Supervision: the foundation for success
Throughout every stage of life, professionally or personally, there are people who influence us to do great things through an appreciation of our goals and a drive to help us get there. For many students, that person is their supervisor. Steve Hertz FBDO takes us through the role and talks to those ‘in the know’ about their experiences.
What is supervision?
When discussing the term supervision, it is important to highlight the distinct differences between being the responsible practitioner on site when delegated tasks are carried out by those not professionally qualified and/or registered to do them – and being a registered supervisor of a student dispensing optician or trainee contact lens
optician/low vision practitioner. The former is a position of responsibility that should be mutually agreed between
the registrant and the practice staff and management. The latter is a more formalised role, agreed between the registrant, the student and their educational institute.The supervisor acts as a mentor to aid the trainee’s educational journey and works closely with both the trainee and the practice team to help promote a positive environment for all. However, there are overlaps.
In both cases, the registrant retains overall clinical responsibility for the tasks completed, yet the role of supervisor in educational terms can, and should be, one that reaches much further than the associated GOC standards.
A good supervisor can make all the difference to creating a confident, highly motivated and skilled practitioner.
A positive relationship between supervisor and trainee is based on open and regular communication, which can create an atmosphere whereby mutual learning and development become the norm and as an inevitable result, patient care reaches an excellent standard.
So, what does this look like in reality? Clearly, there is no set check list to tick off when it comes to what good
looks like. Practice environment, company policies, hours of work and clinic management will all have a bearing on how the role looks in each scenario. There are, however, principles that ABDO College would expect to see present throughout our community of supervisors.
Supervisors should act as a role model in both behaviour and in clinical dedication. The supervisor should have
a good understanding of the student’s education and the elements required to ensure a successful outcome. Regular
communication between supervisor and trainee is key to gauging progress and when further support or advice may
be needed. Arguably, most importantly, there needs to be respect and trust in the supervisor’s guidance and the
trainee’s attitude to learning.
The relationship is built over the years of study and can be hugely rewarding for both parties, believes Rae Morrison.
Rae is lead dispensing optician for a large group of practices in Scotland and co-ordinates resources and training
for the students in their practices. “My favourite part of the role is simply hearing about the students enjoying the course. Hearing them talk passionately just makes me happy,” explains Rae. “I love the feeling when you explain a
concept in a different way to a student and they have that lightbulb moment. It’s amazing.”
A joined-up approach
One of the key issues often raised by students while at the College is how their practice environment can have
a huge impact on their progress. Many feel like their journey through the course can easily become separated from their day-to-day role in practice. The reality, of course, is that the two are intrinsically linked. The adage that you get out what you put in is a fundamental aspect of a student’s learning, however, it is often overlooked from the perspective of the employer or management group, as Claire Walsh highlights. Claire is a DO/CLO in an independent
practice in Hertfordshire and has supervised and tutored many students over the years, through both the FBDO
and contact lens programmes. “Employers must recognise the demands and stresses of full-time work, combined with a high-level study. It is hard,” emphasises Claire. “Students often face 15 or more hours of study per week on
top of their hours in practice. Many also have families and responsibilities at home that don’t stop as soon as the textbooks open.”
A well supported trainee working in a positive, open environment is much more likely to be a motivated, loyal and
productive asset to the practice, both during training and when qualified. As Rae says: “One of the most important
things I believe that managers and employers can contribute to the student’s environment is time. Planned in catch-ups are crucial and being too busy cannot be excuse to miss them.”
A feature of the ophthalmic dispensing, contact lens and low vision programmes is the requirement for students to
complete many practical tasks in practice, alongside the need to attain experience in dealing with specific patient needs. These are recorded as case records in the pre-qualification portfolio (PQP). Many of the prescriptions required are not your standard everyday varieties so an awareness throughout the practice on the kind of patients required by the trainee is very helpful. During my training, I vividly remember running up and down the High Street between the two practices I worked at as colleagues phoned me with the prescriptions they were encountering which I needed. Had my colleagues not been aware of my requirements, and been so supportive, completion of my portfolio would have immeasurably tougher. The little things really can add up to help you to succeed.
One journey, mutual benefit
The focus of any training course has to be the student and their progression towards achieving their goals, however,
there are also great personal benefits to be attained from taking on the role of supervisor.
Claire feels that supervisors can gain a lot from re-exposure to topics potentially studied many years before, or being questioned on new theories and techniques. She says: “It is very easy to get stuck in habits through years of doing things the same way. Having a trainee ask the simple question ‘why?’ often provokes great conversation and an exchange of ideas.” In her role as lead dispensing optician, Rae is in regular communication with all of her company’s supervisors and finds one of the overriding skills that improves throughout the course is management. “It’s great practice in management skills,” she emphasises. “The courses can be stressful at times for the students and it’s a great opportunity for the supervisor to help manage the situation. This could be co-ordinating a plan of action and implementing it, or simply calming the student down through empathy and understanding.”
Changing lives and giving back
According to Claire, the best things about being a supervisor go above the academic and practical side of the role.
“When I trained, my own mentor was amazing so I had a great example from the start. I get real satisfaction and a personal boost from knowing that I was responsible for aiding a student’s career. There is a real sense of achievement
from seeing your trainee develop into a confident, highly skilled professional.” Rae echoes that sentiment: “Being an
approachable, interested and engaging supervisor will earn the appreciation of any student. It can be so rewarding,
from experiencing your student finally grasp a concept they’ve been wrestling with for weeks, to being with them when they get their confirmation of passing exams. Knowing you had a hand in their success is an excellent feeling,”
Here to help
One area that is often overlooked by supervisors already in the role, or considering taking up the position, is
that of the large amount of support that currently exists to help them along the way. ABDO College recently launched the Supervisor Zone through the College website as an online resource for supervisors across all the courses. It provides a one-stop-shop for information on course structures, dates and responsibilities of both supervisors and students, as well as contact details for the groups relevant to particular areas. The Supervisor Zone will be updated and added to as policies are amended and guidance changes. We are always looking for feedback though, so please drop us a line at the College if you feel you have an idea of how we can improve it. On that subject, the courses team in Godmersham is always available for queries from supervisors and students alike, so if you would like advice around an issue you are facing, we are here to help.
It’s worth noting though, that practices will often have a person, or department, responsible for the training and
development of their employees and we would always advise contacting them as a first port of call as it may be
that your query is related to policies that are enforced on a company basis.
As a guide, listed below are the various sources of advice that can be accessed by practice supervisors, along with the areas of the courses that the particular body deals with.
ABDO College – support areas include coursework, learning support,
Practical Training Timetables (PTT), timekeeping and residential blocks.
Contact details: firstname.lastname@example.org or 01227 738 829
ABDO Examinations – support areas include Pre-Qualification Portfolios (PQP),
exams, resits and contact lens case recording. Contact details:
email@example.com or 01227 732 921
GOC – support areas include legalities in practice, Code of Conduct
and registration. Contact details: firstname.lastname@example.org or 0207 580 3898