How Supervisor Experience Influences Trust, Supervision, and Trainee Learning: A Qualitative Study

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Abstract

Purpose

Appropriate trust and supervision facilitate trainees’ growth toward unsupervised practice. The authors investigated how supervisor experience influences trust, supervision, and subsequently trainee learning.

Method

In a two-phase qualitative inductive content analysis, phase one entailed reviewing 44 internal medicine resident and attending supervisor interviews from two institutions (July 2013 to September 2014) for themes on how supervisor experience influences trust and supervision. Three supervisor exemplars (early, developing, experienced) were developed and shared in phase two focus groups at a single institution, wherein 23 trainees validated the exemplars and discussed how each impacted learning (November 2015).

Results

Phase one: Four domains of trust and supervision varying with experience emerged: data, approach, perspective, clinical. Early supervisors were detail oriented and determined trust depending on task completion (data), were rule based (approach), drew on their experiences as trainees to guide supervision (perspective), and felt less confident clinically compared with more experienced supervisors (clinical). Experienced supervisors determined trust holistically (data), checked key aspects of patient care selectively and covertly (approach), reflected on individual experiences supervising (perspective), and felt comfortable managing clinical problems and gauging trainee abilities (clinical). Phase two: Trainees felt the exemplars reflected their experiences, described their preferences and learning needs shifting over time, and emphasized the importance of supervisor flexibility to match their learning needs.

Conclusions

With experience, supervisors differ in their approach to trust and supervision. Supervisors need to trust themselves before being able to trust others. Trainees perceive these differences and seek supervision approaches that align with their learning needs.

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