Insight into the experiences of oral health therapy students on clinical placement
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Clinical experience is an essential component of the oral health therapy curriculum. A considerable amount of student clinical time is spent on placement; yet very little research currently exists which would provide insight into students’ experiences within this context. This qualitative study addresses that void and explores the ‘lived’ experiences of oral health therapy students on community placement. The research question: ‘what are experiences of oral health therapy students on community clinical placement?’ provided the focus of this study. Five, third year oral health students were interviewed and van Manen’s thematic analysis method was used to analyse the data derived from the interviews. Three core themes emerged from the data: relationships matter, the leap to ‘real’ situation is huge, and students do become confident and skilled. The findings revealed that relationships were important to student learning. The students regarded the clinical educators as their main source of learning, although peers were also identified as providing practical and emotional support as well as being a valuable source of informal learning. The move from model to ‘real’ patient was immense and students experienced a range of emotions during the transition. Initially students were anxious and fearful of hurting and harming the patients; but as they acquired the necessary skills and confidence, they began to see patients as people and sought to develop a relationship with the children. Time, an opportunity to practise skills, support from the clinical educator and appropriate feedback, assisted students to acquire the requisite skills and knowledge of an oral health therapist. This research highlights the influence of context and relationships on clinical experience and has implications for practice, research and education for both oral health and dental therapy practice. The study calls for oral health educators to consider how they plan clinical experiences and review how they teach and support students in the clinical environment.