Disclosing your disability / mental health / medical condition on, or in advance of, placements
Should you notify your placement supervisor/mentor about your disability / mental health / medical condition on placement?
It can help to raise awareness and enable placement supervisors to understand and organise any adjustments you might need on your placement
What can’t be changed?
All students have to demonstrate an ability to succeed against set criteria and many professional programmes involve competency based assessments – we can’t change this for you.
Why is it important to talk about your disability or your requirements?
The reality is, 1 in 4 people experience a mental health difficulty at some stage in their lives and almost 1 in 5 people will develop a disability. Although we know it isn’t always easy to talk about such personal things, it also isn’t uncommon. We know that your placement providers want to be aware of any support you might need so that they can help you to have the best experience possible rather than you struggling unnecessarily.
We do understand why you might like to try your placement without mentioning disability or requesting adjustments, for example:
- Wanting to be treated in the same way as everyone else and not receiving what might be seen as ‘special treatment’. After all, this placement could turn out to be a future employer!
We understand why you might have these concerns but we also want to make sure that everyone gets a chance to engage in their placements without any unnecessary obstacles to overcome. We know that placements are very stressful anyway, for all students, but we don’t want your experiences to be any harder for you than they need to be.
Talking about your requirements and possible adjustments can help you to perform to the very best of your ability. Sometimes, withholding information about a disability or request for adjustments, means that you can’t show your true abilities which can disadvantage you which would be a real shame.
Whatever you decide now, remember that you can change your mind at any stage during your studies. So if you decide you want to try a placement first without disclosure and see how it goes, that is okay, or vice versa. Unless there is a risk to you or others in withholding information, we will never insist that you talk about a disability against your will or share information without your explicit consent.
Please note this is completely separate to Occupational Health clearance where you are required to disclose information about your health or disability in order to be deemed fit to practice. You must never withhold information during an Occupational Health clearance.
Examples of how adjustments might help you:
Here are some real examples of different ways in which students have been supported on placement by talking about their issues and/or asking for adjustments:
- A student told his placement lead that he took medication for a mental health issue and that, consequently, he felt tired in the morning. He asked to have the hours of his placement adjusted accordingly. The appropriate adjustments were made in negotiation with the student, the University and his practice based supervisor and he successfully completed the placement.
- A student who has dyslexia found that she was having some issues with writing up her patient records on her first placement. All practitioners in this particular setting completed their notes at the end of the morning and afternoon sessions. The student was spending extra time writing up her notes and was staying much later than other students to finish the task each day. She also could not remember all the information about each patient, as she has some short-term memory issues, which is quite common in people who have dyslexia.
The practice based supervisor realised what was happening and initiated a discussion. As this was the student’s first placement, she had not anticipated that record-keeping would be so challenging. The following modifications were agreed:
- a digital recorder was provided by the university to make verbal notes as she went along
- she was able to organise her patients so that she could write up her notes after seeing two patients throughout the day
- Due to changing work practices within the NHS, some allied health profession students are being expected to work longer shifts (including early morning or evening) or to join in with 7 day working if these are required in a particular placement. A student who has mental health issues decided to negotiate placements in which more traditional patterns of working were standard practice. (Alternatively, these types of work practices may suit some disabled students better. It is important to be flexible and discuss this with your placement lead, preferably in advance of the placement.)
- A student who has a visual impairment and whose placement was in an outpatient setting, was able to negotiate use of the same cubicle so that he did not have to search for a vacant one each time he treated a patient. Other staff members were encouraged to put equipment back in the same place every time following use, a procedure that turned out to be helpful for everyone.
Who can you talk to?
An Adviser in Student Wellbeing disability or mental health teams – they can help you to think through whether you want to talk about your disability or reasonable adjustments, how people might react and how it might help you. They can start a ‘Practice Placement Needs Agreement’ which is separate to the Study Needs Agreement for your taught studies at the University. They will then pass this on to your Placement Lead (or equivalent link lecturer for example) at the University.
Placement Lead for your programme at the University – will confirm what adjustments will be deemed appropriate for the placement, in liaison with the placement provider if needed (placement leads (or equivalent) may discuss the PPNA with Student Wellbeing Advisors as required). They will complete the ‘Practice Placement Needs Agreement’ and can support you to share this with the placement provider, if you want their help with this.
Placement provider/placement supervisor/mentor – we can help you to share information with them. If you would like us to do this, you will also need to speak to them directly to make sure everything you need is in place. If possible, it would be best to do this before your placement begins.
If you are in any doubt whether or not to share information with your placement please come and speak to either Student Wellbeing or your Placement Lead for advice.