Supporting our Students to gain Practical Experience During Covid-19
When the pandemic hit and we were asked to lockdown by the government it left many of our students uncertain about their situation. This was particularly difficult for our level 5 undergraduate Dietetic students who were told to lockdown in March but were due to go into the NHS on their practice placements in May 2020.
Our first focus was on continuing their teaching and learning up to and after Easter to enable them to engage in the placement whilst we waited for updates from Health Education England. Communication and reassurance was our initial priority and as a team it was important that we acted quickly in support of the students as their placements were within a large geographical area and we did not know if a move would be possible.
In the end the decision was taken to cancel the practice placements in May of 2020 due to the rising numbers and the closing of usual services within the NHS to cope and manage with the impact of COVID-19. It is a requirement of the course that the students are to undertake practice placement prior to progressing to level 6 and, as this opportunity had gone, we felt as a team it was imperative to provide some placement opportunity during the same period of time, and so the Leeds Beckett University Hospitals trust was born.
We cancelled all leave and created a 4-week simulated block that closely mirrored the first 4-weeks of the practice placement the student was supposed to undertake. All qualified dietitians within the team were allocated a small group of 4-5 students for them to supervise and support throughout the block and we quickly created resources and innovative sessions to engage the students. In addition we liaised with practice partners for service user and patient scenarios that we could share with the students and enable them to begin to develop those skills.
It was intensive!! and some sessions were scheduled well into the evening, we recorded ourselves consulting with service users to demonstrate the skills and also arranged peer review and feedback as well as real service user conversations to enable the students to demonstrate their skills.
All students engaged and all progressed through the 4-weeks at their own pace and on their own learning journey. It was evaluated very well overall and we will definitely take some learning from the experience and incorporate this in to our current modules. The simulated block was only made possible by the team giving up their annual leave and time to create opportunity for our students and that those students embraced that opportunity and worked with us. I am really proud of the students for their tenacity and engagement and extremely proud and grateful for the amazing nutrition and dietetic team that stepped up under very difficult circumstances in order to offer an opportunity to our students so that they were not further disadvantaged.
Linsey King is a registered Dietitian and Principal Lecturer in Nutrition and Dietetics. Linsey has worked at the University for 17 years within the dietetic group in various roles and is currently undertaking her PhD part time within clinical practice.