“Outside my comfort zone” – Occupational Therapy Student Placement

My fourth and final Occupational Therapy placement at Alzheimer Scotland was daunting and exciting all at the same time. Research discusses non-traditional or role-emerging placements however as far as I was concerned terminology was immaterial, this was not NHS and was outside my comfort zone.

Emails and final arrangements were confirmed and I was sent a timetable for the 8 weeks of my placement. Some may have been overwhelmed with the multiple pretty coloured schedule however my preference for organisation was loving this! My Practice Educator within Alzheimer Scotland was obviously going to be my kind of person, organised and clear.

Core Skills of Occupational Therapy

My personal focus initially involved attempting to identify the core skills of Occupational Therapy and potential for occupation based approaches in a non-traditional AHP student placement. A presentation to staff within the office provided an opportunity to articulate and demonstrate the core skills of occupational therapy through a group activity to complete an occupational analysis, with the obvious inclusion of cake to promote further engagement for a student presentation.

1Groups, support and advice

During the 8 week placement I attended dementia cafés, a choir, carers groups, assisted at information events and utilised meaningful occupations to encourage engagement and potential strategies to support independence with people living with dementia.

Every day my children would ask questions about me going to cafés and singing in a choir, so not only was I relating and discussing occupational therapy theory on placement, I was returning home and justifying the occupational perspective to my kids – the joys of being a mature student.

Events and groups are all facilitated by Alzheimer Scotland to provide advice whilst supporting people living with dementia, their families and carers.

Dementia cafes

Dementia cafés, I thought, “great, sounds like a relaxing cup of tea and a blether”. I was so wrong, these cafes are so so much more for those who attend. During every café I met fantastic people willing to share stories and experiences, ranging from daily challenges faced, to support independence, to favourite holiday locations and what was happening on Emmerdale. Those attending received peer support and advice from the attending Dementia Advisors.

Attending the cafés evoked a discussion with my Practice Educator regarding ‘being’ and ‘doing’. On reflection, a key moment during my placement and during my studies was realising my passion for my new career as an occupational therapist, the potential to initiate the occupational therapy process in unconventional environments whilst identifying meaningful occupations and challenges.

Music and singing

Choir, another fantastic opportunity to observe the great groups facilitated by Alzheimer Scotland. However, participation was involved, a huge accomplishment to the Dementia Advisor considering I am the person who only sings alone in the car. The choir demonstrated the benefits of social engagement through music, for some a new experience and for others a love they have participated in for many years. 

My placement

This placement consolidated the value of identifying the meaningful element with 1:1 sessions including encouraging a person to demonstrate their ballroom dancing skills in their living room and increasing a person’s confidence in using an iPad to download family photographs and apps. I could go on forever however my word count for this blog is ending, therefore I want to finish by highlighting my three key learning points during my placement in Alzheimer Scotland as an occupational therapy student:

  1. Always consider person first, no matter what the setting,
  2. Identifying and applying individually meaningful       occupation is one of our unique core skills and if success includes a smile, I can’t explain the overwhelming personal and professional feelings of satisfaction,
  3. Occupational Therapy has huge potential to enhance the services, support and advice provided by Alzheimer Scotland.


The development of contemporary issues within occupational therapy can be enhanced and influenced by everyone, offering a student placement within a third sector organisation is a key example of this. I would welcome your thoughts on this blog and invite you to consider:

  • What can an occupational therapy/AHP student learn when they are on placement in a third sector organisation?
  • If you are a third sector organisation, what benefits could an occupational therapy/AHP student offer your organisation whilst on placement.

KirstyKirsty Stanley – Occupational Therapy Student


This is my final year at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, already consolidating my passion for a uniquely influential profession with an ability to influence people’s lives.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone involved in the organisation of my placement but there are individuals who have been particularly influential in the experience and will not be forgotten.


10 thoughts on ““Outside my comfort zone” – Occupational Therapy Student Placement

  1. Wow Kirsty, well from someone with dementia, you’ve passed your placement with flying colours and gold stars. How refreshing to hear such positive comments from someone about to embark on their career. Take all you’ve said and put it into practice. When you meet people with historic ideas, challenge them to change and listen to you. It’s people like you who can make a difference to the lives of people like me.

    • Thank you for your comments, this was an invaluable opportunity for me during my studies. I’m so pleased my blog has managed to articulate my placement experience in the manner I had hoped. Allied Health Professions can provide influential professional support and providing student placements is a positive partnership between Alzheimer Scotland and educational establishments.

  2. Fantastic Kirsty!!!! It was a joy to have you at Alzheimer Scotland – Lanarkshire Services. Not only did you increase your knowledge about dementia and the many supports/services available within the local areas but we as a team also learned so much about Occuptational Therapy. I feel this is invaluable to our service and the people attending our cafes. Still loving the conversations with people about ‘being and not doing’ #personalcentred. Looking forward to continued partnership and meeting you again at our Dementia Friends Session in December!!

    • Lorna, thank you for commenting on the blog post by Kirsty and also supporting our developing partnership in Alzheimer Scotland with the higher education institutions that train our AHP students.

      I hope we can keep developing on this practice placement model with occupational therapy and pilot how it could work with physiotherapy and speech and language therapy students in the new year, Elaine

  3. Thanks Kirsty, sounds like it was a win-win situation for people with dementia and their families, for you as a student OT and Alz. Scotland staff !

    In regards to the question in your blog, I hope OT/AHP students continue to learn the huge benefit of partnership working, ultimately to assist and empower the person with dementia and their family.

    Best wishes, Pasna

  4. Kirsty – Thank you for posting this and doing what you’re doing. I have been diagnosed with “early onset” Alzheimer’s Disease (and “dis – ease” it is..). My lovely wife (and “Care Partner”) and I are very involved in the “Southland” chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association in Southern California. Having that resource has been a blessing for both of us and we’ve made many friends through the Association. My wife and I have formed a non-profit corporation called AlzAcrossAmerica.org to create awareness and to let people know they are not alone and there are resources available. Just in the US alone someone gets Alzheimer’s every 67 seconds according to the Alzheimer’s Association. I hope you continue in your work.

    • Gary – Thank you, I greatly appreciate you taking the time to reply. During placement it was extremely evident the invaluable support Alzheimer Scotland provide through conversation and activity whilst being considerate of the individual and their families. Organisations such as Alzheimer Scotland, and the one you and your wife have formed, provide multiple resources when they are needed and promote the contribution everyone can make to positively influence daily life. I witnessed for myself the invaluable friendships and support that had been developed during group gatherings, so I wish you and your wife all the best with your corporation. Do you have a twitter or facebook account I could follow?

  5. Hi Kirsty,

    As a practicing OT with people with dementia I am so glad that you have enjoyed and got so much from your placement with Alzheimer Scotland. Just to let you know that to my knowledge the first OT student on placement with Alzheimer Scotland was a student from Queen Mary’s back in the 1990s at the woodlands Centre in Inverness. Exactly the same happened she gave so much and received as much. I think one element of the learning in a third sector organisation is how differently they work and the ethos is from the statutory sector agencies. Good luck with your career and all you take into it re dementia.

  6. Pingback: Working Together | Let's Talk about Dementia

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