Case Study

Offering virtual learning for mental health student nurses and occupational health students

Read how Devon Partnership NHS Trust piloted remote virtual learning for students to enhance placement experience.

13 January 2022


Devon Partnership NHS Trust is a mental health and learning disability trust serving a population of nearly one million people, spread over a large geographical area. There are approximately 3,700 staff and serve almost 900 people a day. 

In May 2021, a small pilot of 20 students participated in a one and a half-day virtual work-related learning event delivered via Microsoft Teams. 

Key benefits and outcomes

  • To offer remote working learning opportunities and consider how this can be embedded for all training opportunities. 

  • To introduce and explain what the function of assessment, care planning, intervention and discharge is in mental health successfully with students virtually.   

  • To work collaboratively with other health and social professions by experiencing and contributing to a simulated multi-disciplinary team meeting.

What the organisation faced

Due to community mental health teams primarily working virtually across Devon, team leaders had expressed that they were keen that students joining them had good access to learning opportunities despite the remote working.  

The practice education team saw an opportunity to bring in experienced clinicians to share their case studies and encourage multi-disciplinary team working for students to share their thoughts and clinical reasoning. As members of the practice education team and the occupational therapy lead delivered it as part of their current roles, additional funding was not needed to support the learning events.

What the organisation did

Planned placements from a university take place every year, but this year was the first-time learning was held virtually. On the morning of the first day, students were given a brief overview of assessment, care planning, intervention and discharge; these topics were chosen as they are components of practice across multiple professions; nursing, occupational therapy, social work and psychology.  

One of the clinical services managers for rehabilitation and vocational services introduced the case study that they had developed.   

Students were then split into small groups. Crucially the groups were of mixed ability in years one, two and three of nursing and occupational therapy. The year three students would lead the activity which was to work together to develop a 20-minute presentation for the next morning.   

Each group delivered their presentation, had the opportunity for a short Q&A and was given feedback. A real-life case study presented by a professional clinician was used to give students the opportunity to understand and appraise research, apply relevant theory and research findings and identify areas for further investigation. Groups also presented this learning back and were pleased to see the high quality and wide variety of content. 

The chance to work collaboratively with other health and social professionals by experiencing and contributing to a simulated multi-disciplinary team meeting also helped to develop soft skills such as speaking, listening, negotiation, planning and time management skills.   

Another aim was to ensure year three students could demonstrate team leading skills and produce evidence towards:   

  • confidently assessing needs and planning person-centred care   

  • confidently managing the procedures in assessing, providing and evaluating care   

  • confidently leading and managing person-centred care and working in multi-disciplinary teams   

  • confidently contribute to improving safety and quality of person-centred care   

  • confidently coordinating person-centred care. 

What was achieved?

The expectations for all professions and levels of students began with the same core skills which were able to be signed off by the practice educators facilitating the session. These core skills included:  

Leading others – more experienced students were able to show their delegating and facilitation skills by leading the small groups.   

Communication – all students were encouraged to showcase their communication skills, including when actively listening to the presentation elements.   

Clinical skills – students were able to demonstrate these in the presentations they developed and presented on the morning of the second session.   

Time management and autonomous working – the groups of students were given a clear timeframe for the work to be completed and were able to use their individual time management skills to use this time how they felt most helpful.   

Multi-disciplinary and mixed skill working – groups were put together with this in mind and the students were expected to work with those in different professions and at various stages of their study. They were encouraged to use the variety of experience to the best of their abilities.   

Results and benefits

One of the main advantages delivering remotely via Microsoft Teams across a wide geographic area such as Devon is that travel time, costs and suitable room availability didn’t need to be a barrier. This complied with the trust’s guidance on COVID-19 and was more convenient for students and those delivering sessions.  

Based on evaluation and feedback after the event, 100 per cent of students felt they had achieved the identified outcomes.

“It was amazing to see the totally different approach of each group to the presentations and the considerations they made with regard to supporting the patient. Having access to the thoughts of others is hugely beneficial to our learning, so thank you for giving us this opportunity”    

“I liked how everyone approached the case study slightly differently.  I was also surprised at how I was able to transfer previous knowledge from different workplaces and education to this case study without having any experience of working in adult mental health” 

Overcoming obstacles

Luckily, there were few challenges, aside from some additional time that it took to plan the event. They received positive responses from the service manager who delivered the case study, the students and the community mental health teams, who were all were very keen to be involved.   

A short smart-survey was also sent out after the event to collate feedback, which suggested the team could send out more detailed pre-event information for future events.

Future plans

The team plans to scale up this kind of virtual learning offer and deliver this activity several times a year, with different services delivering a case study based on the particular needs of the students they are working with. This would provide the students with an insight into areas they may not be familiar with or would normally have the opportunity to learn about, such as CAMHS, specialist and forensic.   

There are clear benefits to learning from peers in a collaborative way. The trust is keen to include this opportunity to a wider cohort of students and apprentices such as HCAs, CAPS apprentices, social work students, psychology interns and T Level students. This would truly simulate the multi-disciplinary approach to supporting our service users that happens within the trust. 

T Level development

To ensure a safe and positive experience for all future students, a robust range of support has been planned, prior, during and after their industry placements including pastoral support and having named, dedicated supervisors to help support the students throughout the placements.  

Linking with the local further education college and in partnership with the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust, the trust will also offer several industry placements in 2022/23 to students who have enrolled on the T Level in health who were keen to undertake the specialist pathway ‘Supporting the Mental Health Team’.  

These industry placements will also include virtual aspects of learning with the practice education team delivering virtual sessions for the months prior, on topics such mental health awareness, challenging behaviour and professional boundaries. The trust also has plans to deliver T Level placements for those students in the admin field in the future.  

Takeaway tips for virtual learning events

  • Bring together as broad a range of students and professions as practical to enhance the students’ experience – make use of peer support!  

  • Ensure some active collaborative learning takes place. This can be done using case study work  

  • Set some basic ground rules with students, such as the use of cameras to help with engagement 


Contact information 

For more information on using virtual placements, please contact Jo Horne,