Making the Case for Sharing Your Program’s Clinical Sites

Maybe it’s due to the weather, beaches, and mountains, but soon after I began my career as a clinical coordinator in Southern California, I found that I was frequently contacted by other programs asking for assistance placing their students at clinical sites. It soon became clear that we needed a plan for responding to such requests in a fair, efficient manner that considered our program’s limited clinical site availability and my ever-expanding to-do list.

The Perks of Sharing Sites

You may question the sanity of a clinical educator who offers assistance with clinical site placements to other programs. The very idea of investing time and sharing clinical sites initially brings up a number of concerns. Among them: Will this take much time? What if I assist with a placement and the student has professionalism issues? Will programs respect my wishes to only place students at times when our students are not there? These questions gave me pause as I initially considered requests.

Ultimately, with support from my fellow faculty and program director, I decided to move forward with offers to assist other programs. I was motivated by the first requests I received because the students had been previously employed at the sites they were requesting. I saw benefits to both students and clinics if I could arrange a rotation that had probable future employment opportunities. I was also highly motivated to lend a hand with placing students at clinics in medically underserved areas, as these placements, and possible future job opportunities, would benefit patients in our region.

Lastly, recalling the challenges I faced during my days as a PA student in a program on the opposite coast from my home, I’ve always tried to assist with student placements that allow out-of-state students to spend time with loved ones who reside in Southern California. I’ve seen firsthand just how revitalizing it can be for students to spend time during the clinical year in a familiar, supportive home environment.

I can say that in my 12 years as a PA educator (most of which were spent as a clinical coordinator), I’ve never had a negative experience with sharing underutilized clinical sites. Each clinical educator has been extremely appreciative and respectful of the guidelines set by our program. In addition to the obvious benefits to preceptors, PA programs, students, and patients, I benefit personally and professionally as a PA educator each time I collaborate with a colleague.

Setting Clear Boundaries & Conditions

I have made it a policy not to field requests for assistance directly from students, but instead direct such requests back to their clinical educators. Programs can be overwhelmed with these requests, which are best handled by the experts (i.e., clinical educator to clinical educator). My experience has taught me that students are not prepared to navigate the complexities of clinical site placements, and I usually have concerns about their program’s lack of involvement in the process.

I believe the key reason that I’ve been able to share clinical sites and assist other programs successfully is that I strive to be honest and open about what I can and can’t do to help. This begins with clarifying up front that our program’s core rotation clinical sites are in limited supply, as they are at most programs. For this reason, most clinical educators are very understanding when requests for core clinical rotations must be declined.

I then discuss which clinical sites are available. In most cases, these are elective rotations that have not been selected by our students for the current clinical year. Typically, a number of such clinical sites are unused during the period when our students focus on completing their core rotations. Quite often, these sites remain dormant for long stretches of time, and preceptors welcome additional students.

It is at this time that I make it a point to discuss the expectations that I have, as well as those of the requesting program, so that we are both likely to be satisfied with the outcome. I clearly state that it’s imperative that this request, and any subsequent requests for clinical site placements at this site, be placed by me based on my long-standing relationship with the site.

I also inform the clinical educator that students must be in good standing with the program, and that we cannot assist with placements of students with unremediated professionalism or academic issues. Lastly I note that, although I will be glad to submit the initial request for placement with the preceptor, all subsequent tasks required to secure the placement are the responsibility of their program.

If this is acceptable to the clinical educator making the request, I provide initial details regarding the clinical site and preceptor. These details include the schedule, the quality of precepting, student feedback of the rotation, and specific requested dates for the rotation.

Subsequently, I discuss the request and the timeframe with the rest of the clinical team to make sure that we will not need to place one of our students at the site during that time. If the request is acceptable to the team, it is presented for consideration at our faculty meeting for open discussion and the final decision is then made.

Arrangement with the Clinical Site

I always contact the clinical site and preceptor on behalf of the requesting program. I do this to alleviate any concerns that the preceptor may have about displacing students from our program, and to let the site know that we are involved in this collaborative placement. I also inform the site that I have been assured by the requesting program that the student is in good standing and without any unremediated professionalism or academic issues.

If this is acceptable to the clinical site, and they are available for the requested clinical rotation dates, I inform the site that the program will be contacting them to generate an affiliation agreement and to begin the onboarding process.

Regardless of whether or not the clinical site placement is approved by the site, I always inform the program about their decision. If the request is accepted, I provide the program with clinical site contact information and onboarding information. I also request that I receive feedback on the student experience from the clinical educator after the rotation is completed.

If you haven’t had the opportunity to share a clinical site that you use rarely or only occasionally, I’d encourage you to consider doing so. I believe you’ll find unexpected rewards, just as I did.