Student Supervision: You mean I’m the teacher now?

As an experienced clinician there are certain things that are expected of you – good time management, evidenced based treatment, and mentoring of students.  Now all of those items can be very daunting at times (productivity requirements I’m looking AT YOU), but all three of those things evolve with experience. Here, we look at student supervision- and give you some tips for success!

New clinicians aren’t expected to be stellar at those things, but it is expected that you start working towards being efficient and effective in those areas.  One of the most intimidating things as a new clinician can be mentoring graduate student clinicians.  Each discipline – PT, OT, and SLP all have their own separate requirements for clinical student supervision, but there are some things that are universal between the disciplines.  We all want our graduate clinicians to leave their placements feeling more educated and empowered, but how exactly do we do that?  How do we mentor our students so they develop their clinical skills and strong sense of self in the process? 

Our professional organizations can definitely provide some guidance and direction.  It is strongly encouraged to consult them if you are a first-time clinical supervisor.  For discipline specific requirements please see the following links- They not only provide information on requirements for supervising students, but also offer some continuing education courses about effective student supervision!

Your employer can also be a great source of support and information when mentoring students.  Some employers have their own “training” programs/education series that needed to be completed prior to accepting a student that can provide you with some effective tools to keep in your student supervision toolbox. 

In addition, more senior staff can be a great sounding board when preparing to accept a student – there are some things that can only be learned from experience (i.e., making mistakes) and more senior therapists in your department can help prevent you from making the same blunders they did way back when.  One of the many benefits of working on an interdisciplinary team is the ability to bounce ideas off of your colleagues and verbalize your thought process to someone other than yourself on your car ride home. 

How can you set yourself (and your student) to succeed during a clinical placement?  Review the following tips to set yourself (and your student) up for a productive, enriching clinical experience that will leave both of you feeling like better clinicians.


This seems pretty straight forward and basic, but ensure you have a contact name, number, and email of the person at the school that is responsible for coordinating and monitoring student placements.  With each new placement, the student coordinator should be sending on an outline of the program, a supervision manual for what is expected of their students, and various forms for both you and the student to complete and send back during the course of the placement.  Familiarize yourself with the school’s program and be sure to mark important dates down on your calendar.  Keeping track of due dates will help you guide your supervision of the student and also ensure that the student is meeting the needed “benchmarks” during their placement. 

Time goes by quite quickly during placements, and you do not want time to get away from you – especially if the student is needing more intensive supervision and assistance or if you anticipate the placement will need to be extended beyond the original end date in order to be deemed as successful.  Take the time to contact the school ahead of time and get to know the student coordinator.  It is never a bad idea to invite the coordinator to your site (if feasible) for a tour and a chance to sit down and chat about both parties’ expectations – not every placement site is going to be a good fit for every student (and that’s ok!).  You want to know who to contact in the event things start to go downhill and you need some extra guidance to help the student get back on course.


Under most ‘normal’ circumstances you will be getting the student’s contact information ahead of their placement start.  Take the time to contact the student and setup an in-person meeting at the facility (if feasible), a Zoom call, or just a regular old fashioned phone call.  Email is great for most things, but in this situation you cannot really get a great sense of someone via email.  Some facilities permit student interviews prior to being accepted for a placement but not every site has that kind of process. 

student supervision

When speaking with your student for the first time, be sure to ask them what their expectations of the placement are and what they are hoping to get out of it.  Ask them their strengths and weaknesses and also ask them what their learning style is.  By the time students are at this point in their education they should know how they learn best and it is important they communicate that to you (their supervisor) so you know how to best explain things and relay information effectively.  Most importantly, ask them how they prefer to receive feedback about their clinical performance.  Some students are ‘in the moment’ people and like to know right away what is working and what is not.  Others prefer delayed feedback at the end of the day.  Also be sure to ask if they would like to receive their feedback verbally or written – keeping a feedback journal is helpful for those who prefer the chance to back and review things at a later time when they are able to give it their full attention. 


The foundation for any successful relationship whether it be personal or work related is communication.  If your student does not know they are doing something wrong they are not going to be able to fix it.  The same goes for the supervisor – you being the supervisor need to make it clear that you need to know when things are not going well.  If we do not know there is a problem then we are not going to be able to help the student navigate out of the situation. 

Make yourself approachable and available – that is easier said than done but you need to make communicating with you a positive empowering experience so that your student will not hesitate to come to you throughout the course of the placement.  You are meant to be a mentor, teacher, and resource – not a scary supervillain who is out to destroy someone’s self-esteem. 


We have all been told at least 1,000 times – if you did not document it than it did not happen.  This is especially important in those situations in which the student is not performing as well as they are expected to be.  Contacting the school early is key and keeping a paper trail of that communication and action plans is of the upmost importance.  Writing out some kind of remediation plan that the student needs to adhere to in order to continue to advance in the clinical placement is a very clear-cut way to outline what the student needs to change and do in order to be successful.  You want to ensure that all of your bases are covered in the event that the student is unable to pass the placement – you need the data to back up your recommendations for a failing grade, the need to extend or even repeat the placement. Most schools and programs will have some kind of remediation plan or policy that needs to be followed.   

Documentation is not only for those students who are struggling – it can also be an effective teaching tool for those students who are moving along just fine.  Some learners find it helpful to have objective and measurable goals written down (much like our patients) so they know what they need to be working towards in order to keep advancing their skills.  Almost like a clinical “to do” list – it is very satisfying to check items off of a “to do” list especially when mastering clinical skills are involved.


In order to make progress with your student supervision/mentoring skills you need to reflect on your own performance.  Not everything you do is going to be great and you need to be able to recognize when you need to adjust your course of action.  If your student is not progressing as they should be under your supervision take a moment and reflect on what you are doing and ask yourself questions such as “Am I communicating effectively?  Am I demonstrating clinical skills in a way the student is understanding? Am I making myself available enough to my student for questions and concerns?  Am I giving adequate feedback?”  You need to keep in mind that you are the “leader” in this situation – you are being expected to set the example for your student.  If they see you not being able to recognize when you need to change your approach, they are going to be less likely to change theirs when things are not working. 

Student supervision can be a really great, challenging, and rewarding experience.  All in all, it will make you better clinician and keep you on your toes with the most recent research and advances in your field.  All of our fields only advance when we grow, and we grow by adding new clinicians to the fold every year!

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