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The Importance of Trust in Clinical Teaching

           Susan Knowles, DNP, RN

Building trust with students is essential as an instructor. “Trust is the foundational principle that holds all relationships together” and is the most important aspect found in effective communication according to Covey (nd). Students are looking to us and at us for leadership. They are watching how we act toward them, around them, and for them.


According to students, being a good role model is what makes us an effective clinical nursing instructor (Mogan & Knox, 1987). It is a given that clinical instructors are competent in the clinical area but as beginning instructors we are not necessarily competent in our teaching skills and strategies.


As instructors, we must continue to improve our skills as both teachers and clinicians. This demonstrates lifelong learning and role modeling.










So how do we develop trust with students?


The formula to develop trust with our students can be simple if we follow the suggestions found in Pennington’s Blog post (2012).

  • We must demonstrate competence as nurses and then follow through with what we asked for and promise.


  • We must be able to communicate well through our expectations and with the feedback we give students.

    • We communicate clearly through both written and verbal communications. Remember none of us are mind readers.

    • We support students when they are attempting a new skill. We do not belittle them should they make a mistake and we do give them specific, prescriptive feedback.


  • Perhaps most importantly we must improve our own skills of being consistent.  

    • If our expectations express consequences, we must follow-through with consequences and promises.

    • We must follow the same rules that we set for students because our actions speak. We must be reliable.


  • We are our student’s advocate. We have our “students back”.

    • Supporting our students through difficult situations in the clinical area is extremely important, as the unit staff may not always be as helpful or supportive of students.


  Trust is our greatest ally.

Our greatest ally in clinical teaching is in building and maintaining trusting relationships with our students, as well as, others involved in clinical teaching. When students trust us, they will follow us and our direction.



Covey, S. (2009). The High Cost of Low Trust. Uploaded by OfficeArrow. Retrieved video from


Mogan, J., & Knox, J. E. (1987). Characteristics of "best" and "worst" clinical teachers as perceived by university nursing faculty and

students. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 12(3), 331-337. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2648.1987.tb01339.x


Pennington, R. (2012). Trust is an action verb. Management Tools HR Magazine. Retrieved rom

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