Communication The Key to Student Success

Traits and Abilities that Lead to Positive Mentoring: Part 2

As Physical Therapists, we are always striving to improve upon our skills and knowledge. As clinical instructors, we should have the same desire for our ability to educate others. How can I be better as a clinical instructor to ensure that each of my students are able to successfully grow and develop as future clinicians? Answering this central question can be difficult as every student has different goals, learning styles, educational levels, and backgrounds.

So, what can we do to ensure that we are providing an optimal learning environment? A 2016 systematic review of physical therapy clinical instructor characteristics identified a common thread found in positive clinical experiences, and that is communication. Three main points of effective communication are:

  1. Provide clear and concise communication.
  2. Provide understanding of expectations, roles and responsibilities.
  3. Provide appropriate and timely feedback.

Effective communication may seem like an obvious characteristic required for a good clinical experience. However, given how busy our clinics can be, it is easy to forget or even push off timely and appropriate communication. Here are some ideas that can be used to improve communication in these areas.

  • Provide a student orientation:
    • Email a welcome note with attached expectations, skills checks, and background on setting.
    • First day, verbally set expectations, orient student, and establish learning behaviors.
    • Establish means of feedback (whether, written, immediate, delayed, or private).
  • Expectations should be tailored to each student based on:
    • Level of education.
    • The school’s grading criteria.

Providing clear, direct, and concise communication should be a central tenet of providing a positive clinical experience and will make us better clinical instructors and mentors for each student we teach. Including the student in establishing good communication skills helps to foster adult learning and autonomy that we all want to develop in our students.

McCallum CA, Reed R, Bachman S, Murray L. A Systematic Review of Physical Therapist Clinical Instructor Demographics and Key Characteristics: Impact on Student Clinical Education Experiences. Journal of Physical Therapy Education (American Physical Therapy Association, Education Section). 2016;30(3):11-20. doi:10.1097/00001416-201630030-00004.