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


This paper explores the decision-making processes involved in giving physiotherapy students responsibility on clinical placement and the impact on their developing professional autonomy. 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 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 specialities, and evident in clinical education settings in both countries. The framework formalises, for the first time, assumptions and expectations previously unacknowledged. Factors identified as affecting students’ progress towards 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. 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)(In-press)
Number of pages32
JournalPhysiotherapy Theory and Practice
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 1 Feb 2021


  • Autonomy
  • Responsibility
  • Decision-making
  • Graduated supervision

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Professions(all)

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