Longitudinal educational supervision - how it's worked for me

All trainee-supervisor relationships come with their own styles and occasional challenges, says Dr Faro Ndokera, a paediatrician in sub-specialty training. But having the same educational supervisor over a longer period offers greater focus and meaning - and a personal touch.
Photo of Faro Ndokera

Progress+, our updated paediatric specialty training programme that launches this summer, highly recommends having the same educational supervisor for a longer period. This benefits both trainee and supervisor, enabling them to grow in how they supervise and access training over time.

Faro explains more in her video and blog.

Many a good blog starts with an amusingly stretched metaphor. It's a system that works, so why stray from it? I spend a lot of time commuting on train, so let's stick with what I know.

It's so easy to see paediatric training as a long train ride. You get on at the beginning (ST1) and assuming there are no engineering works or flooding on the tracks, you can do your time and make it through to the end of the line. Along the way, people will get on and off. Some interactions will be positive (the train metaphor is already struggling), some not so much, and other meetings are so brief that you barely notice or get enough time to appreciate them.

Longitudinal supervision will lead to longer, more purposeful supervision over the course of training

We meet so many people along our train-ing journey, and some of the most influential people will be our educational supervisors. In the past, those relationships may have lasted one or two stops. But longitudinal supervision built into Progress+, the updated training programme coming on track this summer, will lead to longer, more purposeful supervision over the course of training.

I'm Faro, and I am currently in my final year of sub-specialty training in Paediatric Intensive Care Medicine (PICM). I’ve been asked to give my personal perspective on longitudinal educational supervision - the experience of having one, consistent supervisor over a prolonged period of training (one year +). Moving into Progress+, there looks to be even more focus on this approach, so here is a little bit about how I have found the experience.

My experience

We all know paediatric training is long, and I, like many, have made it even longer. I started my paediatric training in 2013 and still haven't finished in 2023.

From ST1-3, I had a different educational and clinical supervisor nearly every six months. This was not supposed to be the arrangement and wasn’t the model followed for other trainees. I was just a bit unlucky.

From ST4 onwards, I have had a very positive experience of longitudinal supervision. This covered a really important period in my life and career, both applying for and going through my sub-specialty training, two  maternity leaves and transitioning to being a LTFT [less than full time] trainee. So, I think that having a consistent supervisor over this period of significant career and life change has been invaluable. By the time I finish, I will have had the same supervisor for the last four years. I'm sure she will be very glad to see me to the end.

All trainee-supervisor relationships come with their own styles and challenges. Having had various supervisors in my first few years really exposed me to those differing styles and challenges. Navigating different personalities, understanding expectations and dealing with varying levels of engagement were some things that I had to grapple with. But there were also many positives. These varying perspectives helped me see new ways of engaging with others in these types of professional relationship, with supervision specifically and all the various ways that supervisors can help and guide you.

So with that experience in mind, in what ways do I see the most benefit in longitudinal supervision?

Career focus and guidance

Having one supervisor in the run up to my sub-specialty applications was incredibly helpful in terms of developing my CV and support through the application and interview stage.

Once I transitioned to my PICM sub-specialty training post, having one supervisor helped me continue to move my career forward and develop specialist areas. When your supervisor understands your developing interests, then opportunities for networking and projects emerge. That has proven to only be a good thing.

Stability in supervision has allowed me to focus, discuss and develop the skills I will need as I move towards consultant roles

So much of training feels like service provision. Of course there is learning to be had everywhere, but frequent rotation and a heavy workload can make the ultimate goal seem really distant and not very clear. Having this element of stability in supervision has allowed me to focus, discuss and develop the additional skills I will need as I move towards consultant roles, in a way that feels tailored to me. Of course it may well not be that tailored, but it feels like it is.

Being treated as an individual within the system has value.

Meetings with meaning

Have you ever thought about going into a supervision meeting with a little informal CV because you know your supervisor won’t know who you are or anything about you? Ever had that ‘groundhog day’ feeling of having to remind the room who you are, and where you’ve come from (like on blind date with Cilla Black...showing my age here). 

I used to have a very love/hate relationship with the supervision process. Of course it had to be done, but it wasn’t always as productive as I would hope. It has become more important as I’ve become more senior. The value of supervision meetings is so much more when you are not starting from scratch every time. We know each other's names, we know what stage of training I am in (well most of the time, LTFT makes that a bit harder) and we know what was to be worked on in the meeting interval.

A quick life and work update and off we go, forging forward and making progress.

In addition, my supervisor has been the consistent person receiving feedback about me from the various departments I’ve worked in. She is clear on my areas for development and when these areas have been addressed. 

The personal touch

My educational supervisor knows me now, and that feels nice. She understands aspects of my life outside of work that impact my training. I have been open about this and she has been receptive to it

I appreciate that this wouldn’t work for all. I found this element particularly beneficial on my recent return from maternity leave. Knowing who to check in with whilst I was away, and to have someone ask how my family were when I came back, set a positive tone to my return. Being able to articulate and manage work-life balance has been made alot simpler through having a connection with my supervisor.

You won't necessarily get this from someone who doesn't know you well. And you definitely don’t get it if you only find out about your supervisor on your first day back.

Will it work for everyone?

So, I appreciate that my experience might not be universal. I have had the benefit of a supervisor who I feel comfortable with and someone who has career interests that align with mine. I did, however, continue to get huge benefits from having one, consistent supervisor earlier on in my training, where our careers were hugely dissimilar. Many of the positives I have mentioned still applied.

I also recognise that I did have some benefits from regularly changing supervisors earlier on in my time. I still get a taste of that as my clinical supervisor changes depending on my clinical area. So I still get exposure to different senior colleagues, various educational and training approaches and am able to reflect on and incorporate the benefits of these interactions as I progress. 

In summary

Longitudinal supervision has provided some much needed continuity for me through a period of training that’s been intense, fast moving, enjoyable yet stressful. The benefits of this supervision approach mean that supervisors will get to know trainees  on an educational, professional and personal level. This just makes all learning and development opportunities with them more effective. More bang for your buck.

Having someone in your corner, considering and supporting your future career as well as your current training needs helps training feel like a much more personalised process, doesn't it? I’m sure the introduction and encouragement of longitudinal supervision through Progress+ will only be a benefit to trainees moving forward. 

Progress+, the updated paediatric specialty training programme, goes live from August 2023. Find out more about what to expect, including FAQ and guidance for both trainees and supervisors, on our Progress+ pages.