To Supervise or Not to Supervise a Physical Therapist Student: A National Survey of Canadian Physical Therapists

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Background and Purpose.

Clinical education is a critical component of physical therapist (PT) training. However, clinical coordinators both in Canada and abroad report increasing difficulty in securing sufficient, appropriate placements. The barriers to student placements and factors that contribute to PTs’ decisions to supervise a student have been identified in exploratory studies. These include personal and professional, workplace and contextual, student, and evaluation factors. The goal of this study was to determine the generalizability of the factors contributing to PTs’ decisions to supervise a student and identify additional variables specific to the Canadian context.


All practicing Canadian PTs (N = 18,110) were invited to participate in the study. The total number of participants was 3,148.


A web-based, 53 closed-item survey was developed and validated with experts in clinical education using standard survey development methodology that included an expert panel review and pretesting. The survey inviting participation was circulated via email through member contact lists of the provincial regulatory colleges. Exploratory factor analysis was conducted on survey responses using principal axis extraction. Direct oblimin transformation was then performed to assess reliability of the factor structure.


Analysis from a cross-sectional, representative sample of 3,148 PTs suggests a 6-factor structure contributing to the decision to supervise students: (1) clinical instructor feelings of stress, (2) student contribution to workplace efficiency, (3) dislike of assessment instrument, (4) clinical instructor preparation to evaluate, (5) student preparation and attitude, and (6) professional role and responsibility.

Discussion and Conclusion.

Stress emerged as the most influential contributor to the decision to supervise a PT student. The complexities of today's health care environment, coupled with the responsibilities of student supervision, appear to compound this stress. This cross-sectional study confirms the generalizability of constructs previously identified in exploratory studies, including a dislike of the evaluation instrument and the professional role and responsibility of PTs to supervise students. Enhanced supervisor training workshops may enable PTs to better manage the clinical placement experience and mitigate the stresses associated with student supervision. A multipronged approach that includes consultation and partnership with all stakeholders is needed to resolve the issues of physical therapist student placement capacity.

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