Clinical Placements

Clinical Placements



To provide educators with information about best practice related to mental health and addiction clinical and simulation learning modalities.


At the end of this section, the educator will:

  • Understand the importance of clinical placements and simulation in undergraduate mental health education and how to most effectively use them.
  • Understand how to consolidate classroom learning through clinical placements and simulation.
  • Ensure the practice experience supports the learning objectives.
  • Develop collaborative partnerships between health-care organizations and colleges/universities.
  • Consider and explore the use of co-creating learning objectives where possible.

CASN/CFMHN Competencies

1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 1.6, 2.7, 2.8, 2.9, 2.10, 2.11, 2.12, 3.1, 3.2, 3.3, 3.5, 3.6, 3.7, 3.8, 4.1, 4.2, 4.3, 5.3, 6.1, 6.2, 6.3, 6.4, 6.5

Clinical learning experience in nursing education provides students the opportunity to consolidate theory and practice together. It is through clinical placements that nursing students develop and refine their skills in therapeutic relationship, person and family-centred nursing care, among other foundations learned in nursing school.

Mental health and psychiatric nursing clinical placements among undergraduate nursing students have been successful in generating interest in this area (O’Brien, Buxton & Gillies, 2008). Studies regarding clinical learning have demonstrated that student satisfaction with mental health content is positively correlated to performance, as well as to a correlation between clinical placement in mental health and interest post graduation in working in mental health (Spence, 2012 & Happell,
Moxham & Platania-Phung, 2009). However the current challenge with securing clinical mental health and addiction placements presents a gap in placement opportunities in acute care inpatient psychiatric settings, according to the 3rd position paper 2016: Mental health and addiction curriculum in undergraduate nursing education in Canada (CFMHN, 2016).

Educators must recognize the diversity of placement opportunities, and understand that other placement settings can provide mental health and addiction experiences. Diverse placement settings to consider include mental health outpatient clinics, schools, addiction centres, senior centres, forensic psychiatry, corrections, shelters, primary care, public health units among others (CFMHN, 2016). If selecting non-traditional placement settings, it is imperative that educators consider the compatibility of the placement site with the learning objectives.

Planning for clinical placements

There are a number of factors to consider when planning a clinical placement for students. CASN, with the input of nursing educators from across Canada, has developed recommendations for clinical placements and simulation. The framework for these recommendations is applied here. Many of the concepts in the content below can be demonstrated in the placements such as community, med surgical, acute care etc.

Timing and length of mental health and/or addiction practice experience

The following themes were identified in the literature with regards to timing and length of mental health and addiction clinical practice.

1. Theory preparation prior to placement.
Prior to clinic placement, it is important for nursing students to have some theoretical preparation to support implementation of evidence-based practice. For example, nursing students should receive some theory related to medication administration and be knowledgeable of the concepts of compliance and adherence, and be comfortable with the pharmacokinetics of psychiatric medications before administering medications in a clinical setting.

2. Length of placement.
The length of the placement should be sufficient to meet the learning objectives, e.g., traditional length placement (Fiedler, Breitenstein & Delaney, 2012); and short, intensive placement (Tratnack, O’Neil, & Graham, 2011). The CFMHN recommends a stand-alone course in psychiatric/mental health and a dedicated clinical placement in a psychiatric setting (CFMHN, 2016; Happell, Gaskin, Byrne & Welch, 2015).

Selection of the placement (psychiatric placements versus mental health)

The literature demonstrates positive outcomes related to reduction in stigma and fear when students are provided opportunities to interact with clients who experience mental illness and/or addiction, across all settings including psychiatric settings. Students who interact with these clients report less fear and stigma towards their patients. Outcomes related to placements in mental health and addiction placements include the following:

  • Improved attitudes towards patients with mental illness;
  • Increased confidence in caring for people with mental illness/mental health concerns;
  • Increased understanding of psychiatric nursing;
  • Safe medication administration;
  • Improved therapeutic communication;
  • Improved assessment skills; and
  • Increased use of holistic approaches to care.

While the literature does stipulate that placements in psychiatric settings are ideal in reducing stigma and fear, educators must be cognizant of the challenges and gaps associated with securing such placements. In such, educators must recognize the diversity of placement opportunities, and understand that other placement settings can provide mental health and addiction experiences (CFMHN, 2016).

Source: Chadwick & Porter, 2014; Tratnack, O’Neill, & Graham, 2011; Henderson, Happell, & Martin, 2007, Happell & Platania-Phung, 2012; Happell, Gaskin, Byrne & Welch, 2015

Quality of instruction

Collaboration between clinical instructors, simulation coordinators and faculty members who teach mental health theory courses improves consolidation of learning. As clinical instructors and preceptors play an important role in changing students’ attitudes towards mental health psychiatric nursing, clinical instructors and preceptors should have experience in psychiatric mental health nursing where possible.

Furthermore, preceptors should:

  • Encourage diverse learning experiences;
  • Help identify transferable skills;
  • Foster a positive image of mental health nursing;
  • Have regular contact with students; and
  • Give consistent and regular feedback.

Student and preceptor difficulties arise when preceptors:

  • Don’t understand their role;
  • Have unrealistic expectations of the student;
  • Have heavy work loads that limit their ability/time to interact with students; and
  • Have negative attitudes to mental health/psychiatric nursing.

Source: O’Brien et al., Oudshoorn & Sinclair, 2015; Charleston & Happell2 005, 2006; Cleary, Horsfall, & De Carlo, 2006. Such obstacles provide challenges to student placements and can also create negative perceptions, attitudes and stigma among nursing students.

Pedagogical Process

When engaging students in mental health and/or addiction placements, it is important that the placement includes an orientation, daily pre-conferences, daily-conferences and critical reflection/reflective practice. The following describes the processes.

A well thought out orientation promotes a positive student placement.

  • Include orientation of the unit or site prior to the placement.
  • Include a review of learning objectives.

Daily pre-conferences

  • Ensure that students are prepared for their patient/client assignments.
  • Highlight potential learning experiences that students may be able to engage in that day.
  • Address student concerns.

Daily post-conference

  • Reflect on clinical experiences.
  • Engage in further learning.
  • Share experiences among students.

Critical incidents

  • Students should be debriefed according to workplace policy.

Reflective practice

  • See Section Four: Student Reflective practice and Self-Care in Mental Health Nursing Education

Source: Woodley, 2015; Ganzer & Zauderer, 2013; O’Brien, 2008; Oudshoorn & Sinclair, 2015

Other important clinical placement considerations include:

  • Ensuring the practice experience supports the learning objectives (Medley & Horne, 2005; Seropian et al., 2004);
  • Facilitators play an integral role in student learning; and
  • Efforts should be made to develop collaborative partnerships between health-care organizations and colleges/universities; consider the use of co-creating learning objectives where possible.

For more information, see Resources in this section.

admin Fri, 10/06/2017 - 18:23