On Clinical Supervision

For three weeks now, I have been the supervisor to an enthusiastic and skilled graduate student in Speech-Language Pathology.  Over the next ten weeks, she will gradually take on most of my patient care responsibilities.  This is her first practicum working with adults and her last placement prior to graduating in May.  In one semester, I must teach her how to independently treat and evaluate speech, language, cognitive, and swallowing disorders in adults with neurological impairments.  And then she will get a job and start doing just that, but without supervision.

From one generation to another...

From one generation to another…

No pressure, right?  Let’s put on top of that that she is only an uncomfortable two years younger than me (shh- don’t tell her!).  In different circumstances, we could be playing beer pong together at a party, for god sakes.  But instead, I’m her supervisor- the knowledgeable clinician charged with the task of imparting all of the know-how needed to be successful at her job.

The good news is that I actually have learned a ton in the almost-three years since I was a neophyte myself.  I would venture to say that I am downright capable! (Or “Proficient” as my job title proclaims!)  I’ve worked with a lot of patients, worked with a lot of families, dealt with a lot of issues, and had a lot of help along the way.  The point is, however unlikely, I am confident that my student will be well-prepared to work with this population at the end of the semester.

While we’re on the topic, I’d like to share a few tips that I have found beneficial to my student’s learning.  This is just the tip of the iceberg, but some basic ideas that have been helpful.

  • Set expectations

    At my hospital, we are required to set weekly goals and discuss progress.  This works well for us.  Expectations with respect to schedule, attire, supervision, etc. are also important to communicate clearly.  It can be easy to take hospital etiquette for granted, but remember that this is new for your student.

  • Emphasize rationale

    I repeatedly tell my student that a good evaluation leads to good goal writing which leads to good treatment.  It is vital to help your student connect the dots.  They should be able to explain why they select activities and evaluations, as well as conjecture why the patient performed as he did.

  • Use templates

    Documentation can be overwhelming and at times even seem arbitrary.  My student has taken it upon herself to write some general templates, especially for evaluations, to help organize her thoughts.

  • Review documentation together

    While time consuming in the beginning, this proves to be a good learning opportunity.

  • Don’t butt in!

    It can be challenging to bite my tongue sometimes- I am working on this one!  It’s okay to provide assistance, but often, whatever I was going to jump in with would not make or break the session.

  • Stay positive

    Confidence is so important to a new therapist.  Of course not all feedback will be positive, but it’s important to keep the overall energy supportive.

Having a student is a two-way street.  My student asks questions and makes suggestions that make me a better therapist.  She brings experiences from other settings that expand my clinical knowledge and perspective.  I have had all kinds of supervisors in the past: wonderful, talented, encouraging, intimidating, credulous, down-to-earth, demanding, brilliant.   In this new role, I synthesize my (recent) experiences on the other end and strive to provide the best learning experience.

As a brand new supervisor, I would love feedback.  Regardless of your profession, what has been effective for you as a supervisor?

~Sam

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2 thoughts on “On Clinical Supervision

  1. When I returned to grad school my first supervisor as an intern was twenty years younger than I. I learned more from her than anyone then or since. Age is irrelevant if you’ve got the smarts.

  2. Cool to read from a supervisor’s point of view, as I am a current grad student! Thanks for the post 🙂 Looking forward to reading more!

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