Doctors, therapists, and social workers all have to make the transition from students learning how to help hypothetical people with hypothetical problems in the classroom to helping real people with real problems in a clinic. Clinical supervisors are experienced professionals with years of clinical practice that help student trainees become professional practitioners. A clinical supervisor oversees the care his or her trainees give to patients, helps the trainees develop their skills as clinicians, and certifies that they have completed the necessary hours of clinical practice to receive a license.
Clinical hours are the final component of training programs for medical and counseling professionals. Students in these programs first learn the academic aspect of their profession in a classroom setting, then learn to apply this knowledge by treating actual patients. Mistakes in a classroom setting only result in lower grades, but making mistakes when treating real people can have serious consequences. Clinical supervisors oversee these professionals in training as they care for actual patients. This supervision ensures that patients receive the care they need and prevents trainees from making mistakes that could hurt patients.
A clinical supervisor generally uses the time he or she spends with students to help them develop their skills and confidence as practitioners. Supervisors observe the way trainees interact with patients and give students individualized feedback on how to improve communication skills and their techniques in administering different treatments or therapies. Discussing a trainee's diagnoses allows a clinical supervisor to help students develop their skills in analyzing patient symptoms. By confirming when trainees are correct and supplementing their knowledge when necessary, clinical supervisors help these students overcome concerns that their lack of knowledge and experience could hurt their patients. As the trainee successfully treats more patients under this supervision, he or she usually develops confidence in his or her clinical skills.
Clinical supervisors are responsible for certifying that the professionals they are training have completed the necessary number of clinical hours required for a license to practice without supervision. This could be a license to practice medicine as a doctor, or a counseling license for therapists and social workers. These mandatory clinical hours help to prepare students for stringent licensing examinations and to ensure that licensed individuals are ready to treat real patients. After a clinical supervisor verifies that trainees have completed the necessary number of clinical hours, students are generally ready and allowed to test for their licenses.