How to make the most of your practicum experience

Getting to put the theory you’ve learnt in class into practice is one of the most rewarding and exciting experiences during your time at uni.

Not every program has practicum experiences (commonly known as prac) due to the nature of the program but most of the health degrees at UQ are packed with hours of practical experience.

Initially, the thought of working with real clients can feel daunting, but ultimately there is no need to worry - it just takes a bit of getting used to. As your practicum coordinators will remind you (many times) - organisation and good communication are essential for a successful prac placement. Take my word for it, they are right! Work on developing those personal qualities early in your program and you will do great.

Before your start prac it is natural to be full of questions; ‘Where do I start looking for a prac site? What do I need to organise? Am I going to be given a list of sites to pick from? Am I going to be told where to go?’  The answers to these questions will depend entirely upon your chosen program.  As a recent graduate from the Bachelor of Exercise and Sport Sciences program, my cohort and I were responsible for finding our own prac site during our first block. However, for our second and third clinical blocks, we were given a list of options from multiple sites. The rules are different in every program though so make sure you listen and learn which approach applies to you. Learning opportunities, like your prac, will help determine the scope of your future career so here are my tips on how to make the most of your experience.

Do your research

During my third year, representatives from a range of potential prac sites within my field (sport science and clinical exercise physiology) came along to visit the uni. The first step I took was to speak to each representative and explain my professional interests, which usually led to a discussion on whether their business aligned with these areas.  This was an invaluable first step to take as it helped me to screen for potential sites. 

The next step I took was to do my own research. I looked up potential sites on Google and contacted them online or over the phone to determine if they were right for me.  I also discussed my options with my practicum coordinator to see if other students had previously gone to certain sites and if so, what their experiences were like.  Upon deciding where I might like to do my prac, I was responsible for confirming that the business had a site agreement – otherwise known as a ‘deed’ – to show that they were willing to take on UQ students.  The next step was organising a face-to-face meeting with the business to determine their availability to host a student. In my experience, once I had narrowed down my options I then visited each site and met with the staff to ensure that it would meet my goals and needs.

It’s important to remember when choosing a site, that you don’t only look for ones which are closest to your home.  Try and talk to previous students who have already done their practicums and see what they thought of different sites.  When you’re performing your own research on each site looking at their websites can be very helpful.  Once you have found your site, you’ll be almost ready to go!

Ask questions early

Those first few days before starting a prac placement can be quite nerve-racking.  You may have many questions going through your head; ‘Have I read all of my notes properly?  Do I have the right uniform to wear? Do I know what time I am starting and finishing? Have I organised all my other commitments around my prac?’  A lot of this may seem like common sense, but when you are filled with nervous excitement, some of your rational thoughts seem to go out the window. 

Before starting each prac placement, I found it helpful to write a small checklist to make sure I remembered everything. As any new question arose in my head, I could then act on it and contact my site if necessary.  However, if something slips your mind, don’t think it‘s the end of the world.  From my experience, as long as you come into your prac site as prepared as possible supervisors will be more than willing to help you.

Set goals and track your progress

During my site visits prior to starting prac placements, my future supervisors sat down with me and we devised a plan for how my time would be spent.  This included milestones for attaining certain skills and also for any prac or university subject projects which needed to be completed during the placement.  Setting time frames for these milestones was invaluable and I was able to tick off milestones as I progressed throughout my prac.  If I was unable to attain a milestone, I was then able to focus more clearly on this, consult my supervisors and attain the skill or concept before the end of the placement.  As a tip, make sure you discuss with your supervisors what your role and responsibilities will be during the placement, as this can vary greatly from one site to the next.  

Rest up

The most important tip for staying energised and organised while on prac (and in life in general) is to make sure you get enough sleep.  This might mean that social sacrifices have to be made, meaning you can’t go to trivia night for a few weeks or you can’t stay up scrolling Instagram on your phone until the early hours of the morning.  If you’re well-rested, you give yourself the best chance to remember your theory and practical skills during your prac, and you’ll have the energy to keep on top of any other commitments you may have, such as working or just looking after your weekly tasks.

In the end, practicum will be one of the most rewarding experiences during your university degree. Two of the main factors contributing towards this are choosing the best site to suit your needs and planning well for the time you will spend at these sites.  Remember that if you get stuck, UQ is with you every step of the way, right from choosing your site to handing in the final paperwork to say you’ve completed your prac.  Don’t be afraid to also ask other students on prac at the same time as you for tips and tricks to stay organised.  Finally, have fun, learn lots and good luck with your pracs! 

Last updated:
3 April 2017