Friday, June 20, 2008

Tips for Midwives: Working with Students

A little while ago I ran a series of posts giving student midwives some tips for coping with life, both with studies and clinical placements. Now I would like to take a little time to think about how we, as midwives, can make clinical placements positive learning experiences for students. Whilst this post is directed at midwives, the principles are exactly the same for any health professional working with students.

In the next couple of posts I will discuss how to deal with conflict and assessment, but in this post I wish to consider clinical teaching in a more general way. These thoughts are my own and have come about from years of working with students as both midwife and lecturer.

Think about how you learn
There's a reason why so many students like working with midwives who themselves have just qualified and that is because the new graduates remember what it is like to be a student.

So have a think back to your days of being a student or to a more recent situation in which you were the 'learner'.
  • What helped you to learn?
  • What was it about your teacher that really helped you learn a skill or grasp a concept?
  • What prevented your learning?
Now think about how you can replicate those positive learning conditions for the student you are working with.

Expectations of the teaching institution
One of the first things to check is that you know what the expectations of the institution are: what is the institution expecting you to do and what experience are you expected to provide? If you haven't received full information, then ask for it...and read it. Make sure that your expectations of the student is congruent with what the institution says the student should be doing. For example, it is no good expecting the student to take full charge when a woman is birthing when the student is actually supposed to be focusing on being a birth supporter.

The other important thing to know is who is the student's clinical supervisor, or the person you can contact in the institution. That way you can follow up queries and know who to give feedback to. Most importantly, you know who to go to for advice and support if you have any issues that needs to be dealt with, such as a student who is failing her assessment.

Expectations of the student
One of the most important things you can do with and for a student is to take the time to sit with her and discuss what she expects from the placement and what her learning goals are - even if the placement is for a day, and even if you are incredibly busy. Taking that time to check in with the student (even if it is only for a few minutes) will reassure the student that you are taking notice of her needs, as well as guide you supporting the student.

Your expectations
Be clear about what your expectations are. Students cannot read your mind so make sure you articulate what you thinking. This may range from arrangements as to how you communicate with each other, to how you want her to perform certain tasks.

Giving feedback
Think carefully about how you give students feedback. There will be times when you have to intervene immediately in a situation which may be distressing for the student because it 'shows her up'. But where possible, wait to give feedback when you are both on your own and not in front of women or colleagues, especially if it is less than positive.

Be prepared to be challenged
I strongly believe that midwives worry about working with students because they are afraid their practice will be criticized. But that is not usually the case at all.

Students love to ask questions because that is how they process what they are seeing with what they are taught. So don't get offended - be prepared to be challenged and don't be afraid to say you don't know. Use opportunity to reflect on your own practice. Are you as up to date as you think you are? Can the student teach you something? Working with students is a wonderful learning opportunity, not just for them but also for you.

Final thoughts
  • Students are on placement to learn, not to do all the dirty chores that no one else wants to do.
  • Students LOVE working with experienced midwives who share their expertise and knowledge in a positive, constructive way.
  • The way you act as a role model will be remembered by the student. That doesn't just mean the way you carry out a task but also the way you interact with women and colleagues - how you talk and behave, as well as your attitudes.
  • Don't be afraid to admit your mistakes.
  • Praise builds confidence - constant criticism doesn't.
  • Where at all possible give students plenty of time to carry tasks, especially clinical skills.
What other tips would you give professionals working with students? If you are a student, what helps you to learn in the clinical setting? What are your thoughts about teaching and learning when you are the patient that students are 'practicing' on?

Image: 'her birth' brooklyn

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