Introduction: In physical therapist (PT) education, the site coordinator of clinical education (SCCE) administers and manages clinical placements for student clinical education experiences from the clinical side. Characteristics of successful site coordinators of clinical education (SCCEs) have been established; minimal evidence informs the identification of individuals with those characteristics. One cannot assume that exemplary clinical instructors (CIs) will become effective SCCEs. Purpose: The purpose of this qualitative study was to investigate if the characteristics of exemplary CIs are consistent with the traits needed in a successful SCCE candidate by exploring these 3 aims: (1) Describe characteristics of exemplary CIs. (2) Identify characteristics needed to fulfill the SCCE position. (3) Determine if exemplary CIs are well-suited to transition to the SCCE position. Methods: SCCEs and exemplary CIs participated in one-on-one interviews. Inductive and deductive methods were employed and triangulated to provide multiple sources of data to examine the research questions. Results: Exemplary CIs (n=12) demonstrate excellence and commitment to clinical education. These natural leaders “pay-it-forward.” SCCEs (n=12) demonstrate commitment to clinical education, professional drive, and strong managerial and leadership skills. Transitioning from CI to SCCE involves a significant learning curve, and participants agreed that “you have to want it.” Conclusion: While exemplary CIs have the characteristics needed to become a successful SCCE, they should carefully consider its demands. SCCEs should be recruited based upon assessment of aptitude, not longevity or seniority. Ultimately, every SCCE should be an exemplary CI, but not every exemplary CI is prepared to be an SCCE. These findings may apply to individuals serving in similar roles across health professions.

Author Bio(s)

Nicki Silberman, PT, DPT, PhD, is an Associate Professor and Director of Clinical Education in the department of physical therapy at CUNY Hunter College in New York, NY. She is chairperson of the Simulation in Physical Therapy Education Consortium and a certified trainer for the APTA Clinical Instructor Credentialing Program.

Vicki LaFay, PT, DPT, PhD, is Professor and Program Director in the Department of Physical Therapy at University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, KY. She is a member of the ACAPT Clinical Education Common Terminology Taskforce and on the APTA nominating committee. Dr. LaFay was working at Clarkson University when the IRB was completed and all data collection and analysis was done.


The authors would like to acknowledge Dr. Carol Recker-Hughes, PT, PhD, for her time and expertise in conducting the peer review.




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