University of Tasmania

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‘Hands on, hands off’: a model of clinical supervision that recognises trainees’ need for support and independence

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-18, 03:01 authored by Iedema, R, Brownhill, S, Haines, M, Lancashire, W, Shaw, T, Street, J
Rationale. This article presents a study of junior doctor supervision at a rural hospital. The objective of the present study was to gain insight into the types of supervision events experienced, the quality of supervisory relationships, the frequencies of supervision contact in a rural hospital setting, and the implications of these factors for supervision practice. Methods. A cohort of junior doctors was asked to provide in-depth information about their interactions with their supervisors and other relevant clinical colleagues. The information was filled in on diary sheets to capture the nature, focus and quality of the cohort’s supervision experiences over 2 weeks. The information also covered frequency and types of supervisory contacts. Results. The quantitative data reveals that supervisory events occur predominantly as part of ongoing patient care and rarely off-line as part of targeted supervisory practice. The qualitative data analysis reveals that junior doctors value supervisory support of two kinds: assistance from more senior clinicians who are expert in areas where trainees need help, and trust to act independently, without being abandoned. Conclusion. Supervision must be both structured and dynamic. Besides providing a regular forum for discussion and reflection, supervision must accommodate the variable needs of individual junior doctors and navigate between being hands-on and hands-off. Such dynamic approach is necessary to reassure junior doctors they are in a ‘zone of safe learning’ where they can act with adequate and flexible support and negotiate changes in supervisory attention. What is known about the topic? Research is recognising the challenges of treatment complexity and unexpected outcomes faced by junior doctors. These factors mean that supervision needs to include dealing with the experiential and interpersonal aspects of junior doctors’ clinical work. It is also recognised that the supervisory relationship remains to be investigated in depth. Further, because supervision guidelines in Australia are still under development, they do not as yet specify senior doctors’ or registrar’s supervisory accountabilities. Relying on conventional approaches to managing medical supervision, hospitals and associated medical schools are struggling to ensure that supervising doctors’ perceptions of and approaches to supervision are aligned with emerging definitions of effective supervision. What does this paper add? The ‘hands on, hands off’ model developed here enriches post-graduate medical curricula on two fronts. First, it advises supervisors that they need to be hands-on, practising ‘active supervision’. This involves regular and structured contact with junior doctors to enhance the safety and quality of the care provided by them. Second, it advises supervisors to be hands-off, practising ‘passive supervision’. This involves ‘trustful’ monitoring junior doctors’ everyday work and negotiating with them their unique and changing learning trajectories. What are the implications for practitioners? The model proposed here has three implications for practitioners. First, the model posits that medical supervision is about ‘being there’. Junior doctors set great store by being granted ready access to advice and help if and when that is needed. Second, the model emphasises that junior doctors expect to gain supervisors’ trust to act independently albeit with supervisory access and guidance being readily available. Third, junior doctors’ needs change, not necessarily in a linear, uni-directional way. For supervisors, this means that they need to devise regular feedback opportunities for their trainees to articulate their developments, concerns and changing needs.


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Australian Health Review








School of Nursing


C S I R O Publishing

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Health policy evaluation

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