Professional development - The role of an educational supervisor

Working as an educational supervisor can be stimulating and rewarding, says Dr Alexander Williams.

In 2007 I became an educational supervisor to two medical students and four doctors in specialist training for general practice.

I applied to the Peninsula Medical School a couple of years ago and did not immediately hear anything from them, but was held on a waiting list with many other applicants for future vacancies. Because the Peninsula Medical School had recently opened there was a need for many people to take on educational roles.

Much of the school's education takes place in a community setting and they use problem-based learning, rather than more traditional models.

Specialist training
It has been decided through Modernising Medical Careers that doctors entering general practice training (formerly known as GP registrars) will enter a period of training after their foundation years, called specialist training (ST1, 2 and 3).

Each doctor undergoing specialist training will have an educational supervisor. I became interested in this because I have been a trainer for over 10 years and wanted to expand my training commitment, and it seemed a natural extension to the role.

For an ST3 doctor the educational supervisor is usually their trainer, but in the first two years may be someone completely different.

I attended the appropriate training days and was allocated three ST1 doctors and one ST2 doctor to supervise, and afterwards my name came up on the medical student supervision list and I was allocated two students.

Supervision sessions
Although it sounds time consuming, I had given up my out-of-hours duty after 25 years of glorious service, and had a small income gap to fill, so I could undertake all my supervision sessions.

I have to meet the students four times a year and the STs twice a year, making 16 sessions in total. Although there are some broad similarities, there are some big differences in the two schemes.

Medical students
The medical students have various assessments with the clinical supervisor throughout the year during clinical attachments. They also undertake a knowledge test four times per year.

The supervisor has to review all these assessments as well as make a judgment on the layout and presentation of pieces of work in a portfolio.

Students have to write 2,500-word pieces on professional values and learning assessments.

If they fail more than one assessment they may have to resit the year and undergo remediation, so this can be quite an onerous task. The medical students have their own email addresses through the Peninsula Medical School intranet, so meetings are easy to arrange. So far I have held all of our meetings in the surgery, which seems to be convenient for the students, who are all based in Exeter.

ST supervision
ST supervision is similar to the work with the students in some ways with regular meetings and assessments, but the type of assessment is quite different.

Their procedural skills have to be observed and I have to provide clinical supervisor's reports.

They also have to write three case-based discussions, and one or two of these have to be assessed in years 1 and 2.

Clinical log
The STs are encouraged to make entries in their clinical log of educational interactions and list some of the learning points.

The educational supervisor has to review their evidence which can be seen in the ePortfolio on the RCGP website.

The educational supervisor has a username and password to log into the secure website and can view records of the doctors they are supervising. It is possible to make comments and mark the articles as read.

The STs have to ask people with whom they are working to complete multi-source feedback. This is only available to the supervisor, who then shares it with the ST doctor at one of the regular meetings.

Support and advice
So far, I have really enjoyed these new roles and it certainly beats doing out-of-hours work.

It is rewarding to help young doctors with their training and career aspirations. They all have varying backgrounds and aspirations, but are all able and provide intellectual stimulation.

One of the roles of the educational supervisor is similar to that of the trainer, offering pastoral support and advice in any difficulties or conflict.

The brave new world of electronic databases and online assessments may seem a bit daunting, but in reality is no more difficult than learning any new application or software.

I have picked it all up reasonably quickly so would encourage anyone to also have a go - you never know, you might enjoy it.

Dr Williams is a GP trainer in Exeter

This topic falls under section 3.7 of the GP Curriculum 'Teaching, Mentoring, Clinical Supervision',

Contact Emma Quigley at GP Education on (020) 8267 4805 or email

Learning points
What supervisors do

1. After foundation training, each doctor entering specialist training is allocated an educational supervisor.

2. Educational supervisors review assessments and judge work on the ePortfolio.

3. STs are encouraged to keep a clinical log of educational interactions they have had and list learning points from these.

4. Educational supervisors hold training sessions with their trainees throughout the year but should also be on hand for support and advice at other times.

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