Exploring attributes of high-quality clinical supervision in general practice through interviews with peer-recognised GP supervisors

Belinda O’Sullivan, Helen Hickson, Rebecca Kippen, Glen Wallace

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Clinical supervision in general practice is critical for enabling registrars (GP trainees) to provide safe medical care, develop skills and enjoy primary care careers. However, this largely depends on the quality of supervision provided. There has been limited research describing what encompasses quality within GP clinical supervision, making it difficult to promote best practice. This study aimed to explore the attributes of high-quality clinical supervision for GP registrars. Methods: In 2019–20, 22 semi-structured interviews were conducted with GP supervisors who were peer-nominated as best practice supervisors, by Regional GP Training Organisations and GP Colleges in Australia. Purposeful sampling sought respondents with diverse characteristics including gender and career stage, practice size, state/territory and rurality. Interviews were conducted by video-consultation and recorded. De-identified transcripts were independently coded using iterative, inductive thematic analyses to derive themes that reflected quality in GP supervision. Results: Seven themes emerged. Participants understood the meaning of quality supervision based on their experience of being supervised when they were a registrar, and from reflecting and learning from other supervisors and their own supervision experiences. Quality was reflected by actively structuring GP placements to optimise all possible learning opportunities, building a secure and caring relationship with registrars as the basis for handling challenging situations such as registrar mistakes. Quality also encompassed sustaining and enhancing registrar learning by drawing on the input of the whole practice team who had different skills and supervision approaches. Strong learner-centred approaches were used, where supervisors adjusted support and intervention in real-time, as registrar competence emerged in different areas. Quality also involved building the registrar’s professional identity and capabilities for safe and independent decision-making and encouraging registrars to reflect on situations before giving quality feedback, to drive learning. Conclusions: This study, although exploratory, provides a foundation for understanding the quality of clinical supervision in general practice, from the perspective of peer-recognised GP supervisors. Understanding and adopting quality within GP supervision may be improved by GPs sharing exemplars of best practice and having opportunities for professional reflection. The findings could be used as a point of reference for devising GP supervisor curriculum, resources and professional development activities.

Original languageEnglish
Article number441
Number of pages10
JournalBMC Medical Education
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 20 Aug 2021


  • Education
  • Feedback
  • General practice
  • Learning
  • Physician
  • Quality
  • Supervision
  • Teaching

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