All healthcare workers — including certified nursing assistants (CNAs), registered nurses (RNs) and physicians (MDs) — receive an education comprised of two parts: classroom study and clinical learning. Classroom studies are the most familiar venue to students and consist of textbook reviews, reading other sources, lectures and written examinations. Clinical work refers to instruction and learning in a patient setting, such as a clinic or hospital. A clinical instructor supervises students in a clinical or patient-based environment. Within this setting, a clinical instructor evaluates a student's practical application of classroom information, proficiency in required techniques, quality of communication, and ability to organize patient care.
One of a clinical instructor's primary duties is the assessment of a student's practical application of medical or nursing theory. This skill requires more than a rote memorization of a disease's causes and symptoms on the part of the student. Rather, the details regarding the disease and the resulting treatment must be understood in a seamless way. The clinical instructor accomplishes this by assigning appropriate patients to each student, evaluating the thoroughness of each student's written patient care plan and observing the student as he performs patient assessment and care. An effective clinical instructor neither micromanages a student's patient care nor leaves him to fend for himself.
Instruction in proper procedure and techniques is another job duty of a clinical instructor. In a nursing program, topics might include subjects as varied as correctly performing a sterile dressing change, performing a respiratory assessment, starting an intravenous line or removing wound sutures. Depending upon the topic and how difficult it is to master, the instructor may perform the procedure while explaining all the steps to a group of students, or talk a student through the procedure step-by-step. Most clinical programs have a certain set of skills at which students must demonstrate proficiency to their clinical instructors in order to successfully pass the course. Instructors observe students' efforts and grade them on a "pass/fail" basis with instructions for improvement in the future.
Another aspect of a clinical instructor's job description includes evaluating students' patient communication and care organization skills. There are fewer absolutes involved in these skill sets and instruction must emphasize the overall theory behind recommended actions while demonstrating concrete actions. For instance, after teaching students how to use open-ended questions with patients, an instructor may provide examples of this method in a conversation with a patient. A clinical instructor also reviews with each student the organization of their plans of care and provides instruction in prioritization and flexibility of patient care.