Fieldwork Education: Putting supervisors' interpersonal communication to the test

Marianne de Beer, Charl Voster


Various factors have an impact on the development of the clinical reasoning skills of occupational therapy students during their training. The aim of this study was to investigate how the interpersonal communication skills of the supervisors impacts on their students’ ability to learn clinical reasoning skills during their education in the physical field. Thirty final year students at the University of Pretoria and 14 supervisors from six different hospitals formed the study sample.  A mixed research design was employed. Data were collected by means of focus groups and one-on-one interviews conducted with fieldwork educators and students on their inter-subjective experience of supervision. It was then analysed by a clinical psychologist using the Interpersonal Pattern Analysis diagnostic instrument, and finally compared with the grades students obtained for their clinical reasoning skills in the final practical exam in the physical field.

           The findings of this study indicated that the supervisors of students who received good grades, were predominantly linear in their approach, showed limited empathy and confirmation, were rigid in their expectations and solved problems effectively. Supervisors of students who received lower grades were mainly circular in their approach, were flexible and partly empathetic, validated students and also solved problems effectively.

            Regarding the interpersonal approach to human behaviour there is no one role or pattern of interaction that is more effective in all contexts. A style or a pattern that may be highly effective in one kind of relationship may be ineffective in another. What is emerging here is that a style which is characterised by flexibility and empathy is not necessarily an effective teaching style, whereas one characterised by a linear approach, rigidity and limited empathy may prove to be significantly more effective.

 Key words: Fieldwork education, supervision, clinical reasoning, interpersonal pattern analysis, occupational therapy

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ISSN 0038-2337 (print), ISSN 2310-3833 (online)

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