Defining best practice in clinical education is currently a primary focus of the American Physical Therapy Association and the American Council of Academic Physical Therapy. Although professional standards exist for physical therapist clinical instructors (CIs), there is little published research regarding the pathway to achieving competence as a CI. Moreover, there is currently no published definition for competence as a CI within the profession of physical therapy (PT). This study attempts to describe the meaning of competence and the experience of achieving competence as perceived by both credentialed and noncredentialed CIs.
Twenty-nine physical therapist CIs who had independently supervised at least one full-time physical therapist student served as the subjects for this study.
A phenomenological methodology was used to understand and interpret the meaning of CI competence and the experience of achieving competence from the CI participants' perspectives. Data were collected through focus group interviews and written statements and then were analyzed using thematic analysis.
The journey to competence, though unique to each CI, included commonalities. An overarching theme of “Empowerment” emerged from the data analysis and was supported by 6 subthemes: (1) the meaning of competence, (2) my first student, (3) finding the way, (4) barriers to achieving competence, (5) confidence, and (6) lifelong learning. Participants' descriptions of the meaning of competence included the roles of skilled clinician, teacher, mentor, reflective learning, collaborator, and effective communicator.
Discussion and Conclusion.
Findings can inform CIs striving for effectiveness in clinical teaching by defining the meaning of competence, as well as revealing a variety of pathways used to achieve competence. These examples could be helpful for Site Coordinators of Clinical Education, Directors of Clinical Education and others who teach CI development. The physical therapy education community and its professional bodies can use these findings to define CI competence and to direct future efforts and programs designed to prepare clinicians to effectively educate students in the clinical setting.