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23-07-2021 | Original Article | Uitgave 6/2021 Open Access

Perspectives on Medical Education 6/2021

How supervisor trust affects early residents’ learning and patient care: A qualitative study

Perspectives on Medical Education > Uitgave 6/2021
Brian C. Gin, Stephanie Tsoi, Leslie Sheu, Karen E. Hauer
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Supplementary Information

The online version of this article (https://​doi.​org/​10.​1007/​s40037-021-00674-9) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
The authors Brian C. Gin and Stephanie Tsoi are joint first authors.



Trust between supervisors and trainees mediates trainee participation and learning. A resident (postgraduate) trainee’s understanding of their supervisor’s trust can affect their perceptions of their patient care responsibilities, opportunities for learning, and overall growth as physicians. While the supervisor perspective of trust has been well studied, less is known about how resident trainees recognize supervisor trust and how it affects them.


In this qualitative study, 21 pediatric residents were interviewed at a single institution. Questions addressed their experiences during their first post-graduate year (PGY-1) on inpatient wards. Each interviewee was asked to describe three different patient care scenarios in which they perceived optimal, under-, and over-trust from their resident supervisor. Data were analyzed using thematic analysis.


Residents recognized and interpreted their supervisor’s trust through four factors: supervisor, task, relationship, and context. Optimal trust was associated with supervision balancing supervisor availability and resident independence, tasks affording participation in decision-making, trusting relationships with supervisors, and a workplace fostering appropriate autonomy and team inclusivity. The effects of supervisor trust on residents fell into three themes: learning experiences, attitudes and self-confidence, and identities and roles. Optimal trust supported learning via tailored guidance, confidence and lessened vulnerability, and a sense of patient ownership and team belonging.


Understanding how trainees recognize supervisor trust can enhance interventions for improving the dialogue of trust between supervisors and trainees. It is important for supervisors to be cognizant of their trainees’ interpretations of trust because it affects how trainees understand their patient care roles, perceive autonomy, and approach learning.
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