Tough FW Supervisor?

by Cheryl Hall on November 19th, 2021

Who said (or sang) “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”? Every OT has an experience with a supervisor that made them question why they ever chose the OT profession, but a tough supervisor during fieldwork can be especially hard.

For me, my first fieldwork included a difficult supervisor. There was a change in staff which led to some miscommunication, and I showed up to a placement that the hospital had not agreed to! Talk about awkward! My school and the hospital pulled together so that I could complete my FW, but the supervisor who had oversight of me was not happy. Throughout my time with her, she made it very clear that she was doing the work against her wishes. But I persevered and learned as much about difficult people as I did OT.

Here are some strategies that might help if you are faced with a similar challenge.

Draw on the reasons you chose occupational therapy
Take the time to put your reasons on paper, create an inspiration board, post them on your mirror, or recite them in the car. Each day focus on one of the reasons you want to be an OT and bring that reason to life in your care of patients or interactions with co-workers.

Embrace learning to communicate with a challenging supervisor
The ability to find professional and effective ways to communicate with a supervisor will support you during your entire career. If your fieldwork supervisor doesn’t provide guidelines, then ask! Will you have regular meetings? When will they be held? Do they prefer written or verbal communication? When is the best time to discuss patients and treatment strategies? Always make the most of the time you do have with your supervisor, be on time, be prepared, take notes, and listen respectively to their feedback.

Get answers to all your questions
While it’s ideal to ask in the moment, that isn’t always possible especially with a less than stellar supervisor, so keep a running list. Research questions on your own, ask your supervisor during your scheduled meetings, ask coworkers, or ask your fellow students. But always ask! Never let anyone make you feel like you should not ask questions. I found the more I asked, the more comfortable I was asking.

Adjust your perspective
You are in a fieldwork placement to learn, not to know all the answers. Part of what you might learn in this situation is how to work for a difficult supervisor. Own this opportunity to learn lessons that will never be taught in the classroom.

Remember, not everyone is cut out to be a supervisor
Sometimes supervisors are told to take a student, but lack the skills, energy or passion needed to make your placement great. Assume they are doing their best and try not to take the situation personally. If offered, take the opportunity to offer constructive, but professional, feedback. And finally, if you are ever in a position to be a fieldwork supervisor, remember this experience and what you would have done differently.

Prep for future job interviews
This experience can provide insight into the type of work environment you are seeking in your first job. While you should never complain in an interview about a prior supervisor, the experience can help you craft some interview questions that focus on the supervisory style at your prospective employer.

Practice self care
Paying attention to your needs can help you cope with the stress. Eat well, stay hydrated, get adequate sleep, get outside, move your body, and fit in some fun!

Finally, crank up that Kelly Clarkson song and finish your fieldwork placement strong. You have this!

  • About Me

    Cheryl Hall
    Occupational Therapist
    Maryland, United States

    Welcome to a site devoted to sharing experience, knowledge and resources to make your job of being a great therapist a lot easier.

    I have been an occupational therapist for more than 30 years. I graduated from San Jose State University with degrees in Occupational Therapy, Gerontology, and Early Child Development. My passion is working with adults and children in home health but I have also worked in rehab, sub-acute rehab, hand therapy, transitional living for TBI, and hospital-based outpatient settings.

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