Development of autonomy on placement: perceptions of physiotherapy students and educators in Australia and the United Kingdom

Lynn Clouder, Mark Jones, Shylie Mackintosh, Arinola Adefila

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    2 Citations (Scopus)
    82 Downloads (Pure)


    Objectives:This paper explores the decision-making processes involved in giving physiotherapy students responsibility on clinical placement and the impact on their developing professional autonomy. Methods: The qualitative study, using semi-structured interviews, involved physiotherapy students and clinical educators (CEs) from two higher education institutions, one in Australia, and the other in the United Kingdom (UK). Findings: Findings led to the development of a heuristic framework of ‘graduated supervision,’ a process of progressively less direct observation and monitoring of students as clinical proficiency improved. By focusing on the measured exposure of students to increasing complexity and inverse levels of supervision, the framework captures tacit practices, and consistent, yet varied facilitation strategies adopted across specialties, and evident in clinical education settings in both countries. The framework formalizes, for the first time, assumptions and expectations previously unacknowledged. Factors identified as affecting students’ progress toward autonomy include the student/CE relationship, the development of mutual trust through ongoing dialogue, and the importance of formal discussions at the commencement of a clinical placement to establish learning goals, preferred supervision styles and learner responsibilities. Conclusion: Insights have significance for the CE community, and students who at times have to second-guess what is required of them and how they might excel on clinical placement.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)2100-2110
    Number of pages11
    JournalPhysiotherapy Theory and Practice
    Issue number12
    Early online date10 Mar 2021
    Publication statusPublished - 2 Dec 2022

    Bibliographical note

    This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


    • Autonomy
    • decision-making
    • graduated supervision
    • responsibility

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation


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