The support needs of health professional educators to teach clinical skills online: Experiences of COVID-19 lockdowns from three countries




Clinical education, Clinical skills, Staff support, Online learning, COVID-19.


Introduction: Supporting educators has been identified as vital for the efficacy and sustainability of online teaching. The teaching of clinical skills online presents additional challenges given the vast shift from traditional pedagogies. However, the support needs of health professional educators to teach clinical skills online are unknown. The aim of this study was to explore educator experiences of teaching clinical skills online and investigate their workplace support needs.

Methods: A qualitative approach using focus groups was used to investigate educator experiences at three universities in Australia, Chile and South Africa. Data were subject to thematic analysis, and a thematic network tool was used to triangulate international experiences.

Results: Seven focus groups were undertaken, with a total of 32 participants. Four global themes were identified following analysis: 1) the educator experience, 2) changes to pedagogy, 3) challenges to teaching online and 4) support for educators.

Conclusions: This study has highlighted the professional challenges that teaching clinical skills online creates for health professional educators and the uncertainty regarding expectations and outcomes. Enhancing university support for educators to prepare and provide clinical skills teaching online is suggested to mitigate these challenges. Recommendations are made for universities and educators to consider in the pursuit of effective and sustainable teaching of clinical skills online.


Anderson, T. (2011). The theory and practice of online learning (2nd ed.). AU Press.

Attride-Stirling, J. (2001). Thematic networks: An analytic tool for qualitative research. Qualitative Research, 1(3), 385–405.

Bao, W. (2020). COVID‐19 and online teaching in higher education: A case study of Peking University. Human Behavior and Emerging Technologies, 2(2), 113–115.

Baran, E., Correia, A.-P., & Thompson, A. (2011). Transforming online teaching practice: Critical analysis of the literature on the roles and competencies of online teachers. Distance Education, 32(3), 421–439.

Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77–101.

Chan, M. M. K., Yu, D. S. F., Lam, V. S. F., & Wong, J. Y. H. (2020). Online clinical training in the COVID‐19 pandemic. The Clinical Teacher, 17(4), 445–446.

Co, M., Chung, P. H.-Y., & Chu, K.-M. (2021). Online teaching of basic surgical skills to medical students during the COVID-19 pandemic: A case-control study. Surgery Today, 51(8), 1404–1409.

Darling-Hammond, L., & Hyler, M. E. (2020). Preparing educators for the time of COVID … and beyond. European Journal of Teacher Education, 43(4), 457–465.

Dawson, C. M. P., Schwartz, A. W., & Farrell, S. E. (2020). A telehealth clinical skills education adaptation. The Clinical Teacher, 17(4), 437–439.

Downing, J. J., & Dyment, J. E. (2013). Teacher educators' readiness, preparation, and perceptions of preparing preservice teachers in a fully online environment: An exploratory study. The Teacher Educator, 48(2), 96–109.

Edirippulige, S., Brooks, P., Carati, C., Wade, V. A., Smith, A. C., Wickramasinghe, S., & Armfield, N. R. (2018). It’s important, but not important enough: eHealth as a curriculum priority in medical education in Australia. Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare, 24(10), 697–702.

Ekert, J. O., Luchesa Smith, A., Ramsey, C. L., Robinson, N., Love, J., Gothard, P., & Armitage, A. J. (2020). Medical student-led simulation in COVID-19 crisis. The Clinical Teacher.

Englander, M. (2016). The phenomenological method in qualitative psychology and psychiatry. International Journal of Qualitative Studies on Health and Well-being, 11(1), Article 30682.

Forbes, R., Martin, R., Patterson, F., Hill, A., Hoyle, M., Penman, A., Leung, L., Smith, S., & Mandrusiak, A. (2021). Exploring allied health professional student and academic teacher experiences of teaching and learning clinical skills online in response to COVID-19. Australian Journal of Clinical Education, 9(1), 1–15.

Gormley, G. J., Collins, K., Boohan, M., Bickle, I. C., & Stevenson, M. (2009). Is there a place for e-learning in clinical skills? A survey of undergraduate medical students' experiences and attitudes. Medical Teacher, 31(1), e6–e12.

Hofer, S. I., Nistor, N., & Scheibenzuber, C. (2021). Online teaching and learning in higher education: Lessons learned in crisis situations. Computers in Human Behavior, 121(C), Article 106789.

Iglesias-Pradas, S., Hernández-García, Á., Chaparro-Peláez, J., & Prieto, J. L. (2021). Emergency remote teaching and students’ academic performance in higher education during the COVID-19 pandemic: A case study. Computers in Human Behavior, 119, Article 106713.

Kebritchi, M., Lipschuetz, A., & Santiague, L. (2017). Issues and challenges for teaching successful online courses in higher education: A literature review. Journal of Educational Technology Systems, 46(1), 4–29.

Khan, H. (2020). An adaptation of Peyton's 4-stage approach to deliver clinical skills teaching remotely. MedEdPublish, 9(1), Article 73.

Kinman, G. (2014). Doing more with less? Work and wellbeing in academics. Somatechnics, 4(2), 219–235.

MacIntyre, P. D., Gregersen, T., & Mercer, S. (2020). Language teachers’ coping strategies during the Covid-19 conversion to online teaching: Correlations with stress, wellbeing and negative emotions. System (Linköping), 94, Article 102352.

Maini, A., Pistoll, C., Dutta, N., Thacker, N., Bhamjee, R., Mahoney, C., Thakerar, V., & Kumar, S. (2020). Digitally converting undergraduate primary care. The Clinical Teacher, 17(4), 440–442.

Martin, R., Mandrusiak, A., Russell, T., & Forbes, R. (2021). New-graduate physiotherapists’ training needs and readiness for telehealth. Physiotherapy Theory and Practice. Advance online publication.

Naylor, D., & Nyanjom, J. (2020). Educators' emotions involved in the transition to online teaching in higher education. Higher Education Research & Development, 40(6), 1236–1250.

O'Doherty, D., Dromey, M., Lougheed, J., Hannigan, A., Last, J., & McGrath, D. (2018). Barriers and solutions to online learning in medical education: An integrative review. BMC Medical Education, 18(1), Article 130.

Patton, M. (2002). Qualitative research and evaluation method (3rd ed.). Sage.

Ragsdale, M., & Schuessler, J. B. (2021). The impact of simulation and senior practicum on graduating senior nursing student's readiness for practice. Clinical Simulation in Nursing, 53, 66–70.

Rose, S. (2020). Medical student education in the time of COVID-19. JAMA, 323(21), 2131–2132.

Scherer, R., Howard, S. K., Tondeur, J., & Siddiq, F. (2021). Profiling teachers' readiness for online teaching and learning in higher education: Who's ready? Computers in Human Behavior, 118, Article 106675.

Scott, I. (2020). Education during COVID‐19: Pivots and consequences. The Clinical Teacher, 17(4), 443–444.

Shih, K. C., Chan, J. C.-H., Chen, J. Y., & Lai, J. S.-M. (2020). Ophthalmic clinical skills teaching in the time of COVID‐19: A crisis and opportunity. Medical Education, 54(7), 663–664.

Si, J., Kong, H.-H., & Lee, S.-H. (2021). Exploring medical educators' readiness and the priority of their educational needs for online teaching. Korean Journal of Medical Education, 33(1), 37–44.

Smyth, S., Houghton, C., Cooney, A., & Casey, D. (2012). Students' experiences of blended learning across a range of postgraduate programmes. Nurse Education Today, 32(4), 464–468.

Varpio, L., Ajjawi, R., Monrouxe, L. V., O'Brien, B. C., & Rees, C. E. (2017). Shedding the cobra effect: Problematising thematic emergence, triangulation, saturation and member checking. Medical Education, 51(1), 40–50.

von Keyserlingk, M. A. G. (2021). COVID-19: Transitioning from in class to online teaching in a heartbeat—research methods in applied biology. Translational Animal Science, 5(1), Article txab014.

Wallace, D. (2020). Teaching practical and clinical skills remotely.




How to Cite

Martin, R., Mandrusiak, A., Fuentes-Cimma, J., Henrico, K., Patterson, F., Hill, A., Hoyle, M., Penman, A., & Forbes, R. (2022). The support needs of health professional educators to teach clinical skills online: Experiences of COVID-19 lockdowns from three countries. Focus on Health Professional Education: A Multi-Professional Journal, 23(3), 18–35.