Dr Sue Harrison, OAM shares insights into Supervision

We congratulate Sue on being recognised in the 2024 Australia Day Honours List for her service to rural medicine.

Dr Sue Harrison, a rural generalist in Echuca and one of ACRRM’s founding fellows, has been a GP and Visiting Medical Officer (VMO) in Echuca and Moama (Victoria/NSW) for the past 40 years. In addition to her experience in clinical work as a GP and GP Anaesthetist, Sue is also senior lecturer for the University of Melbourne RCS and engaged with remote supervision of a RVTS registrar and occasional GP locums.

Sue talked with GPSA about her contribution to supervision, and more.

When did your involvement with supervision begin?

Sue has a made a valuable contribution to the training and supervision of our future workforce. This began over two decades ago in rural general practice. The practice she worked at had a “supervisory team focus” managing learners at different levels. She took on a more active role in supervision when she became a practice owner.

What qualities are needed to be a good supervisor?

“I think that you need to have an interest in education and trained but I think you also need to have an interest in the people under your supervision as people individually. Where are we going? What are your goals? How can we help you to get there? How can we make this available placement for you? Those are the questions that I like to ask.”

“I try to make sure that I have an understanding of what their current curriculum is and what they’re actually trying to get out of the placement. The aim is to optimize the experience for the learner but also optimize the usefulness within the practice of having that person as an engaged learner so that they’re actually contributing to the practice team.”

Why is quality supervision so important for trainees?

“I think it’s important that students or learners feel safe with what they’re doing in the practice. My experience over the last 25 years is that students are probably less experienced and less well ready for practice. As such, by the time they get to General Practice they often haven’t had as much clinical experience as I would have expected someone who was trained 25 years ago to have. So, supervisors have to be quite cognizant that sometimes they need a bit more hand-holding to get to a place where they feel safe in that independent practice environment.”

Can you share a highlight that you’ve had in your role supervising either medical students or other learners?

“An ongoing highlight for me is when I have the opportunity to work with people who I supported during their training, and they remember the time they spent with me positively. Sometimes that had a big influence on their career decision making.”

“I’m especially thrilled to be working with other rural generalist doctors whose training I’ve been involved in and to see them working in, or working as, a rural generalist throughout Australia.”

“Rural doctors make enormous investments into education and supervision which has positive flow on affects to the communities they work in.”

“An aspect of the rural community that I’ve been especially proud of is that some young doctors have taken up the baton of rural medical politics and advocacy. In particular, Dr Megan Belot, immediate past-president of RDA, who I have mentored and have a long-lasting friendship with. Also, my daughter, Dr Emily Harrison, who is now on the Board of RDA and a Council Member with ACRRM. I am so proud that they’ve taken up these voluntary roles and that their passion about rural medicine has resulted in such big commitments.”

What would you like to say to Australia’s supervisors?

 “I have four messages for supervisors and the supervision sector:

– Call for integrated supervisor training

“Firstly, I’d like to call for the organisations who support learning in general practice – so the colleges and those in the prevocational space and medical schools – to recognize that supervision training is important, but that GPs don’t need to do a separate lot of supervision training for each of those organisations. I believe these organisations should work together to provide the training and updating rather than mandate that it’s duplicated for every environment. I strongly believe the organisations concerned should get together an cooperate.”

– Supervisor PD

“In my role as Victorian SLO with ACRRM, I’m advocating that we make it as easy as possible for our supervisors to stay engaged with ongoing professional development in the supervision space.”

– Engage younger colleagues

“The next thing I would say is to engage your younger colleagues with supervision early in the piece, even as a registrar, to start letting them see that that it’s an important part of their role as a doctor. So, looking at opportunities for vertical integration of training within practices.”

– Spend some time getting to know learners and trainees.

“I encourage supervisors to spend time to get an idea of who this learner is and where they’ve come from. Even if each learner’s medical knowledge is the same, there are going to be different things they need assistance with. I need to know who this person is where they come from and what are they hoping to get out with us and for their career progression. What can we do to make this day as useful to you as possible whilst of getting the work done? This approach gives me a level of safety in my current hospital roles. Knowing that this person has just arrived from a city hospital this week and has been doing rotations in great big teams where the work is less hands on, and now I’m asking them to actually step up to be a very active member of my team.”

Date reviewed: 02 February 2024

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