Questions that Work: The Key to Cultivating Student Success in the Clinic


Clinical reasoning and interpersonal skills are core to professional development. While educators provide the foundation for these skills in the classroom, it is not until students get into the clinical setting that these skills are refined. Teaching in the clinic environment requires clinicians to implement multiple strategies and modify them at a moment’s notice. Common teaching strategies include having students observe skilled practitioners, practice hands-on skills, and receive feedback on their performance. Underpinning each of these strategies is the use of effective questions. Using questions helps the clinical instructor differentiate what the student knows and does not know. However, questions should not be limited to a fact-finding mission of content knowledge. Skilled use of questions can provide students with opportunities to reflect, self-assess, gain confidence, hone professional behaviors, foster interpersonal communication, and develop clinical reasoning skills. However, unskilled use of questions can create an unsafe learning environment in which students feel anxious or perceive they are in continuous “testing” mode. The purpose of this educational workshop is to provide participants with tools to formulate and apply effective questions that target specific teaching purposes in the clinic environment.

Methods and/or Description of Project

Student learning outcomes in the clinic environment center on professional behaviors and higher order clinical reasoning that result in entry-level performance. This session will include a brief overview of questioning frameworks and focus on how best to design effective questions to achieve expected outcome. Participants will explore frameworks and develop effective questions through discussion, small group work, and role-plays. The use of case vignettes will facilitate immediate application of concepts presented and enable participants to develop targeted questions to enhance student learning and performance in the clinic.


After the session, the participant will have readily available question frameworks that can be adapted to specific learning objectives in the clinic environment. Participants will be prepared to design questions targeting all performance levels and facilitate clinical reasoning and interpersonal skills in physical therapy students and residents at all levels and abilities.

Conclusions/Relevance to the conference theme: Through the Looking Glass: Transforming Physical Therapy Education

Intentional use of questions in the clinic environment supports a positive learning environment and develops clinical reasoning and overall professional growth as a future physical therapist or physical therapist assistant. It challenges students to reflect and make positive changes in their ability to articulate rationale for actions in a professional manner. Questions can also provide opportunities for students to develop professional communication skills through reflection on their actions as well as plans for future performance.


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Course Objectives

Identify frameworks to facilitate effective question development specific to the learner’s needs
Discuss effective strategies of when, what, and how to use questions in clinical teaching
Formulate questions based on student case studies/vignettes
Utilize developed questions in role play with participants
Critique developed questions from role play for effectiveness and achievement of expected outcome

Instructional Methods

Case scenarios
Small group work
Role play

Tentative Outline/Schedule

5 min: Introduction and review of session
20 min: Present three frameworks for effective questions
5 min: Video case discussion on effective use of question frameworks to support clinical reasoning development
15 min: Present/discuss effective strategies for question delivery in the clinic environment
30 min: Video case scenarios, worksheet activity on question development, role-play with participant with feedback on how questions were delivered
10 min: Debrief as a group with examples of effective/ineffective questions and achievement of expected outcome of the scenario
5 min: summary and wrap up of session

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  • Control #: 2748786
  • Type: Educational Session
  • Event/Year: ELC2017
  • Authors: Marisa Birkmeier, Margaret Plack
  • Keywords:

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