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  • Study shows professional development belongs in the clinic

    Author: Sharon Smith

The national Australian Physiotherapy Association conference was held in Sydney on 19-21 October, and we had the opportunity to catch up with Christine Frith, Senior Clinician Physiotherapy and Lead Clinical Educator, St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne on her presentation for improvements clinician-educators can make to the design of learner-centred development programs.

Christine makes a case for moving professional development from the lecture theatre to the clinical floor using the community of educators who enjoy teaching to provide support for those learners who require it.

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‘Clinician-educators are responsible for facilitating the learning experiences of students. Their beliefs of their role as an educator and how much they ‘value’ good clinical teaching informs their approach to the teaching role,’ Christine said.

By carrying out research on educators’ beliefs surrounding teaching and education, as well as evaluating the impact of the educators’ previous experiences on their own teaching the researchers were able to identify barriers and enablers in the development of the clinician as an educator.

Overall, most participants expressed a belief that active student participation during placements is important to improve student learning, including recall, clinical reasoning and manual skills. Some of the results were to be expected – those early in their careers closely identified with the students and were less confident in the teacher role, whereas late career educators were confident with not just teaching but also managing a patient, staff reporting and teaching load.

Interestingly, career stages marked different approaches in teaching, learning and workplace collaboration. Late-stage clinician educators showed a preference for collaborative workshops where participants can use their past experiences to ‘work out’ an assigned case study or scenario; and professional standards, patient care and student expectations were high in this group.

Early-career clinician educators however, were more interested in receiving constructive feedback on their own skills and instructions on improving their communication and resilience in a scaffolded learning relationship, in a one-to-one mentoring situation.

The study highlighted the changing needs of professional development education in not just physiotherapy but in the world of education in general. When it comes to physiotherapy, this study indicates that effective professional development programs need to be more flexible to cater to the preferences of participants, and that participants themselves could help each other learn in collaborative models. Suggestions include; using joint sessions to allow experienced educators to role-model for early career educators, offering some separate programs for early and late career educators, 1:1 peer observations, discussions, pre-briefing ‘teaching’ and de-briefing.

Christine notes the need to reach both ends of the spectrum when teaching the educators how to engage with their own students, and says there will always be outliers including those who simply love teaching – and often go on to formal postgraduate studies in education.

‘Exploring and changing teaching beliefs is one important aspect of learning for teachers. It appears to be as important as changing/ trialling new teaching practices and receiving feedback on teaching. PD can create these opportunities for learning and is more effective when combined with support from a strong community of educators within a physiotherapy department.’


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Sharon Smith

Sharon Smith writes freelance articles as a medical, science and technology specialist. She is researching health journalism at Griffith University and lives mostly on Twitter @smsmithwriter (and would love to hear from you).