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Get the Most from Your Fieldwork

Vol. 24 •Issue 9 • Page 14
Issues in Fieldwork

I have just returned from the AOTA conference full of new ideas and excited about the future of our profession. Ideas were percolating on how each of us can contribute to the Centennial Vision. No doubt most saw the huge potential our students have in ensuring this future. Students sensed this as well, as evidenced by their enthusiastic participation in all conference activities. One student even asked me why I focused on fieldwork education. I told her, "It's the best way I know to ensure that I get the best occupational therapy possible. One of you will be my therapist, and I want to make sure you are the best at getting me back to my own occupations to live life fully!"

Since many students will begin fieldwork in summer, Kim Dickinson, chairperson of the Assembly of Student Delegates (ASD), seized the opportunity to coordinate a panel during this leadership meeting to encourage achievement of the Vision through getting the most from their fieldwork experience. I joined five other panelists representing stakeholders in all aspects of fieldwork education: Judy Blum, Robin Johnson, Jaynee Taguchi-Meyer, Jaqueline Webel and Lynn Hersberg. We presented a plethora of ideas regarding how to get the most from one's fieldwork experience. Here are some of the major golden nuggets presented:

  • Take responsibility and be proactive in helping make the fieldwork experience the most that it can be. Share your goals for learning and request your fieldwork educator's help. Be professional and confident, and seek out learning opportunities. Ask your fieldwork supervisor for feedback in areas you have concern. Come motivated to learn the most you can from the fieldwork experience.

  • Request learning experiences that you believe will be beneficial to your professional development. If you decide to deliver therapy or service that is not typical in a site or might surprise your fieldwork educator, talk about this before you do so. Take the perspective of your fieldwork educator and remember the responsibility they assume for your performance as you discuss your request or plans.

  • Be prepared for what is expected. Consider visiting your site well before fieldwork begins, as this will help lower first-day anxiety and help you familiarize yourself with the environment. Dress according to professional expectations at the site. Typical street clothes are not appropriate for fieldwork; you need the ability to move freely, safely and respectfully. Review information that might be expected before you arrive. Expect to 'study up' throughout the fieldwork. Use the evening to review and hone your skills and reasoning for your next day of learning and practice. More importantly, no matter how well you are prepared, be prepared to be surprised! Responding flexibly, reliably and successfully to the unexpected is an important professional skill to develop.

  • Meet deadlines; this includes being sure that you arrive promptly and develop good time management skills. If you find a deadline difficult to meet, talk with your fieldwork educator as soon as possible. You might learn some new strategies or be able to negotiate a better timeline. When this is not possible, be adaptable and respond to expectations as any other practitioner must do in your site.

  • Enjoy and learn from every experience. If your site is not where you hope to practice, do not regret what your site is not; enjoy it for what it is and look for what you can learn. There are always skills that will generalize to your future practice, and you never know when a skill uniquely learned during fieldwork will unexpectedly be called upon later. Fieldwork is one of the last times you can do nothing but learn. Take calculated risks and focus on your development. Avoid viewing fieldwork as "on-the-job training;" view it as education—your education. Celebrate your learning.

  • Students are reminded of the wisdom that "there is never a bad question, only a poorly timed one." Consider when and where to ask for supervision. Strive to resolve concerns and challenges as the key to making progress. Come prepared to demonstrate what you do know or understand as a foundation to build upon during your discussion. Your academic fieldwork coordinator on campus can also be a good sounding board. Demonstrate that you learn from supervisory discussions through your work.

  • Remember to take care of yourself. Fieldwork is demanding. Adequate sleep, exercise, stress-reducing activities and good nutrition are essential for keeping your energy tank full. Journaling can serve three purposes: stress reduction, working through possibilities and providing a basis for planning to use your next session with your fieldwork educator thoughtfully.

Best wishes for a successful, engaging fieldwork. n

Patricia Crist, PhD, OTR, FAOTA, is chair of the occupational therapy department at John G. Rangos School of Health Sciences, Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA, and is a member of the AOTA Board of Directors. She has been a fieldwork coordinator for more than 18 years. Readers may contact Dr. Crist by e-mail at or at, or write to her c/o "Issues in Fieldwork," OT ADVANCE, 2900 Horizon Drive, King of Prussia, PA 19406.


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