A mixed-methods study to understand how organising a work-based learning placement affected students undertaking an environmental health/public health degree module

  • Matt Halsall
Keywords: university students, stress, mental wellbeing, work placements, public health, environmental health, education


The mental wellbeing of UK University students has been highly publicised in recent years with 80% reporting symptoms of stress and anxiety. Low wellbeing is associated with university discontinuation with a survey of 4,000 students reporting that 42% considered leaving university due to mental health issues. It is therefore in the interest of universities to understand some of the stressors experienced by students. This mixed-methods study sought to identify if students undertaking a second-year, undergraduate work-based learning module suffered stress when planning their placement. It considered the factors which may have influenced their symptoms and support they felt could have improved their experience. From a target group of 18 environmental and 6 public health students, 20 chose to participate (12 females and 8 males). Quantitative data was collected through a questionnaire. From the questionnaire sample, 2 male and 3 female students agreed to undertake a semi-structure interview to provide a deeper understanding of the subject.  Participants were given an opportunity to share ideas they believed would have reduced their stress levels during the placement planning process. The study found the characteristics of those experiencing the highest symptoms of stress included being male, single, younger, unemployed, without dependents, a pre-existing stress condition or having no car. Other influencing factors were the time it took participants to find a placement, personal contacts in the professions and the response rate from the organisations they approached. The study, however, was limited by the small sample size and did not seek to measure the intensity, longevity or positive aspects of the participants’ stress. It is anticipated the findings from this study might help inform the development of future work-based learning modules. An awareness of potential stress factors, and the practical suggestions offered by participants could aid tutors seeking to offer timely and targeted support to their students.