Promoting the benefits of teaching

Ironically, most clinical instructors receive no extra compensation for teaching, yet according to some sources the intangible benefits more than make up for this shortfall (Marincic & Frankfort, 2002). These intangible benefits include: an opportunity for lifelong learning, an enhanced sense of professionalism, and increased visibility within the clinical department or institution. Serving as a clinical instructor often distinguishes practitioners from other staff in the department; they are perceived as leaders and admired for their expertise. Clinical instructors who believe it is their obligation to educate the next generation of healthcare practitioners gain a tremendous sense of personal satisfaction from passing along their professional knowledge and watching their students succeed. An additional benefit of teaching is that it adds variety to the clinical work day. Many clinical instructors report that their careers dramatically improved after they began teaching in the clinical setting.

As a manager you will want to highlight the benefits of becoming a clinical instructor and encourage your staff to participate in student training. Cultivating a culture of excellent clinical instruction in your department will not only help to prepare a highly skilled healthcare workforce, but it will also promote a sense of professionalism among your current employees.

What makes a good clinical instructor

Clinical instructors are expected to impart knowledge, build technical skills, and foster professional behaviors in their students. To be effective in this role, clinical instructors should at minimum demonstrate professional competence, a passion for teaching, the ability to connect with students, and a strong sense of teacher identity. Each of these traits will be described next.

  • Professional competence. Clinical instructors must maintain a level of professional competence to be effective as teachers. This level of competence generally takes several years to develop, and for this reason new health professions graduates are typically not assigned to clinical instructor roles. Efficient clinical instructors continually look for ways to enhance and refine their skills. They become lifelong learners not only in their technical area of expertise, but also in educational methodology, which helps them to create robust learning environments. Clinical instructors who keep their knowledge and skills up to date also serve as professional role models for others within their department.
  • Passion for teaching. Students recognize and respond favorably to clinical instructors who exhibit a sense of passion and enthusiasm for their work. Students are influenced by the energy levels of their instructors, so clinical instructors should be encouraged to bring a positive attitude and a sense of commitment to work on the days when they are responsible for training students in the department. If you notice that your clinical instructors are starting to show signs that teaching is becoming a burden, it may be time to pass those instructional responsibilities on to someone else. Try to limit the amount of time that impressionable students spend with staff members who are not excited about the work they are doing in the clinical environment.
  • Ability to connect with students. The quality of the student-teacher relationship is widely recognized as a critical factor in determining whether learning will take place (Wilkes, 2006). Clinical instructors who have a hard time making connections with students are likely to lose enthusiasm for their teaching roles. Not ever)' healthcare practitioner is meant to be an educator; it takes individuals with empathy and tremendous patience to appreciate the challenges of teaching.
  • Strong sense of teacher identity. Good teaching is a function of the identity and integrity of the teacher (Palmer, 2007). A strong sense of teacher identity', or in this case clinical instructor identity, is the hallmark of an effective teacher. A strong sense of clinical instructor identity allows individuals to cope with educational change and to make improvements in their teaching practices (Beijaard et al., 2000). The longer an individual serves as a clinical instructor, the more deeply embedded teaching becomes in their professional identity' and the more committed they are to their educational responsibilities.
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