Learning from Feedback Exchanges: UBC Department of PT Clinical Education

When was the last time you received feedback? Feedback has a powerful influence on learning (Hattie, 2009). The Department of PT Clinical Education Team knows this and supports students, clinical educators and preceptors with the skills to give and receive feedback.

Carless defines feedback as “a dialogic process in which learners make sense of information from varied sources and use it to enhance the quality of their work or learning strategies” (Carless 2015, p 192). The process works best when it is a conversation, rather than a unidirectional transmission of information (Urquart et al, 2014).

However, sometimes the power dynamic gets in the way of the learner providing feedback to the educator. Ensuring a safe learning environment, encouraging an ‘educational alliance’ and building in opportunity to exchange feedback are ways to overcome this one-way street.

As part of the MPT program, the PT Clinical Education Team meets with students following their clinical placements and ask them to share their experience and offer feedback about their placements and clinical sites. This feedback has been compiled so it could be shared so we can all learn how to optimize clinical learning experiences.

When MPT students were asked what the most difficult aspect of their clinical placement was, lack of feedback is a consistent theme. Students crave feedback – they want to know if they are on the right track, and what they can improve on. Clinical educators can make a big difference in a student’s performance by taking a few minutes to check in with their student and open the discussion about something they have observed, ask what they are finding challenging and offer guidance about how they can reach the pre-established goals.

Other themes that emerged from the feedback from students on challenges experienced on placement included: identifying /clarifying their role as a student, and being clear about what is expected of them. These two issues can be addressed through a short meeting with the student at the start of placement that provides the student with an overview of the placement and practice, and outlines what is expected of the student with regards to their role and responsibilities. Expectations should be clarified and revisited frequently as the student’s skills and experience progress.

MPT students noted that the most important things they learned on clinical placement were: the importance of the therapeutic relationship, finding a way to make the goal functional and/or related to patient autonomy, and collaborating with the rest of the health care team. The most surprising aspects of placement for first year students were cited as: the role of PT in educating patients, the variety of pain experiences, the breadth of physiotherapy practice and the variation in charting styles.

When asked what was the one thing that their clinical educator did that helped them learn, MPT students said:

  • debriefing after the subjective and/or objective to plan the next steps
  • debriefing at the end of the day / week
  • encouraging self-reflection (3 things that went well, 1 that needs improving)
  • being challenged with support, allowing mistakes to happen and learning from it
  • encouraging critical thinking
  • comparing/discussing findings

Not surprisingly, all of these are elements of feedback! So, here’s some feedback from MPT students, we hope you found it useful and look forward to receiving your feedback!

For more tips and tricks on providing feedback, check out the Department of Physical Therapy EXCEL module #9 and the Faculty of Medicine community preceptor teaching resources (PDF).

A big thank you to all the clinical educators across the province for providing MPT student placements.


Hattie, J. A.C. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. New York, NY: Routledge.

Carless, D. (2015) Excellence in University Assessment: Learning from Award-Winning Practice. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.

Urquart, L.M., Rees, C.E., Kerr, J.S. (2014) Making sense of feedback experiences: a multi-school study of medical students’ narratives. Medical Education; 48: 189–203.