Good Educational Supervision –A Trainee’s Perspective

Author: Nikki Abela / Codes: / Published: 24/07/2017


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I consider myself lucky- I’ve had some excellent supervisors. So good, that they made the bad ones feel even worse.

But what made them so good and the others so bad? Being just a trainee, I unfortunately don’t have the answer, but being on the inside means I also have a fair share of insight as to what works and what doesn’t.

Which is why I am sitting down reflecting on the St. Emlyns blog by Simon Carley on supervisors, because if I want good education, then I also have to contribute to it.

And there is an argument here for trainees who get given bad supervisors to ”outsource” their learning to people whose educational/EM ideology aligns with theirs, but in the climate of ”specialty hopping”, EM can not risk that an already stressed trainee leave the flock after they were led astray by those meant to be guiding them.

So what I’m saying is - yes if you are currently in that situation, do go and find someone to help you- but from an organisational perspective, that doesn’t solve the root of the problem.

Which leads me back to my main question - what do trainees want from supervisors? You would be surprised to hear that it’s not all that much.

What we want is guidance to be the best that we can be with some encouragement on the way.

Speaking personally, none of my supervisors had the same style - and all of them worked fine for me.

Some were mentors, who would sit me down and talk through a problem providing insight to help me find the answers.

Others were coaches, who watched me perform, provided real-time feedback again and agin until I did better.

Some were a bit of both who also threw in some career and life advice for good measure.

But they all had one thing in common (the good ones, I mean)– they all were inspiring individuals who took an interest in their trainees.

That wasn’t to say that they were the best at their job or that they had exceptional skills but they all portrayed the ”when I grow up I want to be (a bit) like you” influence. And how did they do it? By taking pride in their work and taking time to get to know the person they are supervising.

At the end of the day we are all adult trainees, and we really should know our curriculum and ARCP checklists. And there is nothing more disheartening than having a supervisor who is only interested in ticking the boxes of your portfolio.

Maybe I’m touchy, but as a FOAMed blogger I find it insulting for a consultant to tell me to “do some e-learning to link curriculum codes”.

Sometimes we forget where trainees are coming from and what is important to them.

When we move hospital (every few months or so) we need to learn a range of things from scratch, including how the new one works, how to order tests, everyone’s names, where the lockers are (if we even get one), and how to navigate the politics of the department.

When we settle into a new place we want to feel valued and we want to contribute. (If you want to read more about how this ties in with education, there’s a whole blog on it). Actually sitting down with a trainee in working hours (if you want to frustrate a trainee, make them come into work in their free time for their supervisor meetings) to ask them what makes them tick, how they are finding the place and giving them some friendly tips can go a long way to ease the change.

Be supportive and take an interest. For example, when I first started blogging for RCEMLearning, these awesome folks put pen to paper and contributed to the site, for several reasons including to show me some support.

But it doesn’t have to take that much and different trainees require different levels of encouragement. Some would find too much support patronizing, while others would like more encouragement than others along the way.

Don’t forget that trainees have different personalities and that is why getting to know them is key. If you ever took a Myers-Briggs personality test, you would know that different personalities react in a range of ways to different situations, including you. Which means your supervision style may need a bit of tweaking for trainees who are different to you.

As for being inspiring, well, that is also up to you and your personality!

Views are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the College.

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