Clinical Training

Debunking the Myth

By Elana Min, PhD, PA-CAugust 21, 2019

Photo: Shutterstock

Is the myth of the clinical coordinator two-year lifespan true?

As a newly minted faculty member with a few years of experience under my belt, I was given the opportunity to take on the clinical coordinator role. At that time, it wasn’t really viewed as a promotion, but as more of an endurance test. The running joke was that the lifespan of the clinical coordinator was about two years.

Almost 17 years later, I’m still going strong — and have noticed many others staying put in their clinical education roles. I thought it would be interesting to reach out to some of my fellow clinical coordinator stalwarts for some insight on how we have debunked the myth of the clinical coordinator lifespan in the hopes of offering up some guidance to those new to the role.

Share Responsibility 

I’ve always taken the approach that the student has ultimate responsibility for themselves when they are on rotations. This takes some of the weight off of you in terms of being the expert or micromanaging the learning activities. My mantra for the students has always been “Make it happen.” This means that while they can always call you for coaching concerning certain situations, they are ultimately responsible for their learning. When you have a student who wants you to take on difficult conversations or learning activities that they will need to engage in when they are practicing, have them practice them now, as a student.
— Patrick Enking, MS, PA-C, 19 years, director of clinical education at the University of Nevada, Reno PA program and professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine

Learn to Be Flexible  

As a new clinical coordinator, one of the hardest challenges I faced was controlling things. In the clinical realm, things are ever-changing (student wishes, clinical sites, preceptor commitment). Most of these changes are out of your control, so I had to learn to adapt and prioritize the pressing clinical issues. I also learned that I needed a daily to-do list with built-in time to manage the crises. It is far easier to move things forward to the next day or week than to miss a deadline. 
— Carol Gorney, MPAS, PA-C, 11 years, director of clinical education and associate clinical professor at the University of Iowa PA program

Disseminate Your Innovations 

Just as evidence-based medicine guides PA clinical practice, PA educators should be guided by health professions education literature. In addition to applying new knowledge, we should create new knowledge and understanding of educational principles and theories, instructional and evaluation methods, and program inputs and outcomes. This seems like a lot taken as a whole, but is quite doable if each of us look at what we are already working on each day, look to the literature and to one another to see how to improve it, and disseminate innovation when it occurs. Clinical education is particularly complex and challenging, so dissemination of emerging best practices is especially important. Whether you are working on site recruitment, preceptor development, evaluation of student outcomes, or collaboration among programs for student placements, our profession needs to hear about it in a presentation, a poster, or an article. This not only presents an important opportunity to advance PA education, but also advances all health professions education. Scholarship is leadership!
Nicholas M. Hudak, MPA, MSEd, PA-C, 10 years, clinical coordinator at the Duke University PA program and associate professor in the Department of Community & Family Medicine

Diversify Your Portfolio  

One of the challenges of the clinical coordinator is juggling the autonomy (which we secretly love) with the monotony that can harbor feelings of isolation. There never seems to be enough time in the day to finish tasks, but I’ve found that the only way to keep sane is to maintain educational and professional interests outside of clinical coordination. Keeping one foot in the didactic pool is important to create connections early in the year with students, faculty, and staff. When you keep yourself “present” in the didactic year, students seem more connected and more likely to “trust the process” as you transition them into the second year. Along those same lines, carving out time to join professional or clinical committees can provide sanctuary, distraction, and balance during challenging times.
Elana Min, PhD, PA-C, 17 years, clinical education director and assistant professor at the Northwestern University PA program

Resilience and Support 

Please remember that you are never alone in your position or in dealing with the struggles that come with it. Most of the challenges faced are common to almost all clinical coordinators. There will always be hard days, but what makes the hard days better is making sure that you surround yourself with faculty and staff who are supportive. Lean on your clinical teammates, and if you don’t have a clinical team, lean on your community of clinical coordinators who can help to offer insight into possible solutions for almost any situation. And don’t beat yourself up over small failures — remember, “this too shall pass.” 
Amanda Moloney-Johns, MPAS, PA-C, 7 years, director of clinical education and assistant professor at the University of Utah PA program

What I’ve learned from interviewing my colleagues is that success in this often chaotic role is about cultivating a work environment that provides balance between supporting the students and personal and professional growth. As most of you know, while the job of the clinical coordinator is a complex one with many peaks and valleys, it also can be an extremely gratifying one with a long lifespan.

Elana Min, PhD, PA-C

Elana is the clinical education director at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine PA program.