25 August 2023 | Carrie Hamilton

Vital conversations for student podiatrists

Exploring the benefits of simulated placements

Capacity for Allied Health Professional (AHP) clinical placement is limited and has restricted the ability to grow the numbers in education to meet the needs of the workforce. The Covid -19 pandemic with its requirements for social distancing and PPE has compounded this issue. This means that ‘catch up’ capacity is required on top of the planned provision.

In addition, the NHS’s Long-Term Plan (LTP) and the subsequent People Plan signal the need for significant growth in numbers of AHPs for the workforce. This increase will significantly increase the number of placements required to deliver these numbers.

Practice is changing, the long called for shift to care closer to home also requires a shift in the location of placement education away from the acute NHS Trusts to more community, domiciliary and primary care settings. Whilst this shift has started more needs to be done to ensure sufficient capacity across a full range of setting. Covid-19 has necessitated a change in the models of delivery of care in order to manage workflow and keep people safe.

Education practice is also changing in the wake of advances in technology and simulation is becoming commonplace in the delivery of AHP degrees. Simulations are recognised as having value in preparing students effectively so that when they enter the clinical learning environment, they are better prepared and can consolidate their skills rather than start from scratch.

It is clear from all this that there is a need for an increased capacity in clinical placements and that radical change in how the placement is delivered is needed to respond to this need. The regulators of the AHP professions and the professional bodies have a role in setting out expectations of education providers in relation to practice placement.

 SimComm’s simulated placements:

SimComm Academy was approached by a podiatry undergraduate programme to assist in delivering a podiatry simulated placement for BSc and separately for MSc podiatry students for the academic year 2022/2023. The development of the simulated placement was a collaborative effort that spanned five weeks. Our team consisted of higher education institution (HEI) academics, subject specialists, and simulation-based educationalists. Together, we crafted six scenarios aligned with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) Standards of Proficiency for Podiatrists, covering various aspects of the podiatry profession.

The simulated placement experience included both role play, where experienced actors took on the roles of simulated colleagues, patients, and relatives and facilitated learning, with skilled facilitators ensured a safe and immersive learning environment.

The focus areas of the simulated placements covered scope of practice and autonomous practice, professional judgment, culture, equality, diversity, and non-discriminatory practice, confidentiality and professionalism, teamwork, communication skills (both face-to-face and telephone), and safe practice environments.

The learning framework:

A communication skills framework served as the foundation of the entire learning experience, offering students a well-defined and structured approach to navigate their conversations and behaviours effectively. This framework provided them with a valuable toolkit to engage in discussions with patients, colleagues, and other stakeholders with confidence and empathy.

After each debrief, students were encouraged to take a moment to process their experiences. This crucial step allowed them to delve deeper into the nuances of their interactions, enabling personal growth and a better understanding of the challenges and successes they encountered during the simulated placements.

In the immersive learning environment, all scenarios were crafted and presented in either forum theatre or fishbowl simulations. This approach ensured that all students shared the same space as the simulation, fostering a collective and inclusive learning atmosphere where they could observe, learn, and actively participate in discussions and scenarios. This hands-on engagement further enriched their learning and prepared them for real-world healthcare interactions.

Findings

In terms of the outcomes of the simulated placements, the evaluation conducted among both BSc and MSc student groups yielded highly positive results. Students had much to commend:

First, they lauded the structured communication framework, emphasizing its effectiveness in fostering connections with patients, relatives, and colleagues. This structured approach was seen as instrumental in helping them build rapport in diverse professional scenarios.

In addition, the presence of actors initially posed a challenge for a few students, it ultimately proved to be a significant asset. The incorporation of these skilled actors greatly enhanced the overall learning experience, providing an authentic touch to their training.

Finally, the students reported a sense of increased readiness to tackle real-world situations. Moreover, they expressed a newfound understanding of the broad scope and profound impact of their practice, highlighting the depth of insight gained through the simulated placements.

Conclusion

Simulated placements offer a controlled and secure environment for podiatry students to hone their skills and engage in crucial conversations. Facilitators must adapt to different students’ confidence levels and learning styles, with actors fully briefed and aligned with these adaptations. These real-life simulated placements are replicable and contribute to the preparation of a workforce that meets the demands of the evolving healthcare landscape.

In a healthcare world constantly changing and growing, innovative approaches like simulated placements are essential in ensuring that our future podiatry professionals are well-equipped to meet the challenges ahead.

References:

  1. [Current placement expectations of AHP Regulators and Professional Bodies](https://www.hee.nhs.uk/our-work/allied-health-professions/increase-capacity/ahp-practice-based-learning/current-placement-expectations-ahp-regulators-professional-bodies) – Health Education England
  2. [WE ARE THE NHS: People Plan 2020/21 – Action for Us All](https://www.england.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/We-Are-The-NHS-Action-For-All-Of-Us-FINAL-March-21.pdf) – NHS England
  3. [Standards of proficiency](https://www.hcpc-uk.org/globalassets/resources/standards/standards-of-proficiency—chiropodists-and-podiatrists.pdf?v=637106256820000000) – Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC)