Researcher aims to address ‘placement poverty’ among university students

Dr Bell, an Associate Professor in the School of Health Sciences, received an Equity Fellowship for 2024 from the Australian Centre for Student Equity and Success (ACSE) at Curtin University to investigate the issue. Her project, Addressing placement inequities through participatory action research, will focus on finding solutions to combat placement poverty caused by compulsory work-based placements, to ensure an equitable experience for all students, regardless of their background.

Working within the university’s School of Health Sciences for the past few years, which offers allied health degrees, Dr Bell says she began to notice and understand the significant financial and social impacts compulsory placements were having on students. This included having to forego paid work to undertake placements, and equity and mental health related issues.

“Almost daily, I hear about student issues with placement poverty,” she tells the ANMJ.

“There’s a whole lot of factors that can make placements stressful; not just financial. These include mental health, caring for family members, and sometimes, the discrimination that students experience on placement because of their diverse backgrounds.”

Dr Bell says the ‘placement poverty’ issue has reached a tipping point due to the escalating cost of living crisis.

Due to the financial and social burden, in many cases, it increases the time students take to complete their degrees, or they drop out altogether because it’s just too difficult. In other instances, students don’t even enrol in degrees that contain compulsory placements, fearing that it will cost them too much money.

In February, positively, the highly-anticipated Universities Accord final report recommended that the federal government should fund paid clinical placements for students in key fields such as nursing, care, and teaching.

Dr Bell welcomes the recommendations, as she focuses on finding practical solutions through her research project to generate meaningful change.

“I’ll be working with students, educators and policy makers to co-design solutions, so that we improve outcomes for students from diverse backgrounds and ultimately create a more diverse workforce,” Dr Bell says.

As well as paid placements, the Accord also recommended examining the length of clinical placements and potential other ways students could demonstrate their competencies.

“In theory, if the students achieve the competencies more quickly, their placements wouldn’t be as long. But in practice, it can be tricky to achieve that flexibility.”

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