Clinical education is a critical component of physiotherapy student training; however, clinical coordinators report increasing difficulty in securing sufficient, appropriate clinical placement experiences for students to meet national education requirements (Baldry Currens & Bithell, 2000). Although research evidence is limited, stressors in the workplace and a dislike of student evaluation procedures are among the key reasons for the reluctance of physiotherapists to supervise students (Creaser, 2006; Davies, Hanna, & Cott, 2011).
A survey instrument was developed, validated and administered to Canadian physiotherapists to identify the contributors to their decisions to supervise physiotherapy students. In total, 3148 physiotherapists from diverse practice areas and practice settings representing all Canadian provinces and territories completed the survey. Six factors (Clinical Instructor Feelings of Stress, Student Contribution to Workplace Efficiency, Dislike of the Assessment Instrument, Student Preparation and Attitude, Clinical Instructor Preparation to Evaluate, and Professional Role & Responsibility) emerged from an exploratory factor analysis as contributors to supervisory decisions. Significant differences were present in the identified factors between supervising and non-supervising physiotherapists and across geographic regions; however, the effect sizes were small.
Stress emerged as the most influential contributor to the decision to supervise a student; however, many of the identified factors were associated with, and exacerbated, clinical instructor stress. Enhanced supervisor training is one strategy that may mitigate some of the stress associated with student supervision. The challenges associated with supervising students in private practice were also highlighted in this study, providing a perspective that has been missing from the literature related to clinical education. Despite differences in healthcare delivery, population demographics, and individual physiotherapy program delivery across Canada, there appear to be small differences between supervising and non-supervising physiotherapists across regional and practice boundaries. The influence of a physiotherapist’s beliefs about their professional role appears to be more influential in the decision to supervise students than this study suggests, and provides new directions for future research. A multipronged approach, that includes all stakeholders in physiotherapy clinical education, is needed to resolve the issues of student placement capacity and to make the supervision of students a less stressful and a more rewarding undertaking