simple it is. Why not try opening the cupboards underneath the sink. Clear a small space for your feet to fit on the bottom shelf of this cupboard? – You can have that tip for free!

Know your limits


By all means it is important to challenge yourself. However this does not mean make yourself miserable or allow something to affect your health, mental and/or physical. Ultimately, you are on this journey to assist future clients to break down barriers and become more independent. Let me ask you this, if you can’t take care of yourself how do you expect to take care of somebody else?

If you only take away one thing from this post, let it be this.

If you are ever placed in a situation or setting that is having a negative impact on your own well-being, then you have the right to communicate that. It is not fair and it is not reasonable to expect somebody to sacrifice themselves at the cost of their well-being. Nothing is worth putting your happiness or health on the line.

Trust me when I say, I know this is not always easy, but I promise when you do you will feel so much better. Don’t ever be worried that feeling this way makes you weak or any less able. In actual fact identifying this can be empowering. Not all of my placements have gone as smoothly as I wanted. Throughout my placement experiences I’ve experienced positives and negatives, love and loss. However, one thing I can say is that I feel this rollercoaster has made me stronger as a practitioner. I have developed a valuable skill of knowing my limits. I can take on with me into my future practice.

Be kind to yourself


Something that I’ve learned, is that we are always our own worst critics. It is often normalised internally to look at our own work and start picking out what’s wrong with it. In some ways this is useful, it allows us to grow as individuals. However, you must always remember not to be too hard on yourself. It’s easy to be quick to judge, but have confidence in your knowledge and in your practice. Remember you are not expected to have all the answers right away. You are not expected to always know what to do in every situation, how else would we learn? Teach yourself that it is okay to get things wrong and not to criticise, but to ask for critical feedback. Just think if that never happened how would we improve?

When on placement it’s easy to be consumed and overwhelmed with the volume of work you have to do. Especially if this is your first time working full-time and you feel out of your depth. Try creating and implementing a timetable. Allowing you to schedule your workflow and be productive during your set working hours. Of course, not everybody works nine till five, so try and find the optimum working hours for you. Listen to your body!

Allow yourself time to relax and restore.

Top tip: plan to do something nice for yourself every day. This could be something as simple as lighting a candle, reading a few pages of a book, putting on a face mask, watching an episode of your favourite TV series, or talking to somebody that you love.

Adding in these things, not only makes us feel good but gives us something to look forward to.

This placement has taught me a lot about pacing. Those of you that have had Jo’s pacing masterclass will know more about restorative tasks and their importance. Adding in this top tip to your daily life may even help break up amber and red tasks!

Trust the process

Don’t be disheartened if you feel like things don’t make sense. Normally it takes a good few weeks to establish a good understanding of how the service works. Don’t worry if it’s all as clear as mud at first! – Trust the process and the mud will start to clear with time and experience.

Coming into a new environment that you know nothing or very little about can be extremely daunting. Trust me I know; I’ve done this three times now! 😊 I’m very much aware of the feeling of impostor syndrome. I’ve had this conversation with pretty much all of my practice educator’s and other professionals. At some point along your journey you will realise how far you’ve come.

We can put a lot of pressure on ourselves because we care so much about what we are doing. Normally it’s because we don’t want to let people down. It’s quite normal to feel overwhelmed with new responsibilities. But you should have pride and trust in your current competency and keep growing. The best thing I would advise, keep asking questions. No question is a silly question. Ask about the service, the clients, your role and any weird medical jargon you may come across. Sometimes the person you’re asking will have to do a quick Google search too so don’t worry!

Emphasise don’t sympathise

Do you know the difference between empathy and sympathy?

Empathy is defined as ‘the ability to understand and share the feelings of another’. While sympathy is defined as ‘feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune’.

As an occupational therapist or any other healthcare professional, we should lead with empathy and should avoid sympathy. It is not appropriate to pity an individual for what they are going through, this may come across as being judgemental or patronising. However, it is reasonable to use compassion to try to understand the feelings of the individual. Even if you have experienced something similar to the client or a colleague, remember it is not the same. As individuals we process and feel differently. Things should always be considered as relative to that person when acting with a client-centred mindset. OT’s need to be compassionate and caring but at times it’s also important to balance emotion with fact. Be logical when it comes to clinical reasoning. As an example, when completing risk assessments, or decision-making when considering the service user’s best interest.

Your experience, my experience


Remember, you are not alone. There are always other students and other people that have been through similar experiences to you. I really recommend linking up with other students or professionals to talk about your experiences. This could be on social media (Twitter, Facebook or your university platform), virtually or in person.

Top tip: Set up a meeting between yourself and other student(s). Use that time to do some peer supervision, you could even write a reflection on this.

Get involved with any events going on during your placement, such as #OTday or #OTweek.

Lastly, feel free to join RCOTs student page,

Thank you for taking the time to read, I hope you found this insightful. If you want to leave any comments then please do so. Want to know what a learning agreement is or how supervision works? Maybe you have another burning question? Or you’re feeling a bit nervous about the placement you have coming up. I will be happy to answer any questions you may have or talk about all things placement related. You can contact me on: oconnorc2@uni.coventry.ac.uk or via Twitter

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