How can I make the two-student model effective?

Q:           There are pressures among most professions to take on more students and recently, in our hospital, we moved from taking one final year student per placement to two.  Many of my colleagues are unhappy, suggesting considerable extra workload, as well as the change having a negative impact on their ability to effectively teach and supervise.  Personally, I’m not finding it too much different. I see some advantages in how I use my time, by getting the students working together on basic tasks that previously I would have taken charge of, if there was only one student.  Do you have any suggestions on what I might do (or suggest to my colleagues) to make the two-student model effective?

A:            Firstly, congratulations as it sounds like you are already finding ways to adapt to having a 2nd student with you.  With the increase in training numbers in most health professions, the demand to provide more student placements is common, so you and your colleagues are not alone.  Here are some suggestions on how to prepare and manage the increased student numbers:

  1. Ensure you have a plan for the placement well in advance of taking on students.  This will help you clarify what you’ll need to do, who else will be involved and what they will do and how/where students can contribute as learners, teachers, peer support and as supernumerary assistants.
  2. When preparing this plan, think outside the square!  Where can students add value in your area/department?  How can you build their knowledge of, and interest in your organisation (i.e., hospital, private practice, aged care facility)?  Remember – they may be a future employee.  Beyond the patient-related activities, how can you round out their experience and develop their awareness of the broader team and health care system?  This may involve opportunities to observe, spending time with other staff and involvement in organisation-wide activities.  With these points in mind, your plan should be varied, flexible and, most importantly, not fully reliant on you for delivery of every element.
  3. Liaise with the training institution to get a clear understanding of what knowledge and skills the students should have when they get to you and incorporate this into your plan.  Ideally, seek to provide students coming to your area with the plan at least one-week before they arrive, so they can prepare and know what to expect.
  4. Early in the first week meet with your students to discuss any questions they may have about the plan and to share your expectations of yourself and of them.  Also, invite them to identify specific areas of strength, interest and developmental need that can be incorporated into the plan before you finalise it together.
  5. Have a plan B, which is to say plan A (discussed above) is the best case scenario when you have motivated, prepared learners BUT sometimes you will have to deal with those at the other end of the spectrum or you may have one good student and one poor student.  So, plan B is your approach in a worst case scenario.  It may mean students are given less independence or exposure in some situations; it might require you to have a higher level of input.  Critically, if you have thought about and prepared in advance it will be easier for you to deal with the situation if it arises.
  6. Reciprocal peer coaching is a constructive way to support teaching and learning with students who can work as a dyad on a range of tasks.  Decide which activities the two students can do together, which require direct supervision or teaching from you and any that can be overseen by other staff.
  7. Finally, when working with final year students it is reasonable to place a high level of responsibility on them to achieve the outcomes agreed in the plan.  However, also be very clear about the level required and work to meeting that, NOT trying to develop them to your level of competency.