GIVING STUDENTS A WARM WELCOME: HOW AND WHY TO DO IT
Author: Clare Batkin
Does your workplace host allied health students for their clinical placements? Do the students finish up their placement feeling they were truly ‘part of the team’ or say things like “I’d love to work here again one day!” If they don’t, then there’s some simple changes you can make that only take a little time and almost no budget, and your efforts could be very well rewarded.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO MAKE STUDENTS FEEL WELCOME?
You may feel that offering a clinical placement (especially when facing the challenges of the aftermath of a global pandemic) is good enough; why should you invest any more effort in making your students feel extra special?
Firstly, making sure your students feel that they are a part of the team may actually reduce your direct teaching workload. If you take the time to help the student connect with other members of the team besides you, it means they will feel comfortable to ask others for help. You won’t be the only person they come to for ad hoc questions, and as a result you’ll have a little extra time up your sleeve.
Making a student feel welcome can also be a very helpful recruitment strategy. The market for recruiting allied health new grads is intense! Competition is fierce and as a small provider you may need every edge you can get to help you compete with the large national providers. Making a great impression on your students could be the difference.
Many providers actually use final year placements as a direct recruitment avenue for a new grad intake. Even if the student you have on placement doesn’t end up being the right match for your workplace, if you take the time to show how awesome your workplace is, they could spread the word to other new grads that may be interested. Posts on your social pages about hosting students on placement can also be great for raising your profile. Potential recruits will be able to see that your workplace values education and you’ll get bonus points if your students love their placement so much that they post their positive comments online.
SO HOW CAN WE MAKE STUDENTS FEEL WELCOME?
You may already be doing a great job at helping students feel like they are a part of your team, but if you think there’s room for improvement, here are 5 simple strategies you could try.
- Make time for a Zoom call before placement starts.
Most workplaces will send emails and information sheets to their students before their upcoming placements. Some may even take the time for a quick phone conversation. These things are all helpful (and essential!) but why not take it a step further and organise a Zoom call as well? A Zoom call could be a follow-up once you’ve sent all your information handouts to allow the student to ask any extra questions. You can also use it as an opportunity to ask about their previous experiences and learning goals, so your interest in helping them succeed in their placement is immediately apparent. At the very least, it allows them to put a name to a face, which can just make things that little bit easier on a stressful first day!
- Make sure your team knows a student is starting.
Imagine how awkward you would feel as a student if you were sitting at a desk on your first day and a team member came up to you and said, “Hey that’s where I usually sit, who are you anyway?” Now rewind and replace with this version. You’re a student sitting at your desk on your first day and a team member came up to you and said, “Hey you must be Clare the OT student. Welcome! How’s your first day going so far?” Huge difference for the student! Letting the team know a student is starting could be as simple as sending an email or Microsoft Teams message, or making an announcement at a staff meeting. Also consider if the student’s presence is going to impact anyone in anyway (such as taking up a computer space normally occupied by someone else) and make sure you discuss this with the staff member before the student arrives – don’t let the student get caught in the middle of an awkward situation.
- Set aside an allocated space.
Sometimes having a space for the students to call their own can go a long way to helping them feel that they are welcome, and not a burden on the team in anyway. If there is space in your office for the student to have a permanent desk, get creative and set it up with a nice welcome sign and decorations for when they arrive on their first day. If creativity is not your forte, at least set it up with some practical things like a notebook, pen, and a coffee mug that they can claim during their placement (maybe a new one with the company logo they can take when they finish ). If you’re in an office that does hot-desking, write up a list of rules the student will need to be aware of, including the unwritten rules that were never official, but everyone just follows (e.g. you pack your stuff up at the end of the day, or don’t steal someone’s pole position seat closest to the lolly jar when they duck off to answer a call).
- Invite them to have lunch with the team.
Firstly, make sure your students have time for lunch breaks – proper lunch breaks away from their desks! Invite them to sit with the team in the lunchroom, or to go out to the local café, so they have a chance to have some non-work conversations with the team. This isn’t just for their benefit of feeling like part of the team; it can also give you an opportunity to observe their ability to have appropriate non-clinical conversations within the team setting, without crossing any professional boundaries.
- Setup some one-on-one meetings with other members of the team.
Finally, while the lunchroom chats are a great idea, for some quieter students, it could be too overwhelming. You should also consider the benefits of some one-on-one conversations. If you know there’s a team member that they’re going to have to interact with regularly during their placement, setup a one-on-one meeting early in their placement for them to meet with this person. If this person is potentially a little tricky to get along with, make sure you give them some tips of what communication strategies work best and what not to say!
Hopefully there are a few helpful tips in there that you can implement straight away. Taking the time to make sure your students feel welcome before and during their placement can make all the difference in decreasing the demands on your time and future recruitment success. It is well worth a little bit of extra effort.
If you’d like to find out more about facilitating fantastic placements for students (especially the nitty gritty of OT student placements) then get in touch with Clare today (firstname.lastname@example.org), or visit the ‘Your OT Tutor’ website (www.yott.au), LinkedIn page or Facebook group.