Challenging behaviours include any behaviour, clinical performance or health status that is impacting on a student’s ability to meet the requirements of the placement, profession or workplace code of conduct (Australian Learning and Teaching Council, 2010). Examples of behaviour that a student supervisor may observe that demonstrate a student is experiencing difficulty include:

  • Emotional problems including high anxiety or stress
  • Difficulty linking theory to practice
  • Challenging behaviours (i.e. dominating, shy/quiet, disengaged, disruptive etc)
  • Lack of interest in clinical area of placement
  • Poor communication skills (with staff or patients)
  • Poor organisational, prioritisation and administrative skills
  • Lack of self-direction or inconsistent performance
  • Conflict with clinical educator
  • Overconfidence
  • Unsafe practice
  • Inadequate response to feedback they have been provided with

The above behaviours should be addressed as soon as possible to prevent a crisis. Crisis may occur if there is a risk to patient safety or the wellbeing of the student or other staff members. The student supervisor should be aware that difficulties may arise due to many factors including:

  • personal factors such as values and beliefs or traits
  • stress relating to other commitments (work, family, university deadlines, illness)
  • cultural conflict
  • culture shock
  • unclear expectations
  • lack of confidence
  • inadequate feedback regarding performance in previous placements
  • limited clinical experience
  • negative experience in previous clinical placement
  • readiness for learning

Student supervisors must be aware of their own skills and limitations when addressing difficulties, and seek support from their line managers or university placement coordinator if they do not feel equipped to address the issues with the student. Most difficulties encountered by clinical educators can be defined as unsatisfactory or poor performance and can be managed early using the strategies to be discussed in this guide. However, circumstances may arise where a student is demonstrating unprofessional conduct, professional misconduct or notifiable conduct which requires the immediate attention of the university and possible suspension of the student. Notification may also need to be made to the professions regulatory agency e.g. Allied Health Practitioner Regulation Agency, as appropriate. It is recommended that clinical educators be familiar with relevant university supervisor fieldwork manuals and discipline specific requirements for reporting the behaviour.


Please Note: References remain valid until superseded by later research. The resources referenced here are regularly reviewed and are considered current and relevant to the topics presented.

  • Australian Learning and Teaching Council (2010). A guide to supervision in social work field education (revised edition). Retrieved from:
  • Beyond Blue (2012). When the cowpat hits the windmill. Victoria. Australia retrieved from:
  • Health Education and Training Institute (2012). The learning guide: A handbook for allied health professionals facilitating learning in the workplace. Sydney: HETI. Retrieved from:
  • Health Workforce Australia (2013). Enabling Clinical Supervision Skills. Griffith University, Gold Coast Australia.
  • National Rural Health Students Network (2011). Rural placements guide: How to make the most of your rural placement. Melbourne, Australia: NRHSN. Retrieved from:
  • Nemeth, E., & McAllister, L. (2013). Learning from failure. In Stagnitti, K., Schoo, A., & Welch, D., Clinical and fieldwork placement in the health professions (2nd Ed) (pp. 115 – 127). Melbourne, Australia: Oxford University Press.
  • Occupational Therapy Practice Education Collaborative-Queensland (OTPEC-Q) (2018). The clinical educator’s resource kit Retrieved from:





Enabling Clinical Supervision Skills

Enabling Clinical Supervision Skills - NSW Resource
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