Factors that contribute to high quality clinical supervision


by Priya Martin

Clinical supervision (CS) of health professionals is an important professional support mechanism not just to support clinicians at the coal face, but also to promote the safety and quality of health care. There is a lack of agreement in the literature on what CS is and what it means to different people. A paper titled when I say clinical supervision published in the Medical Education journal in 2017 clarifies this for interested readers. In a nutshell, CS is an ongoing professional relationship where the supervisor (a more senior staff member) facilitates the skill and knowledge development of the supervisee (a more junior staff member). The end goal of this is to have a more competent and supported workforce that would facilitate safer and better patient care.  Despite recognising the important role of CS, there is a lack of research on what makes it effective. Recently, the Australian Medical Association (AMA) released a document on Building capacity for CS in the medical workforce 2017. This document clearly outlines the importance of CS to the emerging medical workforce and calls for further funding and work in this area. This also holds true for allied health professionals and those practicing in rural and remote settings. There are repeated calls in the literature to expand the evidence base in this area.

My PhD research investigated the factors that contribute to CS in allied health, with a particular emphasis on rural and remote supervision. Through a series of studies, factors that contributed to CS quality in allied health were identified. The paper that was awarded the HSRAANZ best PhD paper described an initial state-wide study conducted with occupational therapists in Queensland Health. This paper entitled Factors influencing the quality of CS of occupational therapists in one Australian State identified various factors that positively or negatively influenced CS quality as reported by supervisees. Frequency of supervision sessions, choice of supervisor and the type of supervision were found to have a positive and significant influence on the quality of CS. Factors such as age, length of supervision and the area of practice were found to have a negative and significant influence on the quality of CS. This was the first state-wide study, conducted with occupational therapists across all practice settings, which investigated the factors that contribute to high quality CS.

 Following this, another study with allied health professionals practicing in rural and remote Queensland and South Australia was undertaken. This study highlighted the value of CS for the rural and remote health professional workforce. Furthermore, it shed light on the unique characteristics of CS in this population. A one-size fits all approach is not conducive to rural and remote health professional CS. It is essential for employers and policy makers to allow flexibility in rural and remote CS arrangements whilst still ensuring sound clinical governance. Although this is a challenging task, results from research such as my PhD studies will inform the way forward.

Outside of my PhD, I have a work role with the allied health education and training team at the Cunningham Centre (based in Toowoomba) in Darling Downs Hospital and Health Service (DDHHS). In this role, on top of project management, education and training development and delivery, I have been able to undertake health professional education research. My priority and passion (and at times a challenge) has been to demonstrate the impact of health professional training on patient and organisational outcomes. More recently, I have commenced in a temporary research officer role with the Queensland Rural Generalist Pathway in DDHHS. It is very exciting to be in a full-time research role and to try something new. Whilst not working or writing my thesis, I enjoy time with my 2 year old and cooking – it keeps me grounded!

Further information about publications arising from my research can be found here - https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Priya_Martin and  https://www.health.qld.gov.au/cunninghamcentre/research.

Bio: Priya is an occupational therapist who has worked in a number of clinical, teaching, training and research roles in Australia and overseas. She currently works as a research officer with the Queensland Rural Generalist Pathway in Toowoomba, Queensland. She is also a PhD candidate with the University of South Australia. Her PhD research investigates the factors that contribute to high quality clinical supervision in allied health. She has expertise in interprofessional education, health professional education and training, curriculum development, mixed methods research designs and rural and remote workforce issues. She is increasingly being recognised as an international leader in the research and practice of clinical supervision.