A guest blog by Dr Beverley Durrant, University of Salford. This blog forms part of our Strategic Interventions in Health Education Disciplines (SIHED) legacy work.
I have been running a project about student placements as part of the SIHED programme of work. The project is supporting two professions: Podiatry and Prosthetics and Orthotics (P&O). The initial project was part of a group of projects funded through the SIHED Challenge fund. The project collaborated with placement providers, HEIs, students and educators to produce a national set of competency-based placement documentation. In addition, the podiatry project has worked with the independent sector to help mobilise the private practice sector to engage with placement activity.
Between the two professions a total of 11 universities participated in the early development work. Other stakeholders included both professional bodies for the respective professions, practice education facilitators (PEFs), practice educators, and, for podiatry, our private practice champions.
Establishing networks that will become the beneficiaries of the project was imperative. Networks also helped in keeping abreast of what else was going on in the same space. Being responsive to a fast-changing landscape was vital.
For me, it was essential to make strong links with HEE and be open and transparent about the work to link, where possible, with their workstreams. Avoiding duplication not only makes better use of resources, it ensures consistency and collaboration is at the heart of what we are trying to achieve.
At the beginning of the project there was enormous overlap with an existing HEE project, and there was a danger of duplicating work. Be prepared to change direction if this happens. Successful project management is about being flexible and adaptable, constantly risk assessing, while at the same time ensuring stakeholders and funders are kept briefed about any changes. The support of stakeholders is key to successful project outcomes and benefit realisation.
It goes without saying that the COVID pandemic has affected the running of the project. The latter stages have run virtually utilising digital technology and like all projects this was not without its challenges. Engagement with stakeholders and collaborators has sometimes been difficult, mainly due to the knock-on pressures that clinical teams, academics etc are all facing after months of Covid restrictions. This was less so in the summer months but with a new cohort of students starting university during the pandemic, the burden of being asked to work differently and embrace change under such difficult circumstances was certainly evident. Notwithstanding the huge pressures felt for existing students who lost out on valuable clinical placement hours during lockdowns, engagement with both placement educators and HEI teams has required a herculean effort from all concerned. The overall effect of this has been slower progress in some areas than was ideal. However, with circumstances easing as the harsh Covid landscape begins to change, the continuation of the project has provided an opportunity to see the work implemented across the country. This is without doubt a significant reward for the time spent working on this project. It is testament to the effort and commitment given to the project from everyone who contributed.
Being the project lead throughout the pandemic has required resilience. The experience honed many attributes that came to the fore in the face of adversity – here are some descriptors that I can identify with: self-motivation, self-starter, happy to work alone, willing to adapt, building your own networks remotely, self-discipline and, above anything else- being a visionary.
Finally, the project could not have happened without so many others being involved. Huge thanks go out to all collaborators – the project has certainly benefitted from the dedicated stakeholders working together to bring the work to fruition.
Read more about private sector placements set up for podiatry students: