Research into practice

The project aimed to pilot shared practice learning, to evaluate
the results and to use the data to direct future curriculum
development. It involved two social work students from the MA/DipSW
programme at Nottingham University and two from the district
nursing intake to the BSc (Hons) degree in community health care
nursing at Derby University. The students were co-located in
separate health centres.

Several important issues emerged relevant to two areas: practice,
particularly assessment; and education and training.

On practice, three main points were highlighted:

  • All participants agreed that student co-location enabled a
    smoother assessment process and improved the quality and depth of
  • This applied particularly in risk assessment. Whereas the
    district nurse students were clear about the consequences of health
    risk and could apply detailed medical information, the social work
    students were better able to find out service users’ perspectives.
    These combined approaches helped in the analysis and response to
  • The similarity in the content of social services and district
    nursing assessments was marked, with the main differences being of
    emphasis. As such, the roles and skills of district nurse and
    social worker were complementary.

The above points indicate that the single assessment process for
older people, which would have social workers and district nurses
at its heart, could indeed improve the quality of assessment
processes and outcomes.

On the educational side, there were also benefits, although
these were balanced by some practice difficulties. On the credit
side, these points emerged:

  • The practice experience gained by each student was richer than
    if they had undertaken a “normal” placement, largely because of the
    additional knowledge and understanding that each gained of the
    other’s role.
  • The competence required by both sets of students was broadly
  • There were overlaps in the ways that evidence was collected.
    The main difference was that the district nurse students were
    responsible for its presentation, but in the case of the social
    work students, this responsibility was shared with the practice

This indicates that there is sufficient compatibility of the
practice learning experiences of the two professions to make shared
practice learning a possibility. The principle could also be
extended to other professional disciplines such as health visitors
and community psychiatric nurses.

However, the practical hurdles to be overcome are significant.
Considerable overlap between the placement structures of each
course was unpremeditated but would be a complex task to plan for
compatible placements between different professional courses.

This problem is compounded where the courses are offered by
different universities, as was the case here. The availability of
practice placements is another complicating factor, taking account
of the fact that placements for social work students in any given
setting can rarely be guaranteed – unlike those for community

Given the centrality of inter-professional learning to the new
social work degree, the establishment of shared practice learning
alongside shared learning in academic settings has clear benefits,
as this project has identified.

However, thought needs to be given to the planning and organisation
of practice learning for its benefits to be realised.

Claire Torkington, independent consultant; Mark Lymbery,
University of Nottingham; Andy Millward, Nottingham social
services; Maureen Murfin, Broxtowe and Hucknall Primary Care Trust;
and Barbara Richell, University of Derby.

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