Leeds School of Social Sciences

A virtual placement: an educator perspective

I have led on the recently launched Practice Based-Learning Guidance 2021 for the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists. The guidance endorses the valuable role that all speech and language therapists can play in supporting their future colleagues.  There is a framework to guide universities, educators and students through their roles in practice-based learning as well as lots of ideas for new placement models, including placements in the independent sector and digital placements. In this piece Helen McDonald,  Specialist Speech and Language Therapist at Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust, one of LBU’s practice partners, reflects on a digital placement experience that benefited the speech and language therapy service, the student and the service user.

Patient in bed receives virtual speech therapy session

As part of my role as an SLT at Leeds Teaching Hospitals, I had been working with a young patient who had been in source isolation for a year following admission with a brain injury and, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, was no longer able to have visitors. I felt that my they would benefit from the opportunity for interaction and conversation practice and so I contacted Leeds Beckett University to explore whether this could be a volunteering opportunity for an SLT student to deliver some sessions via Microsoft teams The university placements team suggested that this could be a placement opportunity  for one of the international students on the SLT course who were unable to return to the UK due to travel restrictions and needed placement hours.We gladly accepted the suggestion and were delighted to take on the challenge! 

The “virtual placement” took place over 3 months and involved twice weekly sessions carried out by the student (facilitated and observed by a qualified SLT), a weekly reflection, feedback and discussion sessions, and some separate case study tutorials to help inform the core skills assessment at the end of the placement. In addition to the SLT sessions, the student was able to observe the patient in a physio session in order to give experience of Multi Disciplinary Team working . 

For us at LTHT, this was a first foray into the world of virtual placements. The experience taught us a lot about the best way to deliver a placement like this, and to familiarise ourselves with the technology required. As a placement educator, I found it only demanded a few hours a week of time of my time, which was a key consideration when service demands were high and ever changing due to the pandemic. 

For the student, it provided a regular patient to work with consistently over a few months, allowing him to build rapport, really get to know the patient, and to see progress and improvement. The twice-weekly sessions supported him to develop and demonstrate most of the core skills the SLT course requires, including rapport building, note writing, session planning, goal planning, reflection, and carrying out sessions independently. A few core skills were harder to assess, for example administering and interpreting assessments, but we were able to overcome these challenges and evidence them using tutorials where we discussed other cases.

It was also a really positive experience for the patient. It allowed us to give him additional therapy sessions and provided a more “real” communication opportunity in which to practice speech strategies. It also had the additional benefit of enabling him to interact with someone of a similar age at a time when his contact with the outside world was so limited.  

I would encourage all placement educators to “think outside the box” when it comes to providing placements - you can find ways to enhance your service and patient experience by using students as part of your team. This wasn’t a traditional placement model, butcovid-19 has caused universities to seek innovative ways to provide placement hours, and us as clinicians have needed to adapt to new ways of working using technology This has led to these kind of opportunities presenting themselves and we should grab them with both hands because the benefits are clear to be seen for the student, the educator and the service user!

Helen McDonald, Speech and Language Therapist, Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust (LTHT)

Read placement student Joel's blog about his experience of the virtual placement.


Jo Sandiford

Senior Lecturer / Leeds School Of Social Sciences

Jo joined the Speech and Language Therapy lecturing team at Leeds Beckett in February 2017. She lectured here for 3 years in 2003-2006 and combined this with clinical practice, then returned to clinical work full time in 2006. In the last 10 years she has worked as a highly specialist clinician, team leader and latterly as clinical advisor for the Leeds Children's Speech and Language Therapy Service.

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