Moving beyond solutionism: Re-imagining placements through an activity systems lens

Gillian Nisbet, Sue McAllister, Clare Morris, Matthew Jennings

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)45-54
Number of pages10
JournalMedical Education
Issue number1
Early online date10 Aug 2020
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Clinical placements
  • future health professionals
  • preparation for practice
  • service‐education tension
  • Health Professional Education (HPE)


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