Introduction: Clinical placements are central to the process of preparing future health professionals for practice. Health care environments are increasingly complex and demanding with clinical placements often being perceived as a burden on busy health professionals giving rise to a service-education tension. This tension creates a situation ripe for simplistic solutionist approaches. For example, characterising the problem of clinical placements as students negatively impacting on service productivity results in a reductionist solution such as universities compensating health services for student education. Challenges faced by placement seekers and placement providers are multifaceted and complex requiring a more sophisticated understanding and response to the challenges of involving students in the workplace to prepare them for the future workforce. Re-conceptualisation: We argue that the health and education systems have become de-coupled. Learning and working are seen as distinct activities that are at odds with one another. Re-imagining the purposes and practices of clinical placements for the mutual benefit of patients, health services and students may fruitfully address this disconnect. Worked example: We present a worked example using the conceptual and analytical tools of cultural-historical activity theory to articulate what we have learnt about this health-education disconnect. Our worked example draws on research involving a series of clinical education case studies within acute care contexts. Conclusion: Through the lens of cultural-historical activity theory, we highlight that solutionist approaches are entrenched in a de-coupling of health from education where the shared object of preparing the future workforce is fragmented. Successful re-coupling requires a partnership that is founded on a shared commitment to preparing the future workforce; recognises that learning and practice are inseparable; and understands that both activity systems are fluid and that collaboration to stay focused on the shared object of preparing the future workforce is complex, challenging and ongoing work.
- Clinical placements
- future health professionals
- preparation for practice
- service‐education tension
- Health Professional Education (HPE)