Preparing the health workforce of the future through the student telehealth program

COVID-19 has seen a dramatic transformation in how healthcare is delivered, with many changes likely to be permanent. One of these key areas of change has been in the delivery of health services using telehealth modalities, particularly via telephone and video conference. Delivery of health services through telehealth modalities is now considered "the norm" where previously it only represented a small fraction of healthcare interactions undertaken. This creates an immediate challenge for universities seeking to educate students in a way that best prepares them to be a part of the future healthcare workforce.

Monash Primary and Allied Health Care has developed an innovative Student Telehealth Program that provides opportunities for health professional students across a range of disciplines to learn how to conduct telehealth interactions. Supported with background training in telehealth delivery, students work with volunteer participants from the community to identify areas of health and well-being that the participant may need assistance with.  Using a person centred shared decision-making approach, students and volunteer participants establish strategies and goals to improve health and wellbeing over several telehealth interactions.

In a year that saw the cancellation of many field work and clinical placement opportunities for our health professional students due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Student Telehealth Program has provided a framework for students to maintain their skill development through authentic health focussed interactions. First year Master of Social Work student, William shared his experience of the Student Telehealth Program in supporting his learning:

"The program provided me an effective platform to apply the theoretical knowledge I have learned so far. I have been able to deepen my understanding of the links between theory and practice, develop my helping skills, and support the volunteer clients to gain new perspectives and ideas for their health and wellbeing."

The Student Telehealth Program also provided a basis to enhance the health and wellbeing of volunteer participants, as shared by third year occupational therapy student Eliza:

“The highlight of the telehealth program, for me, was seeing the progress participants had made. The telehealth program is about teaching people how to manage and take control of their own health, and in many circumstances I saw this happening. Some participants told me they found it beneficial to just talk about their health and wellbeing with someone, and most that I worked with told me that they were willing to continue using the strategies we had discussed after they had completed the program. I think the program has been great for teaching students how health promotion can be a part of allied health practice.”

The Student Telehealth Program has enabled students to develop skills in telehealth delivery; continue to build professional capabilities outside of traditional field-work placements; and provided a health and wellbeing outreach opportunity to the community.

To learn more about the impact of the program, watch this video interview featuring occupational therapy students Olivia and Louis and program coordinator Kristie Matthews.

If you’d like to volunteer as a participant, visit our website to register your interest.