Introduction: Community-based education programmes provide students with an experiential learning opportunity in a real-life context. The purpose of this study was to examine reflective journals to identify students' experiences and perceived learning during a 12-week placement programme in residential aged care facilities (RACF) on the NSW Central Coast, Australia.
Methodology: All final year dental hygiene students from the University of Newcastle, Australia attended an aged care orientation workshop prior to commencing the RACF student placement programme. Throughout the placement, students were asked to record their educational experiences in reflective journals. Student reflections were based on the 'Gibbs Reflective Cycle', diarising experiences and feelings. Qualitative data was analysed using the constant comparative method and unitised to identify emergent themes.
Results: Sixty-seven students completed reflective journals during the placement programme; emergent themes indicated students felt ill-prepared for the placement programme despite attending the orientation workshop. They were apprehensive and nervous prior to commencement of the placement. The general consensus after week 6 was that the placement became a more positive experience where students began to feel comfortable in the RACF environment and residents, and staff started to respond more positively to their presence. Overall, they thought the placement was challenging and confronting, but had improved their skills and knowledge in care of older people and increased their confidence in working with other healthcare professionals.
Conclusion: The reflective journals provided students with the opportunity to record and reflect on their experience and perceived learning during the placement programme. Student reflections identified negative experiences at the commencement of the placement, suggesting a need for additional orientation prior to the RACF programme.
Keywords: clinical placement; dental hygiene students; elderly patients; oral hygiene; reflective folios.
© 2013 John Wiley & Sons A/S. Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.