MDS offers a great clinical education program for students currently enrolled in an OT, PT or SLP program through an accredited college or university. We have affiliation agreements with many colleges and universities in Arizona and the surrounding states. We offer fieldwork experiences focusing on the geriatric population in skilled nursing facilities. MDS encourages students of all different levels to apply. We will coordinate with the student and facility to find the best placement. Our therapists are happy to share their experience and knowledge with students. MDS has received excellent feedback from prior students and in many cases our clinical education program has led to employment.
If you are interested in a fieldwork experience or to set up a clinical affiliation contact email@example.com
Top 12 Tips for Mastering Fieldwork
Karen Dobyns, MOT, OTR/L
As an OT practitioner of nearly five years and an OT blogger for nine years, I’ve heard from many OT students who are nervous about their fieldwork. I remember well how scary it seems, so here are my tips to get you through your current or upcoming fieldwork.
1. Be proactive and reactive. If you’re scheduled to see a patient with a condition you haven’t treated before, such as fragile X syndrome, research it in advance. If you see a patient with fragile X syndrome and realize you would benefit from more knowledge or have questions, research it after. Maybe you can present your supervisor with some helpful resources you found, and you will be better prepared for next time.
2. Ask questions and know when to ask them. Most practitioners of any field will be happy to answer your questions. Questions are a great sign that you care and are able to process and synthesize information. But when you and another therapist are with a client, use your best judgment as to whether it's an appropriate time to ask a question. If in doubt, don’t. Write it down so you don't forget, or at least scribble a "trigger word" reminder for later. Bombarding your supervisor with questions at the very end of the day isn't appreciated either. Collaborate on finding a good time every week to go over questions.
3. You will make stupid mistakes, and it’s okay. I'm not talking about safety here, I'm talking about basics: forgetting where you put your pen, being unable to open a simple container, or bumping into something. You are nervous and on your best behavior. You are trying so hard to impress your supervisor, which means you will make dumb mistakes. We get it. We were there, too. We aren't judging you harshly for mistakes that we know come from nervousness.
4. Safety comes first. Stupid mistakes with opening a container are fine, but dropping a patient is not. If you don't feel safe with a patient for any reason, you need to ask for guidance. You may hesitate because you don't want your supervisor to realize you don't know how to do something you probably should know by now, or you may not want to hassle him or her for help. Keep in mind that it causes them far more trouble, and they will likely have far less confidence in your abilities, if you make a mistake that hurts a patient because you were more concerned about yourself than about doing the job safely.
5. Have a “cheat sheet.” Common abbreviations, alarm codes, locations, phone numbers, little tidbits of information… jot it all down. Keep an index card on your clipboard or in your pocket. When you're stressed, you are going to have trouble remembering the little things you usually don't have issues with. It's appreciated when you don't have to ask your supervisor every 5 minutes for a code they've given you twice now.
6. Be extra helpful. Your supervisor will eventually be helped by your presence, but at first you are extra work, no matter how amazing you are. See something you can easily put back in place, or clean off, or make more efficient? See a little errand you could run? Offer to do it, or ask permission. You may want to help without permission, but just ensure it's something that needs doing. For example, don't put away a 100-piece jigsaw puzzle that is laid out, with 6 pieces still undone, unless you are positive it's not being saved for some reason. Don't try to organize a drawer of equipment unless you understand its purpose and usage patterns, or know that someone jumbled it up yesterday.
7. Focus on learning, even during down time at work. If you have down time in your work day beyond your break or lunch, you should be actively learning. It's so tempting to get on your phone for a while and veg out during a gap in treatments. Maybe sometimes you need it for your mental health or to deal with something personal. But ideally you’d be researching, cleaning, formulating questions, updating your cheat sheet, or doing something else that shows determination and drive. However, don't be too zealous and don't bug your supervisor too much if it's clear he or she needs a break. At the very least, ask if there is anything you can do to help during the downtime.
8. Expect and welcome constructive criticism. You're a student. You aren’t expected to know everything. You will make mistakes you don't even know you're making. Maybe you will talk too loud, or be "too" helpful. Maybe you won't realize you are insulting a patient with your word choices, or that you keep forgetting to teach a certain skill. Keep in mind that the goal of your fieldwork is to grow. You can't grow if you aren't aware, and "you don't know what you don't know." Criticism may sting, especially when you are trying your best and have such good intentions. Try to understand the intent of the person giving you feedback, which is likely just to make you be a better. Don't be defensive. Nod and be appreciative for the feedback.
9. Your placement or therapist might not be ideal, but you can still learn a lot. Maybe you really, really wanted to do pediatric fieldwork, but instead you were assigned a hand specialty. Maybe you have a supervisor who is super stern or who has a conflicting personality type, versus the warm and fuzzy supervisor you craved. If there is a true moral, ethical, or safety concern, speak to your fieldwork coordinator. If it's just a frustrating or annoying experience, get advice, but realize you are likely in it for the duration of your fieldwork. You will still learn a lot, even if it's a lot of what not to do, or just how to work in the face of adversity. A lot of employers ask their potential employees about a time they had a conflict with a coworker, and this experience will provide you with a great response!
10. You will sometimes feel like an imposter. We all feel this way when we encounter new situations or change areas of practice. You may feel like you have no idea what you're doing, but if you are doing it safely; look confident; have thought through the reasons for doing it a certain way; and your supervisor, colleagues, and patients are not giving you negative feedback, you're probably just fine. You may think, "Gosh, they say I'm doing a good job, but if they really knew how little I know, they wouldn't say that." I’m happy to tell you that you're probably doing better than you think. Give yourself some credit, and remember that even the most experienced practitioners had a first patient.
11. You will get it eventually. You may feel overwhelmed at first—you think you will never understand it all, that it's just way too much, and you will fail. Everyone else can do it, and something is wrong with you. All your schooling was worthless because you won't get through the fieldwork. You will be scared. You will be so convinced that it won't click. But guess what? It will and it does. It takes at least a week to start to get a picture of anything, and by the end of the second week you'll have so much more knowledge than you would have guessed. With every week, more and more scaffolding will help you learn. At the same time, your supervisor will be increasing your independence, so it's somewhat of a balancing act. Keep telling yourself out loud, over and over again, whether you believe it or not, that you will get through it. Because you will. I didn’t think I could do it because I have so much trouble with anxiety, but I got through it, hour-by-hour, day-by-day. It’s possible. You can do it. Remember that once you're out of fieldwork, you can choose a more comfortable setting, and you won’t have someone constantly watching you.
12. Use your resources. This may be your exercise or yoga class, a meditation session or church, a good friend, family, a hobby, the internet or social media, mentors, textbooks, whatever. Plan to have something that gives you confidence in your knowledge, lets you decompress and relax, or gives you support in whatever form you need. This can also include a psychologist and/or a psychiatrist if you are really struggling. All the resources you need are out there. Find them. Remember, you can do this, and it’s so worth it because it means you become an occupational therapist, your ultimate goal!
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