I recently had the opportunity to complete a three-month fieldwork placement as an occupational therapy student at The Forbush School at Prince George’s County, and it was enormously beneficial to me in my educational journey. This fieldwork placement was my last one before graduation, and I learned a great deal about what it takes to have a successful fieldwork experience as a student and what fieldwork supervisors can do to provide the best learning environment for aspiring occupational therapists.
3 Best Practices for Students
- Put in the time. Make your best effort (whether at your fieldwork site or at home) to become as proficient as you can. Fieldwork can feel overwhelming, and you will have additional assignments to complete for school, so it can be tempting to slip into a comfort zone and stop pushing yourself to learn and grow. This attitude will not, however, help you become the professional you want to be, and even more importantly, it is a disservice to your supervisor and to the individuals for whom you provide treatment. There were moments during fieldwork in which I caught myself doing this, and the reality is that it also just doesn’t feel good to be giving less than your best effort. In a way, your willingness to work during fieldwork sets the tone for the rest of your career, so make the time and apply yourself.
- Remember, they’re real people! There is no question about it – leading a treatment session as a student is intimidating. No matter how well-prepared you are, the nerves kick in and it’s easy to start seeing the person in front of you as a problem to solve rather than an actual person. Take a deep breath and remind yourself of why you’re there – to work alongside the person to help them in some way. I found that when I took this approach, I was able to relax, learn, and interact much more effectively.
- Be a positive force. It seems to be a human instinct to complain about things, and it’s easy to find things that could be better in every situation. As a student, you will probably feel that you are under a lot of pressure, and you can quickly fall into a pattern of complaining about your clients, your facility, your supervisor, your hours, your commute, or a hundred other things. I can tell you from experience that this is a recipe for self-defeat, and I can also tell you from experience that joy and positivity are contagious. Make a commitment to being less critical and more uplifting both in your own mind and with everyone you interact with at your fieldwork site.
A Student’s Perspective on Supervisors
My fieldwork experience at The Forbush School at Prince George’s County was a game-changer. I grew in leaps and bounds as an occupational therapist, but I also saw first-hand how a supervisor can help unlock the passion and creativity in a student. Based on my experience and the stories of fellow students, the trait the standout supervisors all share is an attitude of empowerment. They intentionally create an environment where there are no stupid questions, they balance encouragement and constructive criticism, they challenge their students, and (perhaps most importantly), they BELIEVE in their students and make sure each student knows it.
Whether you are a prospective fieldwork student or a fieldwork supervisor, invest in the fieldwork experience – your investment matters! A fieldwork placement can be something to just check off the list or it can be a transformative experience that produces a professional ready to impact lives.
Brian Inghram, OTR, is a recent graduate of the Master of Occupational Therapy program at Trinity Washington University. He completed a 12-week fieldwork placement at The Forbush School at Prince George's County in the fall of 2018 as part of the coursework for this program. Brian received a bachelor’s degree in biology from Methodist University in 2011.