The experience of working with a clinical supervisor or mentor is an important part of studying to be a health professional. It provides the opportunity to learn in a safe environment with direct feedback for students. However, good supervision is a learnt skill that impacts that quality of students learning and realistically, across all workplaces. Feedback from students suggest that there is considerable variability in the quality of supervision they get from the clinical supervisor. In an effort to improve the consistency of the experience of students studying Medicine and other health professions at UNSW Sydney, Dr Joel Rhee and his colleagues developed a blended learning approach to supervisor training.

As a way of expanding the effectiveness of pre-existing face-to-face workshops in clinical supervisor development and to provide a resource for those unable to complete in person training, a series of online modules were created focusing on supervisor training. These modules have been generously contributed to the BEST Network and cover the attributes of a good supervisor, giving feedback, developing students’ clinical reasoning skills, and identifying struggling students.


Figure 1: Example screens from the “Attributes of a good supervisor” module.

When developing the modules, the project team aimed to ensure that they were evidence-based. Detailed literature and resource reviews were undertaken and a blueprint of the blended learning training program was developed, providing a scaffold which articulated what needed to be achieved. The project was divided into two phases with tight timelines and budgets. Phase one, funded by UNSW Learning and Teaching, developed selected parts as exemplars. The project was achieved thanks to a motivated project team of educational developers and academics, supported by a great project manager. The tight timelines provided an opportunity to test and evaluate the modules immediately after creation. An opportunity for additional funding from the Australian Government came from the success of phase one, and ultimately three additional modules were developed that expanded the appeal to supervisors from other disciplines.

One of the standout features of the tutorials is the quality of the video resources included. Scenarios were based on common experiences reported through anecdotal stories or found in the literature. The videos utilise actors modelling supervisor/student relationships and make the tutorials incredibly engaging.

Another innovative aspect of the modules is their flexibility. They were designed so that they can be easily adapted for use in different contexts and different health professions. An example of this is the adaptation of the resources for upskilling the teaching skills of senior medical students. The fourth year of the UNSW Medicine program is spent in full-time research. By end of the year, students have been away from seeing patients for over a year. To help them regain their confidence and clinical skills, students are mentored by sixth year senior medical students as part of a clinical refresher course. The student mentors are provided with training to develop their skills in teaching and mentoring, and the team has adapted one of the modules to form an important component of this training.

The tutorials are part of a blended learning design and therefore complement face-to-face training, but can also standalone. The links to them are sent to participants to be completed either before or after face-to-face workshops. To date, evaluations have been highly positive with 90% of participants stating that they complement the workshops. Participants have said the modules have made them “more aware of the importance of identifying struggling students with problems and how to go about doing it” and that they will  “try from day one to make the module a positive experience for the students.”

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The BLAST (Blended Learning Approach to Supervisor Training) project was led by Dr Joel Rhee at the School of Public Health and Community Medicine, UNSW Medicine. Other members of the team included:

  • Dr Kirsten Challinor, UNSW Optometry;
  • Dr Kylie Vuong, School of Public Health and Community Medicine, UNSW Medicine;
  • Dr Mark Braidwood, School of Public Health and Community Medicine, UNSW Medicine;
  • Dr Winston Lo, School of Public Health and Community Medicine, UNSW Medicine;
  • Dr Rachel Ward, School of Medical Sciences, UNSW Medicine;
  • Ms Caroline Thornton, UNSW Medicine;
  • Ms Diane Vukelic, UNSW Medicine;
  • Prof Nicholas Zwar, School of Public Health and Community Medicine, UNSW Medicine;
  • Dr Chinthaka Balasooriya, School of Public Health and Community Medicine, UNSW Medicine;
  • Dr Arvin Damodaran, UNSW Medicine;
  • Dr Rachel Thompson, UNSW Medicine;
  • Ms Sonal Bhalla, Learning and Teaching UNSW;
  • Dr Ashwin Garg, School of Public Health and Community Medicine, UNSW Medicine;
  • Dr Aditya Vyas, School of Public Health and Community Medicine, UNSW Medicine.

Other contributors to BLAST included:

  • Dr Renee Lim, Pam McLean Centre, University of Sydney;
  • A/Prof Ute Vollmer-Conner, School of Psychiatry, UNSW Medicine;
  • Ms Kathleen Watt, UNSW Optometry Clinic.

The BLAST project team would like to acknowledge funding through the UNSW Learning and Innovation Grant for Phase 1 of the project and the Australian Government through UNSW Medicine for funding Phase 2.