Jun 26 / Guest blogger and occupational therapist, Ashley Ovaska-Weber

Finding Support in Fieldwork Supervision

Welcome to guest blogger and OT Ashley Ovaska-Weber

Occupational Therapy Practitioners (OTPs) career outlook is expected to grow by twenty-three percent for OTAs and 12% for OTs in the next ten years (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2024). Not only does this create a need for more OTPs; it also creates a need for fieldwork educators (FWEds) to mentor and supervise the next generations of OTPs. Being a FWEd has many benefits such as integrating new approaches and evidence-based practice through student projects, gaining leadership skills, and aiding in the growth of our profession. Being a FWEd can also have many challenges such as keeping up with caseload demands, managing challenging student behaviors, and extra administrative work. After having several years of experience as a FWEd and recently transitioned into the AFWC role, I have found ways to support both the student and the FWEd in these challenging situations.

Keep reading to discover strategies to make a fieldwork feel less of a burden and more of a benefit including:
  • Using the Model of Human Occupation as a lens to view the student
  • Being “client-centered” with the student can help grow their autonomy
  • Taking advantage of the valuable resources from the student’s school
  • Understanding your preferences as a FWEd
  • Learning how to speak up when you need support as a FWEd
  • Working fun into the placement can spur excitement

As someone that has experience with supporting FWEd’s and their students, I promise these take aways will be practical and easy to work into your daily practice.

Address the WHY  

The fieldwork experience is focused on guiding the student to independence in their occupational therapy practice. With some placements facilitating this growth can feel harder and the FWEd may struggle with how to motivate the student towards success.

One way to address this can be the Model of Human Occupation which is widely used within our profession. Using this approach with our students can promote a better understanding of volitional factors in guiding them to independence. From a student's perspective, every fieldwork site may not be their first choice. From an educator's perspective, there may not be a choice in time of year or how frequently you supervise a student. This internal conflict may promote biased approaches before the start of a fieldwork placement. If a practitioner or student takes the time to understand their mentor/mentee’s motivation, strengths, and interests, it may promote a positive learning environment.

For example, a student of mine went from a mental health placement during her first rotation with me to an acute rehabilitation setting. She integrated her passion for mental health into her acute rehabilitation in-service project. A FWEd who has a high caseload, may feel a decreased burden as the student gains independence and provides new ideas and approaches to interventions. Use your why as a strength!

What about if the educator is addressing the student’s why, but the student is struggling with stepping out and working more on their own?

Promote Student Autonomy and Initiation 

Looking at the relationship between the student and the fieldwork educator allows opportunities to adjust approaches and learning opportunities for success in finding the “just right challenge” for growth, learning, and independence. The Intentional Fieldwork Education Model1 is a great place to start in addressing both the student and fieldwork educators' personal factors, contexts, and extrinsic and intrinsic factors. (Crawford & Hanner, 2022).

Students have a variety of learning styles, personalities, and therapeutic approaches. If not provided, ask the student’s university/college for a Personal Data Sheet for Student Fieldwork Experience. This is a form a student completes that shares information about their work/academic experience and learning style preference. If the student has not taken an assessment for learning preferences in school, then you may want to use the VARK2 questionnaire. (VARK, 2024) This tool helps categorize strengths and preferences for visual, aural, reading/writing, or kinesthetic learning methods. In addition, understanding the best method for giving/receiving feedback can also improve the mentor/mentee relationship and address any challenges as they occur rather than waiting to address them until midterm or later.

An example of this would be a student that is not feeling confident in completing an assessment independently. Allowing them to roleplay with the mentor or a colleague is a way to help them practice and gain confidence and providing feedback in the moment allows the student to learn and integrate feedback in a timely manner.

When considering how to grow independence and autonomy, don’t forget how valuable the OT or OTA program can be in supporting the educator.

Gather Resources & Information 

Each OTA/OT program may meet ACOTE standards3 differently for their fieldwork requirements, especially for a Level I fieldwork. If the AFWC does not set up a welcome meeting, ask for one. This is a chance for you and the program to determine clinical expectations and guidelines. The school is also responsible for providing resources to assist in mentorship and to keep up to date with current ACOTE guidelines for fieldwork supervision. Ask what other resources, articles, or mentorship guides the school may provide.

Anytime I make a new contract with a site I always like to set up a time to meet with management and the fieldwork educator for a chance to ask questions and be transparent about the site, student, and school expectations.

Not only is it important to understand the OTA/OT programs resources, but the educator needs to identify some personal preferences too.

Identify the Right Model for You 

There is always a need for fieldwork educators. A fieldwork educator may not always have the time, resources, and support when they agree to supervise a student. Knowing and selecting the right fieldwork model can set up the mentor/mentee relationship and fieldwork educator responsibilities.

The traditional model is 1:1, one fieldwork educator to one student. The collaborative fieldwork model is 1:2, with one fieldwork educator to two students. The multiple mentoring method is 2:1, two fieldwork educators to one student. The 1:1 model also promotes your ability to foster a strong therapeutic relationship with your student and less collaboration of schedules. The collaborative model may seem overwhelming at first, however it has shown to be beneficial with the correct support in place and allows students to collaborate and learn from each other as well as the FWEd. (Rogers, et. al. 2023). The multiple mentoring method can be beneficial for OTPs who work part-time or have have high productivity expectations. Which one sounds like a good fit for you?

Once you figure out the right method for yourself, you may need to begin to work on your self-advocacy skills.


A fieldwork educator may be more willing to use a collaborative model approach when there is support from management, the OT team, AFWC from the school, and professional resources. (Rogers, et al., 2023, p. 12-13). This should be the expectation of support provided to fieldwork educators despite what model of student supervision they use. In my role as AFWC in a post-pandemic landscape, turnover of staff, high caseload demands, and burnout are the primary reasons FWEds are saying no to supervising a student. If a student is struggling, the FWEd should receive support from the academic program and AFWC.

Advocacy for career growth and assistance to management is another benefit of being a FWEd that is often overlooked. This may look like asking for additional administrative time for weekly reflections, assistance with onboarding, and allowing other team members to provide supervision or shadowing opportunities for the student. Some clinicians have identified supervising a student qualifies for a career ladder program or is beneficial for their annual review. If there is an interest in academia, supervising a student is another great way to develop and practice teaching skills. While I have covered a lot of great strategies and ideas, sometimes it also just comes down to finding fun in the whole process.

Have Fun! 

We all know that is challenging to learn and incorporate feedback if high anxiety and stress are present. Remember the MOHO approach and make teaching and review sessions comfortable to promote engagement. Strategies to try include encouraging the student to trial leisure and meaningful occupation-based activities into treatment, going outside for weekly review meetings, and remembering to also provide positive feedback. Having a student helps us as practitioners think outside the box and incorporate new evidence-based practice into our treatment. Adjusting our mindset to focus on the benefits of a student is a way to grow the OT community and keep our profession relevant to adapt to the ever-changing contexts of our world. 

Being a fieldwork educator doesn’t have to be hard!

In summary, this article has covered several strategies for making fieldwork supervision a rewarding experience rather than a burden. First, using the Model of Human Occupation to understand and motivate students can foster a positive learning environment. Second, promoting student autonomy and utilizing tools like the VARK questionnaire can enhance the mentor-mentee relationship. Third, leveraging resources from the student’s school and understanding different fieldwork models can provide much-needed support for fieldwork educators (FWEds).

By implementing these strategies, you now have practical tools to improve your fieldwork supervision experience. Whether you gained new insights on motivating students, discovered the importance of self-advocacy, or found new ways to integrate fun into the learning process, these takeaways can help you navigate the challenges of fieldwork with greater ease and confidence.

I encourage you to reach out the local OT or OTA programs in your area to talk about being a FWEd. Giving back your profession can be rewarding and put some fire back into your passion for occupational therapy. You can find a list of programs here: School Directory – ACOTE (acoteonline.org)


Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Occupational Therapists,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/occupational-therapists.htm (visited April 17, 2024).
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/occupational-therapy-assistants-and-aides.htm (visited April 17, 2024).
Crawford, E. J. & Hanner, N. (2019, February). The intentional fieldwork educator: Applying the Intentional Fieldwork Education Model (IFWEM). Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the South Carolina Occupational Therapy Association, Charleston, SC.
Rogers, O., Hanson, D. J., Graves, C., Turner, T., & Klug, M. G. (2023). Collaborative Fieldwork Supervision Model Supports Identified by Occupational Therapy Fieldwork Educators. Journal of Occupational Therapy Education, 7 (2). https://doi.org/10.26681/jote.2023.070215

Guest Writer

 Ashley Ovaska-Weber’s primary background and passion in occupational therapy is in mental health. She sought opportunities to mentor students as a fieldwork educator and guest lecturer throughout her career. In 2023 she enthusiastically transitioned to her new role as Academic Fieldwork Coordinator & Associate Professor for the Bryant & Stratton College’s Occupational Therapy Assistant Program – Wauwatosa Campus. 

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