Setting Up Your Graduate Student For Success
So, you’re ready to take on a graduate student for their externship and probably wondering what to do next.
Here are a few tips to help set you and your future graduate student up for a successful, rewarding, and fun experience!
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Programs vary in how students are placed at externships. Some programs allow students to find their own placement. Some have an externship coordinator (or several) who work with sites and students to find a good match. If the program in which you will be supervising a student for is the latter, be open to the university placing a graduate student with you who they determine will be a good fit.
We frequently hear ‘send me your best student’ but there are a few things to keep in mind:
First, the externship coordinator will think about several factors when matching a student that you might not have considered, including: type of setting, pace of the setting, and populations seen. They will also consider the student’s professionalism, work ethic, interests, experience/hours needed, and location. It’s like putting together a huge puzzle with many different, and often changing, pieces. Second, student’s often shine in externships, even if they may have struggled in class or on campus clinic. They have worked hard up to this point and are eager to gain experience in the ‘real world’.
Typically, when a good supervisor/graduate student fit is made, both will flourish!
Ask what the university’s expectations and requirements are. We respect your time so chances are the requirements are minimal. Remember that ASHA requires a minimum of 25% of client/patient contact be directly observed and all documentation needs to be reviewed and signed off by a licensed SLP. In our program at GWU, the only additional requirement we have outside of the ASHA requirement is a midterm and final evaluation completed about the student’s performance by the supervisor, which the supervisor should share directly with the student. Ours is a checklist and takes about 15 minutes to complete, so 30 minutes total for the semester. Any other requirements are set forth by each individual site and supervisor and we expect students to meet those.
Interview the student prior to accepting them and give them time to ask you questions. Students have learned lots in their graduate program and clinicals but there is still a learning curve in any new setting. University programs can’t expose them to everything in a classroom, so we send them to you to learn the setting specific things, like electronic record systems, in addition to getting exceptional direct experience in the field. Students get foundational knowledge and a variety of experience with goal writing, report writing, giving evaluations, caregiver education, and implementing therapy but this varies by setting.
Ask the student what they know about general topics, then ask about specific experiences. Students may have a difficult time advocating for themselves and generalizing information learned in one setting to the next. For example, during an interview, a student might feel unprepared or frustrated because they haven’t given a specific test that is used frequently at the site. However, the student will have a general understanding of test administration and can use that information to learn a new evaluation tool….they likely just need a little prompting. Another frequent example is the use of AAC. Students hear AAC and, while many have had some exposure to various devices, they may feel unprepared or intimidated. Some students automatically jump to thinking about unfamiliar, high-tech devices. With a little questioning, they may recall that they have had exposure to low tech AAC with visual schedules, choice boards, etc. You may choose to prompt them with, “Tell me about your experience with AAC. Have you worked with clients who benefitted from use of any low-tech systems, such as a visual schedule?”
Give the student something to practice, review, or read between the interview and the start date. Students are eager to learn as much as possible, as soon as possible, and they want to and be prepared and impress their supervisor. Provide the student with techniques to research, evaluations to practice administering, or related articles to read that will help the externship start off smoothly. Students are typically anxious before beginning an externship and this will help them feel like they can put that nervous energy to use.
Review your expectations and the site expectations. Let the student know the time to arrive each day, the time they will be able to leave each day, dress code, how you give feedback, how you want the student to ask questions, how much time they will have for sessions and documentation, etc. Some of those may seem like common sense but they can vary across settings and can cause unnecessary stress for a student. Remember that students aim to please and they are quite hard on themselves. Always check in with your student, regularly. They want to get this right and may be hesitant to ask questions if they think it will make a bad impression.
Start the externship as soon as possible. In the program at GWU, students are given a start by date but are encouraged to start earlier when possible. Having the student start earlier, even a few days or one week, gives them more time to get acclimated. ASHA mandates that students earn a total of 375 direct contact hours in order to graduate. It’s important that you know how many hours are needed from your site and that you make a plan, together, to meet that requirement. Students need time to review charts and observe your therapy techniques with clients. They can’t count this time as direct patient/client care (unless they are actively participating in the session). Students can feel like they are cheated out of hours in the beginning of the externship if there are many observation hours that cannot be counted. Creating a plan and giving them time to orient themselves, will go a long way to making it a smooth transition and maximize the hours they can obtain.
Students are hard on themselves and sharing stories of when you were nervous, anxious, or feel like you didn’t know something makes them feel understood. It also helps them to realize that they are exactly where they are supposed to be in the learning process. Students love hearing about past SLP experiences! This gives them the opportunity to learn about what their future may hold for them.
Check in Frequently
Check in with your student about their expectations vs. reality. Students often start their externships with lofty dreams and when things don’t go as planned, they struggle with unrealistic expectations. They need to understand that there are pros and cons to every setting and every job. Students haven’t had much exposure to real-life experiences, yet, and having this conversation will go a long way in helping them see the reality, specifically all of the benefits that each setting has to offer.
Supervising a SLP graduate student can be one of the most rewarding parts of a fulfilling career. When you hear your student coaching a parent, treating a patient, or reassuring a client, you’ll feel pride knowing the influence you have had on that student and all their future clients!
About the Authors
Kari Comer, M.S., CCC-SLP
Kari has been a Speech-Language Pathologist since 2005. She is currently a full time clinical supervisor, adjunct professor, and outreach coordinator at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Prior to academia, she worked in a variety of settings with clients across the lifespan in home health, schools, hospitals, and private practice settings. Kari also owns Global Speech Therapy, a small practice specializing in accent modification. Kari has an interest in international academic and clinical program development. She has mentored, taught, and supervised students and practitioners in Zambia, Guyana, Ghana, and Cambodia. She is currently the President of the D.C. Speech and Hearing Association (DCSHA).
Laura Barrett, M.S., CCC-SLP
Laura Barrett is an ASHA certified Speech-Language Pathologist and Clinical Professor at George Washington University, Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Science.
She supervises students in their rotations in pediatric language and social communication disorders/Autism and is the coordinator of the pediatric feeding program in the GW Speech and Hearing Center.
In addition, Laura holds a position as an adjunct professor at GWU. Laura has over 20 years clinical experience in a variety of settings across the Boston and Northern Virginia areas to include hospitals, clinics, early intervention, home care, public and private education.
Laura is licensed both in Virginia and Washington, DC.
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