Effective and ineffective supervision in postgraduate dental education: a qualitative study



Introduction: Research suggests that students' perceptions should be considered in any discussion of their education, but there has been no systematic examination of New Zealand postgraduate dental students' learning experiences. This study aimed to obtain in-depth qualitative insights into student and graduate perceptions of effective and ineffective learning in postgraduate dental education.

Methods: Data were collected in 2010 using semi-structured individual interviews. Participants included final-year students and graduates of the University of Otago Doctor of Clinical Dentistry programme. Using the Critical Incident Technique, participants were asked to describe atleast one effective and one ineffective learning experience in detail. Interview transcripts were analysed using a general inductive approach.

Results: Broad themes which emerged included supervisory approaches, characteristics of the learning process, and the physical learning environment. This paper considers students' and graduates' perceptions of postgraduate supervision in dentistry as it promotes or precludes effective learning. Effective learning was associated by participants with approachable and supportive supervisory practices, and technique demonstrations accompanied by explicit explanations. Ineffective learning was associated with minimal supervisor demonstrations and guidance (particularly when beginning postgraduate study), and aggressive, discriminatory and/or culturally insensitive supervisory approaches.

Conclusion: Participants' responses provided rich, in-depth insights into their reflections and understandings of effective and ineffective approaches to supervision as it influenced their learning in the clinical and research settings. These findings provide a starting point for the development of curriculum and supervisory practices, enhancement of supervisory and mentoring approaches, and the design of continuing education programmes for supervisors at an institutional level. Additionally, these findings might also stimulate topics for reflection and discussion amongst dental educators and administrators more broadly.