Examining the influences on Professional identity development in Allied Health students during placement in a rural and regional health service

Mrs Linda Furness1,2,3, Dr Anna Tynan1,2,4, Dr Jenny  Ostini2

1Darling Downs Hospital and Health Service, Toowoomba, Australia, 2University of Southern Queensland, Toowoomba, Australia, 3Griffith University, Gold Coast, Australia, 4The University of Queensland, St Lucia, Australia


Background: Clinical placements provide student health professionals with diverse learning opportunities and support the development of their professional identity.  The purpose of this study was to examine influences on development of professional identity in Allied Health (AH) students undertaking clinical placements in a rural and regional health service.

Methods: A qualitative study comprising review of placement orientation documents and focus group discussions with Clinical Education Support Officers, Clinical Educators and Professional Directors for the health service, and AH students was conducted using thematic analysis.  This study formed the basis for an ongoing research project examining the development of professional identity within AH in a rural setting.

Results: Both inclusive and exclusive language were used in documents. Students were referred to implicitly as workers, and part of the healthcare team as part of the process of developing professional identity. Five key themes emerged from the focus groups: influence of Clinical Educators; contact with members of students’ own profession; contact with other professionals; contact with patients and families; and the health service context in which the AH student was placed.

Conclusion: This study provides strategies for supporting the development of students’ professional identity during placements.  These include: development of health service culture supporting student education, socialisation and inclusion; and encouraging teams to support students’ experience of consolidating their own role and understanding of how it fits within the team.  Implementation of such strategies is critical for the education of AH professionals who will service regional and rural locations.


Linda graduated as an occupational therapist in 1989, and since that time has worked in rural and regional service delivery. She has worked in a number of clinical, case management, management and education roles.

Linda is currently employed as a Clinical Education Support Officer within the Occupational Therapy Clinical Education Program (OTCEP) – a program aimed at supporting the clinical education of pre-entry occupational therapy students and new graduates in Queensland Health Hospital and Health service facilities. She supports two rural Hospital and Health Services. Linda has a passion for supporting students and new graduates in rural practice experiences.

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