The importance of practice supervision

Siân is now working with the British Dietetic Association as Professional Practice Manager. She previously worked as an Assistant Professor at the University of Nottingham. She has worked in a range of clinical areas, specialising in learning disabilities, palliative care and nutritional support.

Twitter@: siancunningham2

Siân Cunningham, MSc, RD, AFHEA

Professional Practice Manager, BDA

As a Dietetic student on placement, you quickly get used to being supervised. As an unqualified member of the team, beginning to develop your autonomy, your work and decision-making will still need to be checked by, discussed with, and counter signed by a registered dietitian.

Whilst it can be hard to feel like you have someone watching over you throughout placement (we’ve all been there), there is reassurance and scaffolding provided by having someone else more experienced to talk through your work, and ultimately sign off on the care and advice you have provided.  

As a newly qualified Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) registered dietitian, you transition from student to Newly Qualified Practitioner (NQP) and as a result you are now responsible for the decisions that you make. 

Alongside Preceptorship, Regular Practice Supervision is vital to help you in this step up in decision-making and autonomy.

What is practice supervision?

Practice supervision (sometimes called clinical supervision) is essential for all dietitians, no matter how experienced they are. It supports clinicians throughout their dietetic careers and ensures we make good decisions, have good support and can identify the strengths and weaknesses of our own practice. Practice supervision highlights the areas we need to develop, to continually improve our practice. 

Practice supervision should be led by the supervisee, working with a supervisor who is skilled at supporting them to reflect on and review their work, so that they can identify their own training, learning and development needs.

As a newly qualified practitioner, it is important that both you and whoever is providing practice supervision, recognise that once you are qualified your supervisor is no longer 'signing off your work' but instead providing supervision that supports you to discuss, reflect on, make decisions and changes to your own practice. 

Why is practice supervision important?

The British Dietetic Association, the UK's dietetic professional body, has recently updated its guidance on practice supervision. It states: 'The BDA strongly recommends that the whole dietetic workforce partakes in regular, effective supervision to ensure safe practice and support the wellbeing of practitioners.'(1)

The HCPC, the regulator for UK dietitians, sets the standards for registered dietitians within the UK. To register and remain registered you need to meet the relevant standards set out by the HCPC. The standards support the case that, wherever possible, dietitians should be engaging in supervision as part of their practice. The HCPC web pages showcase the benefits and outcomes that supervision can have on your professional development.(2)

What are the benefits of practice supervision?

The benefits of practice supervision include:

  1. Increased job satisfaction
  2. Improved staff wellbeing
  3. A reduction in stress and anxiety (yes please!). 

It can also help to promote innovation, confidence, and leadership potential!

These benefits don’t just impact on you, but also have a ripple effect by improving the culture within teams. It also helps improve the care that is provided to patients and service users.(2)

As a newly qualified practitioner, how often should I be having supervision?

Supervision is important whatever stage of career you are at.  How often you require supervision and the type of supervision you need can change over time. In your first year of practice, you will no doubt undergo a steep learning curve, meaning you will develop professionally, often very quickly, as you encounter new situations and clinical challenges. The impact of this shouldn’t be underestimated. So, naturally you may find that you need supervision more often during this period than someone who has been qualified for many years.

Supervision can be done in a one-to-one setting and as part of a group. You should find out what is available to you when starting any new role, if group sessions aren’t available, you could even set one up!