What is Effective Clinical Supervision of Physiotherapists?

Mr David  Snowdon1,2,3, Ms  Shae  Cooke1, Mr Grant Scroggie1, Ms Kim Williams1, Ms Kate Lawler1, Mr  Nicholas  Taylor1,4

1Eastern Health, Melbourne, Australia, 2Peninsula Health, Melbourne, Australia, 3Monash University, Melbourne, Australia, 4La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia


Aim: National standards recommend that all allied health professionals receive clinical supervision. However, evidence suggests that its practice is perceived to be ineffective for the majority of physiotherapists. The purpose of this project was to establish how to facilitate effective clinical supervision for physiotherapists working clinically in a bed-based public health service.

Method: In depth semi-structured interviews were conducted to explore physiotherapists’ (n=21) experience with clinical supervision and to establish the aspects of supervision that are effective in supporting them in their clinical role. Data were analysed using an interpretive description approach.

Results: The major theme was that the content of clinical supervision should focus on clinical and non-clinical professional skill development. Four sub-themes were identified by participants as having an influence on the effectiveness of supervision: the model of clinical supervision, clinical supervision processes, supervisor factors and supervisee factors. All sub-themes have the potential to act as either a barrier or facilitator to effective clinical supervision.

Significance of the findings to allied health: Physiotherapists in this study preferred a direct model of supervision where their supervisor directly observes and guides their professional skill development. They also wanted ‘informal’ supervision where guidance is provided as issues arise from supervisors who value supervision. They emphasised that supervision should be driven by their learning needs rather than health organisation processes. These factors should be considered when developing allied health supervision policies and procedures, which commonly emphasise formal ‘sit down’ supervision involving reflective practice.


Shae is a senior neurological physiotherapist and team leader with the inpatient rehabilitation team at Eastern Health. She has more than 10 years’ experience in providing supervision to other staff, and is passionate about assisting others in developing their skills and optimising therapeutic outcomes for patients. Having worked in a number of Victorian public health networks, Shae has had exposure to a wide variety of supervision approaches, which led to an interest in further investigating how to make supervision more effective for others