Olena Pankiw, (C), a speech-language pathologist in Toronto Rehab's Brain Rehab Program, with learners Gabrielle Dimech, (L), and Sophia Yang. "Participating in a paired placement has taught me how to be and effective collaborator and team member. These are skills I will carry with me throughout my career," says Gabrielle. (Photo: UHN)

What contributes to an enriched learner experience at UHN?

When Lisa McQueen, a speech-language pathologist (SLP) in Toronto Rehab's Brain Rehab Program, posed that question to SLP students in a pre-placement survey she developed and has been sharing with incoming students since 2007, the number-one response was: "I want to feel safe" - to ask questions, when caring for patients and even to make mistakes.

To meet this expressed need, the program embraces paired placements, or, buddy systems, where two or more students work collaboratively, under the supervision of one clinical educator.

"We are starting to see more and more enthusiasm around collaborative learning models within the Allied Health group," says Lisa, who is also the Site Coordinator for SLP placements across Toronto Rehab.

"There are obvious benefits to learners as well as patients – but we're also recognizing how this approach can impact clinical educators as well."

Former SLP learners Paige Saltsman and Melanie Lamarca say their paired placement helped them feel more comfortable in their roles – especially in their early days – since they were able to plan, practice and implement assessments and treatments together.

"The alternative may have made me feel more confused and alone, with nobody to work through my questions with," reflects Melanie.

Paige agrees, adding that, knowing Melanie had her back, she felt safer taking risks and bouncing around questions about newer, more complex concepts.

"I remember feeling unsure about the type of aphasia one of our patients was experiencing," Paige says. "It felt good to be able to talk it out with one-another in a safe space."

As their learning advanced, and they transitioned from shared to independent practice, the habits they formed approaching care as a duo increased their sense of confidence and made for a smoother switch.

"Even during independent practice, we still supported each other's clinical growth," says Melanie.

SLP students Paige Saltsman, (L), and Melanie Lamarca reflect on the benefits of their paired placement, which continued to pay off, later. "Even during independent practice, we still supported each other's clinical growth," says Melanie. (Photo: UHN)

When faced with treating a patient with non-fluent aphasia, it had been Paige's experience with a similar patient that helped guide Melanie's assessment. They even brainstormed treatment plans together, making Melanie feel more confident when sharing her ideas with her educator.

"Sharing my insights helped solidify my own learning, too," says Paige. "It was a win-win."

And the benefits of a paired placement impact educators, as well, making their involvement with learners more meaningful and efficient.

"I make a point of ensuring my learners know I'm here, every step of the way, to support their clinical experience," Lisa says. "But instead of coming to me first with questions, they appreciate collaborating with their peers.

"This also allows me more time to focus on my own work, whether that be catching up on essential administrative tasks or caring for patients."

But in the end, it's patients who benefit most from paired placements.

"Imagine a world where a patient is being treated by not one but three clinicians, passionate about their shared discipline," says Lisa.

"By intensifying rehab – since more learners can result in more therapy – and bringing multiple perspectives to treatment plans, we're enhancing care for patients."

Through 250 responses and over 560 comments, the desire to feel safe during their placement is one of four main themes learners expressed in the pre-placement surveys. Others include: wanting the opportunity to improve skills; feedback on how they're doing; and, knowing what to expect before and during their placement.

"The goal of these surveys was to get inside students heads, so we could be better supervisors," says Lisa, who, along with colleague Steve Wilcox, was invited to present her results last fall at the American Speech and Hearing Association – an international conference of 15,000 attendees.

The survey reflects Toronto Rehab's commitment to developing the next generation of care providers, by ensuring exceptional educational experiences.

And, as UHN, a teaching hospital, welcomes about 5,000 new clinical learners, this year alone, across the organization, spreading this approach couldn't come at a better time.

"Teams at UHN have proven they are nimble and able to respond to the changing needs of health care," Lisa says. "Playing with new ideas in clinical education will not only help us recruit the next generation of care providers, but shape the way they carry out our shared work."

Back to Top