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Allied Health Students Apply New Skills in the Alcohol and other Drug Sector

Friday, 27 March 2015

Alcohol and other drugs impact on our health and wellbeing, so it's important for health professionals to have a good understanding of alcohol and other drug (AOD) issues. WANADA's Student Placement Program gives allied health students the opportunity to gain this knowledge before they leave university and introduces them to future career opportunities in the alcohol and other drug sector. From paramedics to dietitians, students and the sector have much to gain.

Allied Health Students on Placements

WANADA works with Western Australia's universities to facilitate allied health student placements, currently involving Edith Cowan University (ECU) dietetic, sports science and paramedic students, University of Western Australia (UWA) public health students and Curtin University health promotion students. WANADA is also exploring future opportunities in other disciplines.

Why Are Student Placements Important?

UWA Population Health lecturer Ania Stasinska says student placements provide an important induction into professional life. 

"It's an important opportunity to develop professional skills and apply knowledge from university in a supportive environment," says Ania. "Students value the opportunity to learn from 'doing' and hence a practicum placement while still at university enhances the overall learning experience."

ECU School of Exercise & Health Sciences lecturer Gemma Quayle says that placements give students the opportunity to demonstrate competency in a practical setting.

"Student placements provide the opportunity for students to apply the knowledge and skills developed through coursework to 'real life' situations and clients," says Gemma. "This practical experience is invaluable."

Edith Cowan University's School of Medical Sciences Clinical Placement Coordinator Dianne Schwagermann says that student placements also allow students to meet accreditation requirements.

"Our Paramedic students need to demonstrate national paramedic competencies," says Dianne.

Why Seek A Placement in the Alcohol and other Drug Sector?

According to Dianne, Paramedics students have the opportunity to experience alcohol and other drug issues and associated mental health issues in a controlled environment.

"They gain knowledge and experience from people skilled and qualified in the alcohol and other drugs field," says Dianne. "Students are able to understand the benefits for clients attending these services, so they can better assist their future patients."

For Dietetics students, it offers an opportunity to expand the dietetic discipline, which is beneficial for both students and clients, according to Gemma.

"It provides nutrition and dietetic students with greater education and awareness in the area and allows dietetic services to reach those in need who may not be reached through other placement sites." - Gemma

According to Ania, alcohol and other drugs have a significant impact on health and are often associated with a wide range of short- and long-term health and social harms.

"The people affected by these issues are diverse and often have specific needs," says Ania. "It's an issue that not only affects the individual but also family, friends and the community as a whole."

Ania says it is important for students to understand that alcohol and other drugs affect, and are affected by, social, economic, environmental and even political determinants.

"It's important for public health students to understand how these determinants interact and the challenges faced by the AOD sector," says Ania. "This understanding helps students to contribute to improving the quality of life of people affected by AOD issues."

Benefits To Students

"Students are able to be hands-on with "real" patients in a safe and controlled environment where they are supervised at all times," says Dianne of ECU's Paramedic students.

"For students, this is an exciting and challenging experience," says Ania. "Their knowledge and skills increase exponentially as they work with their host agency and other staff or organisations."

Placements can also improve a student's employment prospects.

"A practicum offers students the opportunity to work with prospective employers, apply theoretical knowledge to the 'real world', and gain valuable workplace experience," says Ania.

Vanessa Vidler on student placement at Cyrenian House
Gaining Skills

Students gain much more than the chance to apply the skills learnt at university.

"Students have the opportunity to foster observational skills; relevant practical skills; lateral thinking and problem solving; literacy and communication skills; as well as professional responsibility and ethical conduct," says Ania.

"Students can learn from experienced supervisors and mentors in their area," says Gemma. "They also learn and develop skills related to the work environment during placement, such as communication, working as a team and professionalism in the workplace."

Dianne agrees that communication skills are developed through placements and believes that placement allows for consolidation of skills already learnt.

Benefits For Alcohol and other Drug Services

Student placements introduce new skills and disciplines into the work environment and promote interprofessional learning..

"This can open up opportunities for sharing of new and innovative perspectives and approaches, " says Gemma.

Gemma and Ania agree that placements give host agencies a chance to undertake or complete projects that they may not have had the resources or opportunity to work on previously.

There are also benefits to supervisors at host agencies.

"Mentoring students is a valuable and rewarding experience for host supervisors," says Ania. "It's also a fantastic opportunity for agency supervisors to share their experiences and passion with a student who is grateful for their insight."

According to Ania, student placements provide supervisors with the opportunity to:
  • update knowledge
  • reflect on work practices
  • undertake collaborative projects, and
  • view prospective employees. 
"Many supervisors have told us that this was a great learning opportunity for them and they were able to develop leadership and mentoring skills."

Challenges of Student Placements for Universities

Arranging student placements is not without challenges. Challenges faced by Gemma, Ania and Dianne include:
  • Encouraging students to make full use of the short amount of time they are attending their placement.
  • Ensuring that the placement provider is able to meet the learning outcomes for the students.
  • Reaching non-metropolitan organisations and sites
  • Workplace environment - the uncertainties associated with workplace restructuring, funding, as well as time constraints on staff such as heavy workloads.


WANADA assists universities by being a central point of contact for placements, negotiating placements in the alcohol and other drug sector for the benefit of all parties.

"WANADA's 'whole-of-community' approach means it represents a range of agencies in the AOD sector," says Ania. "These agencies deal with broad health and social issues with a focus to protect people's health and wellbeing and improve quality of life for individuals."

"WANADA is able to coordinate and assist with access to smaller organisations and agencies who may not otherwise be reached," says Gemma.

Says Dianne, "WANADA also provides an induction session for all students attending clinical placements which is consistent and meets ECU's risk management requirements."

Pilot Graduate Program

WANADA recently employed two graduates for a four month pilot Graduate Program, which sees the graduates seconded to alcohol and other drug services. Services contribute to the cost of employing the graduates so that the program may continue.

More Information

For more information about WANADA's Student Placement Program or Pilot Graduate Program, please contact Maree Stallard on (08) 6365 6365 or via maree.stallard@wanada.org.au, visit www.wanada.org.au or follow WANADA on LinkedIn.

WANADA's Student Placement Program and pilot Graduate Program are funded by the Australian Government Department of Health. 

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