Articles and Case Studies

Make work experience a smooth experience

09 Dec 2020

Julian Walter clover

by Dr Julian Walter

practice file management and administration

Having a work experience student at your practice is a great opportunity to nurture the next generation of healthcare workers.

Managing students at the practice

Setting expectations is vital, and it’s helpful to have an information sheet for the student, patients and staff.


  • Consent is paramount. Allow patients to ‘opt in’ (the student won't attend a consultation unless the patient agrees) rather than ‘opt out’. This consent conversation should happen without the student present.
  • Inform your patients that they can request the student to leave at any time.
  • Put up abundant signage and explanations, for example:

We have a work experience student at the practice today. If you are comfortable with the student observing your consultation, please let the reception staff know. Patients are under no obligation to agree to student observation and can change their mind at any time.


  • Ensure the student understands when they will or won’t be attending patient care, and that they may need to step out for parts of a consultation (e.g. intimate examinations) if their presence interferes with care.
  • Indicate your expectations (typically limited to discussion after a consultation). Where will they sit or stand? Ask them to indicate what they expect to gain from the work experience.
  • Ensure a safe workplace – explain what they should do if they feel faint or unwell. Make sure the student is covered by public liability (slip and trip) and indemnity insurance policies. Consider what consultations pose too high a risk (e.g. aggressive patients, infectious risks, immunisation status).


  • Ensure staff are aware of the student’s attendance, what the student is seeking to gain, and what activities are appropriate or inappropriate. Demarcate roles and what the expectations are.
  • Discuss infection control, e.g. importance of hand hygiene and not touching sharps.
  • If student participation interferes with the staff’s ability to provide safe healthcare, staff should communicate this to the facility immediately.


Confidentiality and privacy

Privacy breaches may occur when a student discusses an identifiable patient outside of the practice. This can result in claims, complaints to the facility, or privacy and healthcare complaints. Patient trust and rapport may also be affected, resulting in adverse public relation outcomes (e.g. social media posts).

It’s common practice to get the student to sign a confidentiality agreement. This highlights to the student the importance of patient privacy, rather than being a legally enforceable obligation. The student is not bound by any professional duty of confidentiality, nor are they subject to an employment contract.

  • Work experience students should not provide health care, and they are not registered to do so.
  • Take care to prevent the student being indirectly exposed to identifiable information, where the patient has not provided consent (e.g. reading records, discussion about patients at handover and case meetings).
  • Complaints typically involve patients who:
    • did not consent to the student being present
    • felt they were coerced into having the student present
    • were uncomfortable with the student’s presence (particularly during intimate examinations, which you may not be able to anticipate at the time of booking).


Communication with Colleagues, Communication with Patients, Consent, Employment Essentials, Practice Management, Anaesthesia, Dermatology, Emergency Medicine, General Practice, Intensive Care Medicine, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Ophthalmology, Pathology, Practice Manager Or Owner, Psychiatry, Radiology, Sports Medicine, Surgery, Physician, Geriatric Medicine, Cardiology, Plastic And Reconstructive Surgery, Radiation Oncology, Paediatrics, Independent Medical Assessor - IME


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Dr Nick Coatsworth is an expert in health policy, public administration and a practising infectious diseases physician. He held a national role in the Australian response to COVID-19 as Deputy Chief Medical Officer of Australia, becoming one of the most recognised medical spokespeople during the pandemic. Nick engaged the Australian community through a variety of media platforms most notably as the spearhead of the national COVID-19 vaccination campaign. Dr Micheal Gannon, Obstetrician & Gynaecologist, sits down with Dr Nick Coatsworth to discuss Nick's medical career journey, and what insights and advice he has for junior doctors. MDA National would like to acknowledge the contributions of MDA National staff, Members, friends and colleagues in the production of the podcast and note that this work is copyright. Apart from any use permitted under applicable copyright law, you may not reproduce the content of this podcast without the permission of MDA National. This podcast contains generic information only, is intended to stimulate thought and discussion, and doesn’t account for requirements of any particular individual. The content may contain opinions which are not necessarily those of MDA National. We recommend that you always contact your indemnity provider when you require specific advice in relation to your insurance policy or medico-legal matters. MDA National Members need to contact us for specific medico-legal advice on freecall 1800 011 255 or email We may also refer you to other professional services.


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