This blog post is part of the Dear Teacher series we're doing for Education month, where members of the LUNA community share the role teachers have had in their lives. We'll be celebrating all the times they got this right and what we wish they knew and could have done differently to support the disabled, chronically ill, neurodivergent young people in their classrooms.
In this piece 5th year medical student Beth highlights how the role of teachers and supervisors differs hugely when out on placement based learning. We hear about both the good and not so great experiences she has had and her tips for placement based educators.
You can listen to this blog post here: https://open.spotify.com/episode/2EgzwCNVVC5ebdGEHb48Vv?si=278f4606cdec4b47
As someone who went through all of education with a disability, I’ve had my fair share of good and bad experiences. However, when I thought about what people don’t talk about, placement-based education felt like a more apt gap for me to fill. As a 5th year medical student, I have been on various placements for the past 3 years. I have a variety of disabilities, so it felt like a good thing for me to talk about! But how does this differ from classroom-based education?
Overall, I love placement. It feels like there are so many opportunities to make things work for you and I’ve found it much more suited to my learning style. There’s also such variety, so while one placement may not work or you might not like it, it changes quite regularly - there’s always opportunities to draw lines under things. It is much more focused on skills, which means that you get the opportunity to practise and show your team working, communication and practical skills. This feels much more akin to what it is like to have a job in that area. When applying to university or college, I found myself considering much more whether I could do the job at the end of it rather than whether I could get through university.
To start off with, I thought I would share some examples of great placement teachers. To identify heart sounds, we’re taught through sound with audio clips and descriptors such as ‘high pitch’ and ‘low pitch’. As someone who is deaf, I’d usually have no real idea what people were talking about. I found lung sounds easy as it was much easier to ‘feel’ the sound your stethoscope is making and clinically correlate this, however I found heart sounds much harder from this perspective. One of my supervisors was a clinical teaching fellow in cardiology and acute medicine. He was the first to truly listen to my concerns and straight away picked up and understood what I was finding difficult. He and I sat down and thought about how to tackle this issue. He volunteered that at times he wasn’t busy and I was around, we could go and see patients with abnormal heart sounds. I would listen, he would tell me what it actually was, we would then look at how we had been taught this SHOULD sound like, and then I would listen again. This meant by the end of that placement I fully understood heart sounds and it was even presented to me as a strength, which increased my confidence.
The staff on this placement made sure that all presentations were uploaded to a Google Drive. If we had missed any sessions, we were given all the contact details for those people for any questions we had or if we wanted to shadow them for a wee bit. This again made work surrounding placement less of a momentous task which was a huge help. I have also had supervisors who have checked in and ensured I was OK. When I mentioned attendance, they told me to not worry about it, and that they would let me know if it became a problem. This meant I could focus on learning with the reassurance that I would be told if there was a problem. They involved me and asked if there were any accessibility requirements for the placement. In my GP placement they were all so lovely and involved you - by the end of the placement, from the doctors to the admin staff, I feel like I would have happily gone to any of them should I have had problems.
However, it’s not without its challenges. A supervisor can have a huge impact on a placement, in a positive as well as a negative way. I had one supervisor who questioned every absence, despite me having already requested the time off for hospital appointments. I had more than made up the time however he kept reiterating that ‘This wasn’t good enough’. I was made to bring in all hospital letters as well as messaging on the hospital chat, which I was aware of only because another doctor had made me aware of it. He also involved my head of year, and other university staff meaning I had to have multiple meetings about it, further bringing down attendance. He refused to wear my radio aid meaning I struggled to hear. I was criticised for this, and marked down by two grades on account of attendance. My attendance of uncorrected time was 90% and I had gone in extra to bring it up to 120% by the end. By the end of the placement I was so anxious about going in and about attendance in general that I was unable to learn anything or enjoy anything as I was so focused on simply getting through the days. This has had a huge impact on my confidence to this day.
Things which supervisors can do to make things easier:
Be understanding that placement isn’t the only thing people have going on in their lives.
Academic staff should be aware of accessibility requirements and pass them on with lots of notice, as this can make or break a placement.
Check in with someone post medical appointment – no more than a ‘Are you alright to be here?’, especially if they seem upset. Many times I’ve gone to placement on the back of bad news and people checking in makes a huge difference, even if you don’t say more back than ‘Yeah, I’m fine.’
Be willing to think outside the box, and let your students think outside the box to find methods which work for them.
Make yourself seem human too. I find it much easier to reach out if I know a bit more about supervisors' lives, as it reminds me that everyone is human and will have things they have struggled with.
Clearly signpost who to go to about issues and provide contact details and best ways to get in touch.
Ask about accessibility requirements before lectures etc. Make sure where you decide to host is accessible if needed – one of our lecture theatres has a lift to every OTHER floor, so don’t forget the weird and wonderful!
Be clear about what YOUR priorities are for a placement. What do you want us to prioritise learning about?
Getting cross about attendance doesn’t help. We usually are very acutely aware of attendance, so be supportive and work together to come up with solutions and plans going forward, rather than getting annoyed.
Check out our accessibility guide on our website.