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Challenging the Exceptional Student

The demands on clinicians grow every year, and adding the responsibility of clinical instructor (CI) can create even more stress. We know that CIs want to provide excellent experiences for students, but how do you challenge the student who is doing exceptionally well? How can you enhance the experience and challenge the student without adding to your own demanding schedule? We have ideas from our own experiences as clinical instructors before entering the realm of academia, as well as from other CIs who have found ways to challenge that student who is performing above expectations.

General ideas to fit any setting: Do you have a project idea that you just haven't been able to get started, or haven't been able to finish? Could the student help with creating new employee training videos, or rewriting portions of the student orientation manuals, design a new clinic area layout, or create a new discharge program?

Acute care ideas: represent your department in multi-disciplinary care rounds, provide hands-on training for other departments such as safe patient handling or body mechanics, produce a report on how your department is contributing to decreased length of stay, complete a literature review for improving evidenced-based practice in your facility.

Rehab ideas: sit in on care rounds and family meetings, instruct other staff on proper transfers, redo the restorative care program and work with the activities director, look at ways to improve communication from intake of patients from the hospital setting through the discharge process to home or home health, start family/caregiver support groups for your patients.

Outpatient ideas: Could the student go on marketing meeting? Marketing meetings allow the student to interact with the physician and other medical staff. You may want to coach the student initially, for the student to know what to expect and how to interact, to prevent awkwardness (yes, it can become uncomfortable for the student, and you).

As clinical education directors, we want the students to have a great experience, but also want it to be beneficial for the clinical site. Do not hesitate to ask the student for assistance with a challenging project, to help answer the phones and to assist with non-customers who walk through the door – every interaction will make them a better future employee!


Submitted by Prof. Beth Quinn, PT, MPT, GCS, Associate Director of Clinical Education, and Dr. Carrie Clark Hawkins, PT, DPT, OCS, Director of Clinical Education, at Bellarmine University. Beth can be reached at, and Carrie can be reached at

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