Becoming a Health Professions Supervisor


This activity is for trainees in the health professions to help develop skills and increase competency to supervise others, as part of their training. It incorporates active learning by having trainees respond in writing to questions about their own personal experiences receiving supervision and then verbally share these responses with the class. 


  • Develop supervision competency and skills in the health professions.
  • Identify characteristics of effective supervision to integrate into one’s individual supervisory style.

Class: VA Boston Healthcare System Clinical Psychology Postdoctoral Fellowship Didactic Series 

Background: This activity was used in a 2-hour class on the development of a supervisory style for advanced postdoctoral fellows in Clinical Psychology within an academic medical center. This was a stand-alone class that was embedded within a larger didactic lecture series developed for higher learning within Clinical Psychology, centered around meeting practice competencies in Clinical Psychology.  Trainees who attended the class varied in their experience of provision of supervision but all had multiple years of being supervised by licensed Clinical Psychologists, and were able to use these experiences to participate in this learning activity.   While initially developed for Clinical Psychology trainees, this learning activity would be appropriate for trainees in all health professions. 

Before Class: The trainees were not assigned any activities prior to this class. The activity was used within the first 30 minutes of the class after introductions by each of the teachers.

During Class:

Trainees are asked to reflect for three to five minutes on previous relationships with supervisors and identify both positive/“helpful” and negative/“unhelpful” experiences. This reflection is completed individually using the worksheet below.  Trainees are first asked to share characteristics of the positive supervisory experiences, which might include the supervisor’s interaction/personality style, knowledge base, ethical behavior, etc. Trainees are then asked to share negative experiences receiving supervision, which may include personal characteristics of the supervisor, aspects of the supervisory relationship, structural/procedural experiences, or other aspects of supervision. 

After reflecting individually, the instructor prompts trainees to share their responses verbally with the other trainees in the class.  The instructor can write both positive and negative qualities of supervision on a whiteboard to identify commonalities among the responses. 

Finally, trainees are asked to return to the worksheet and consider what their own supervisory style will be when they supervise.  Trainees are asked to identify specific behaviors they will engage in to achieve this supervisory style, potential barriers to achieving this style, and what additional training or mentoring they will need. 

After Class: The class is a stand-alone class on supervision development and the activity was assessed by a feedback survey administered to trainees following the class.  However, the development of supervision skills is an on-going learning topic for trainees in the health professions and this activity is meant to be a component of a larger structured training initiative to help trainees learn to provide effective supervision. 

Materials: Worksheet; Whiteboard to record trainee responses

Comments from the Instructor: The benefits of this activity are to engage trainees in the health professions to be attentive to their experience in receiving supervision throughout their training and to judiciously determine and develop their own supervisory style.  Successful use of this activity may require that trainees are comfortable sharing their experiences of negative supervisory experiences with one another. Trainees may need to engage in an “ice-breaker” to quickly develop rapport amongst a group of trainees who are not familiar with each other.   

Submitted by David Topor, Ph.D., MS-HPEd and Christopher AhnAllen, Ph.D., VA Boston Healthcare System, Harvard Medical School

Here is the worksheet that was used:

In the near future, you may provide clinical supervision to trainees in your profession.  This activity is designed to help you think about your own experiences receiving supervision and about the type of supervisory relationship you aim to establish and maintain with trainees in the future. 

  • Think about your current or previous experiences as a trainee receiving supervision.
  • Describe 5 positive/“helpful” experiences.
  • Describe 5 negative/“unhelpful” experiences. 
  • What type of supervisory relationship are you hoping to establish with a trainee?
  • What barriers do you see in implementing this style?
  • What resources will be important for you to use, as you continue to develop supervisory skills?