Jessica is a first year OT student who will be starting her Level II fieldwork in an acute care hospital setting. She is super nervous because she is shy and gets nauseous at the sight of blood.
Jeff is a second year OT student who will be starting his Level II fieldwork in a skilled nursing facility (SNF). After experiencing a stressful semester, he’s ready for a “break” from learning and is ready to just “hang out with old people” for 12 weeks.
Lizzie is a first year OTA student who will be starting her Level I fieldwork in an outpatient pediatric setting. She’s afraid it might be a waste of time because all she will get to do is “watch” someone else do therapy.
Alyson is a second year OT student with medical diagnoses of anxiety and ADHD. She’s both excited and nervous about her upcoming Level II fieldwork in an inpatient psychiatric unit, and is wondering how she will manage in that environment.
All of these students have one thing in common — despite their current perspectives, they can still prepare themselves to ROCK their fieldwork!
10 TIPS TO HELP YOU ROCK YOUR OCCUPATIONAL THERAPY FIELDWORK
1. Remember that your fieldwork experience is an extension of your academic curriculum.
Fieldwork isn’t meant to be a break from learning, it is meant to provide you an opportunity to IMMERSE yourself in learning!
2. Make a list of things you would like to learn during your fieldwork experience.
Making your own “student learning objectives” prior to fieldwork will communicate to your fieldwork educator that you are motivated to learn! It can also help the two of you customize your learning experience to make it as educational as possible for you!
3. Keep in mind that fieldwork is a transformative learning process.
At the end of your fieldwork experience, you will not be the same person you were before you started. You will have been exposed to new people, experiences, and perspectives. And you may learn new things about yourself that totally surprise you! For example, when I entered OT school, I was dead set on pediatrics. However, after spending two full-time weeks in a skilled nursing facility (SNF) for a Level I fieldwork, I learned that I really enjoyed working with older adults. Based on that experience, I discovered there were actually more similarities in working with children and older adults than there were differences. Who knew?!
4. Abide by the dress code.
Some sites might require scrubs, while others may require a collared shirt or business causal dress. Some may require you to wear a name tag or company shirt, while others don’t. Ladies, do the “bend over and squat down” test to make sure your upper and lower parts aren’t exposed when you, well, bend over and squat down. Do this in front of a mirror. For real. You’d be surprised at the shirts and pants that seem super modest and professional, until you actually start moving around like you would in a therapy setting. Find a long, tight fitting tank top to wear under your work shirts if you need to. No one wants to see your goods! And men, make sure your pants stay put when you squat down as well. The squat test isn’t just for the ladies! Buy a belt if you need to, and make sure your pants fully cover those Captain America boxers. Your mom may love them, but your boss won’t.
5. Know your learning style.
Do you learn by doing? By reading? By listening? Are you a jump-in-and-get-your-hands-dirty-right-away sort of learner, or do you thrive on having time to observe and process in order to learn? We are all unique, and no one learning style is necessarily “better” or “worse”. But it’s important to know yourself and how you learn best. If you choose to share this with your fieldwork educator, it will hopefully help you be on the same page so you can have a learning experience that allows you to thrive.
6. If you have a medical condition or disability (whether visible or invisible), consider whether you want to disclose it to your fieldwork site or not.
You are not legally required to disclose your medical condition or disability to your fieldwork educator. However, fieldwork is an extension of the academic OT program and “reasonable accommodations” can be made available to students with a medical condition or disability if they disclose. If you haven’t already, you can choose to disclose to your OT program’s academic fieldwork coordinator prior to beginning fieldwork. At that point, he or she can help you process through the pros and cons of disclosing to your site, and then together you can decide what you’d like to do.
This is a complex topic and I plan to write another post in the near future to expand on it, so stay tuned!
7. Do your best to communicate with your fieldwork educator in an open and honest manner.
There’s nothing more frustrating than having an OT student and then learning at the end that they were super stressed the whole time. Or they felt unsafe at fieldwork. Or they were crying every night. Or they were going through significant life stressors. While we of course want to avoid turning your fieldwork experience into a soap opera filled with dramatic stories about your personal life, we do want you to be open and honest about how your experience is going and what obstacles you are facing that may be impacting the quality of your work.
8. Ask good questions.
Don’t bombard your fieldwork educator with questions, without first thinking of what the answer might be. I’m just gonna say it — that’s really annoying! For example, rather than asking, “Why did you do XYZ activity with that client?”, try phrasing it as, “I saw you were doing XYZ activity with that client. Is that because (insert explanation here)?” This will demonstrate to your fieldwork educator that you are observing, thinking, and working on honing your clinical reasoning skills, rather than just looking for someone to give you the answers. Let me give you a reality check — no one is going to just give you the answers when you’re a “real” OT! So learn to ask good questions that will help you hone your clinical reasoning skills now.
9. Don’t get defensive.
I’ll be honest. Having someone watch you and then give you constructive criticism can be hard. Really hard. Especially for those of us who are sensitive to criticism (me!), perfectionists (me again!), or have had a history of being criticized or demeaned (me! me! me!). While not every fieldwork educator will use the “sandwich method” or be nice about the way they communicate their feedback, you CANNOT get defensive. Putting up a defensive guard helps no one. It doesn’t help you “hear” the feedback, it doesn’t help your relationship with your fieldwork educator or therapy team and, ultimately, it doesn’t help your patient, client, or student. Avoiding defensiveness can be so hard, especially for a student with little to no clinical experience and a whole bunch of insecurity. But remember that this is a transformative learning process, and you are learning how to carry yourself in the “real” world.
10. Reflect on your experience throughout your fieldwork.
Reflection breeds growth and progress. Some fieldwork sites might have you engage in a weekly or biweekly reflection exercise as part of their fieldwork curriculum. Others won’t. If your site doesn’t specifically encourage reflection, do it yourself! Start a fieldwork journal (doesn’t have to be fancy) and, at the end of every week, write down three things you learned in fieldwork that week. Or write down one thing you learned. Or write down something you learned about yourself. About your learning style. Or something you learned about the population you are working with. Or the site you’re working in. Or the clients you’re working with. It might sound like extra work you don’t have time for as a busy fieldwork student. I get it. But, truly, if you take a few minutes each week to reflect on your experience, it may just be the best and most powerful thing you can do for your future OT self!
OT and OTA fieldwork students: What tips do you have based on your experience?
Fieldwork educators: What advice do you have for new fieldwork students to help them have the best experience possible?
The tips in this post were compiled based on my experience as a fieldwork educator and from information presented in the AOTA Fieldwork Educators Certificate Workshop. If you are an occupational therapy practitioner or academic fieldwork coordinator, I would highly recommend you take this helpful 2-day course to enhance your fieldwork supervision skills!