Playing the Supervisor Game

Starting clinical placements can be a daunting experience come third year and beyond. It is a completely different to those PBL and VS sessions; a sense of freedom and responsibility rains over you as you step onto those busy wards. However, as much as you want placement to be your own learning experience, the ultimate fate of whether or not you have to cancel all summer/elective plans and resit a placement is up to one person – your supervisor!

Supervisors come in a variety of flavours in the world of clinical placement; each one has their own style and attitude to ‘supervising’. It is up to you to use your own judgement on how to get the most out of your supervisor, and how to play the supervisor game.

Here are some supervisor personas you might encounter:

by Trung Ton

by Trung Ton



The Enigma

So its nearly the end of week 3 of 5 of your placement and you’re starting to wonder, “when will I meet my supervisor? Why haven’t they replied to my five thousand emails asking to meet?”

The enigma is clearly a busy doctor who hardly has time for themselves let alone a medical student! Sometimes even their own secretary will have no idea where they have ran off to. Or they have a secret hate of students constantly wanting their signature and clogging up their inbox.

DO NOT FEAR!.. Continue on with your block as you would do and make sure you have all your necessary cases and documents ready to present to the Enigma in the most concise and speedy manner. Be ready with all necessary online forms ready to be signed before you lose track of your supervisor for another week.

The old skool Rebel

“2 portfolio cases, mini cex’s and CBDs?! Not in my clinic!”

The Rebel has their own ways of teaching you the ways of medicine and will not stick by the jurisdiction of the medical school clinical years guidebook!

There are a variety of ways in which the rules can be bent to their will. Some supervisors may not require any portfolio cases, others may demand a case a week. Some will not give a damn about your reflection and how the “case has made you a better person,” while others will think you are a cold hearted monster if you didn’t mention the social aspects of a patients life.

One golden rule here is do as you’re told, or else your chances of a sign off will be in jeopardy!

The Keen Bean

The keen supervisor is the one who really wants the most out of you, and would have you by their side at all times. Forget all teaching, friends, lunch…your supervisor is now your life, your heart and soul of your 5 week placement. They want you there at every clinic, MDT, ward round, theatre list…all in the name of teaching you. This could be the best clinical exposure of your entire medical career but consequently the most tiring!

Supervisors are still human beings, and understand you may need a breather from time to time so do not fear to ask if you need to get away. However stick by them as much as you can and you will definitely reap the benefits of good knowledge and that end of block assessment form signed off!

The Specialist

Now all consultants have a special interest. But this kind of supervisor wants it be your special interest too and will have nothing else you have to offer. Even if it is something you’re not particularly interested, there is no escaping the subject now. Everything you do will revolve around this topic and you just have to accept your fate.

Best thing to do is to stick by it and you might even learn something that may come in handy in the future. (regardless of the fact you have neglected all 200 other ILO’s of the block)

The Laid Back One

The dream situation has arisen in your block; A supervisor who knows exactly what a medical student needs in a clinical placement. These supervisors will respond with haste to your emails, meet you at any convenient time and give you total control of your learning experience.

All you have to do is to keep your work up to good standard and you will be getting that sign off in the easiest manner possible.

At the end of the day, it is up to you to make the most out (or very little) of your clinical placements and your supervisor is just there to ensure you are keeping up to standard with your practice. Some top tips for the supervisor game:

Contact your supervisor as soon as you start to arrange a meeting

Get all your assessments done sooner rather than later

Try to show face and attend your supervisors clinics etc (if they permit – this is a good way of getting things signed off too)

Enjoy clinical placement and make it your own personal learning experience – (you will be getting paid to do it before you know it!)