Tips for Making the Most of Your Supervised Clinical Experiences

Entering graduate school during COVID-19 felt a little like jumping off a diving board and into a whirlpool. In addition to the usual stressors I felt—managing academic coursework and learning how to provide clinical services—doing everything remotely added a degree of uncertainty that I hadn’t anticipated. When I started in this program last fall, I felt so anxious about treating clients while simultaneously feeling unsure of myself as a first-year clinician. Even though a few friendly second-years tried to assure me that I’d find my footing eventually, I couldn’t imagine feeling as confident in my clinical skills as those second-years said I’d be.

Fortunately, those seasoned second-years were right after all—it did get better. With each passing semester, I’ve learned valuable lessons about what it means to be not only a clinician but a student. For anyone who may be entering a supervisory situation for the very first time (in either an academic or an occupational setting), here are some tips:

Use Your Resources

If we’ve learned anything from this pandemic, it’s that communication is powerful. I’ve personally found the “When in doubt, talk it out” mentality to be a helpful one throughout my academic career. Whether you’re running out of ideas for new session activities, struggling to remember exactly when a child is supposed to acquire a certain sound, or just feel like you could use some guidance, talking to someone else can help you gather new perspectives that just might help you out.

Reach out to fellow students, supervisors, professors, CSD colleagues, or even colleagues in other related professions (e.g., audiology, occupational therapy, physical therapy). You can also find plenty of helpful resources on the ASHA website. Online forums (e.g., Facebook groups) are another great resource, but use them with caution. Not all online forums contain accurate information, so it’s your responsibility to verify the accuracy of any information you find there. This is why you should always . . .

Do Your Homework

In the CSD field, students and professionals need to be as informed as possible in order to provide their clients with effective services. Make sure you’re familiar with the evidence behind any assessments or interventions you provide, and make sure that what you’re doing is appropriate for your client given your client’s age, diagnosis, personal or cultural values, and so forth.

From online databases provided through school libraries to evidence-based scholarly research published in the ASHA journals, there are fantastic resources out there that can help you find current and credible information. Even if you feel like you know a given communication diagnosis inside and out, brush up on the current literature to keep your clinical skills up-to-date.

If you’re unsure about whether or not an assessment or treatment approach is right for your client, reach out to your supervisor or your other resources and “talk it out.”

Practice Client-Centered Care

The key to high-quality clinical practice is finding the balance between the three components of evidence-based practice:

  1. research evidence,
  2. clinical expertise, and
  3. client perspectives.

You and your supervisor(s) are, for all intents and purposes, the clinical expertise component of this triad—but you’re only one third of the team. Sure, doing your homework (see above) will help you gather research evidence for your clinical practice to ensure that your session activities are supported by current research. But the final component of the triad—the client’s perspectives and values—constitutes a vital part of evidence-based practice. As you’re planning your session activities, be sure to take the client’s interests and values into account. Incorporating these elements into your clinical practice can help you provide engaging, client-centered care.

Be Flexible

In this field, flexibility is the name of the game. The writing style that one supervisor asks you to use may not be the same style a different supervisor wants to see. What works for one client may not work for a different client with a similar diagnosis or background. Sometimes, the same client requires a different approach from week to week. The important thing is to have a general idea of what you intend to work on while also staying open to changing your plan as needed.

Although it sounds a little scary at first, flexibility is a skill that improves with use. The more you practice staying flexible, the easier it will become. Remember that you have the knowledge to provide clinical services and be confident in your ability to help your clients.

Give Yourself Grace

Some sessions will go so well that you’ll hardly believe how much you know. Other sessions will remind you of how much you have left to learn.

Whether you’re completing your graduate clinical rotations or finishing up your Clinical Fellowship, remember that you’re embarking on a learning experience. Keep an open mind when designing interventions for clients. Whenever an activity or approach goes awry, look at it as a learning opportunity rather than a failure. Those are the moments that tell you more about what does or does not work for your client. Embrace these moments and use them as a springboard to try out a different activity or approach.

Enjoy the Ride

It’s unlikely that you’ll have the same supervisor(s) for your entire career. Enjoy the time you have with your supervisors and with your clients—do your best to learn all you can from each interaction. In my experience, even the tough days have some positive outcomes. Each client can teach you at least one new lesson about service provision. So, enjoy the ride as you work toward becoming a fully certified CSD professional.

At the end of the day, our job as clinicians is to ensure that our clients receive the highest-quality and most effective services we can provide. To the graduate students and Clinical Fellows reading this, do your best to learn everything you can from your supervised clinical experiences. Those experiences are the final stretches of time during which you’ll have someone there to check your work and make sure you’re on track; definitely take advantage of the valuable resources that each unique experience has to offer (e.g., supervisors, assessment tools, training opportunities).

To the current supervisors reading this, thank you for taking the time to give back to your profession. The guidance and experiential wisdom that supervisors share with their supervisees is priceless, and it aids supervisees as they strive to augment their clinical skills.

If you’re currently working as a CSD professional, or if you’re an aspiring CSD professional, consider becoming a supervisor as a way to give back to the profession. Your experiences are valuable and sharing what you’ve learned with supervisees can help these future professionals learn how to better serve their clients.

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