Escalating costs, clinical placement shortages and the increasing complexity of the health care environment have necessitated the provision of high value, low-resource, authentic student learning opportunities. This study investigated the contribution made by novice student dietitians who participated in a hospital-based malnutrition screening programme and students' perceptions of preparedness ... [Show full abstract] for practice for their initial hospital placements. A mixed methods explanatory sequential intervention study (n=58) utilised survey and focus group to explore student preparedness for placement after the intervention group students (n=16) performed an experiential learning task involving routine patient malnutrition risk screening usually undertaken by clinical staff. Staff time costs were measured and the consistency of screening results verified using Bland-Altman analysis. Pre and post-intervention questionnaires measured student confidence and Mann-Whitney U tests determined between-group comparison for change in confidence. Focus groups explored student perceptions of placement preparedness. The time saved by 16 students replacing clinicians for routine screening of 171 patients was 6-12 hours. Mean scores for student-perceived confidence increased for the intervention group when compared with controls. Focus groups provided rich data which furthered understanding of the students' experiences and themes included 'anxiety and confidence on placement', 'learning in the clinical environment', 'communication skill development' and 'the pre-placement screening experience'. Student involvement in an authentic experiential learning activity by performing a hospital-based routine patient-screening task prior to initial clinical placement was perceived to be valuable for learning and confidence. There is potential for patient-risk screening activities having substantial cost savings for healthcare organisations, however administrative factors need to be considered for widespread implementation.