Easing the Transition From Student to Clinician
6 minute read
You are here.
You're approaching your final clinical rotation.
You are excited to reach the final step in your journey to becoming a physical therapist. However, you realize that there is still a big learning curve to come once you graduate and become licensed.
That learning curve not only entails the rest of your clinical experience, but also the responsibility and accountability of caring for patients, learning how to accommodate productivity goals, maintaining communication with physicians and other providers, supervising and directing staff, and maintaining a healthy work–life balance.
You realize there is a lot more to being a clinician than what meets the eye, and that may be a little daunting.
I totally understand, and I was in your same shoes just a few years ago.
I felt like I had to find a way to balance a lot going into my final round of clinical rotations: finishing up remaining course work, preparing to graduate, and studying for the upcoming licensure exam. The last thing that I felt I could do was prepare for all the other duties and responsibilities of being a clinician. I thought wrong.
There is a lot to manage and prepare for while on your final clinical rotations; however, I found that good mentorship with your clinical instructor (CI) can cover all your bases with plenty of time before you graduate. This allows you to experience and practice working under those stresses before you become gainfully employed.
When I was a student, I was aware of my strengths and passions, both of which were going to lead me to working in orthopedics in either a hospital or outpatient setting.
With my experiences in previous rotations and encounters with clinicians, I had a small glimpse into the full spectrum of expectations and accountability of a physical therapist (PT). Therefore, I knew that I needed to experience as close to a “real day” as possible while I was on clinical rotations in preparation to meet and exceed those expectations after graduation.
I knew that I first had to put in the time to get my clinical skills down pat, build on documentation efficiency and patient rapport, then add the productivity and administrative aspects. Thankfully, I was given an opportunity by my CIs to experience these aspects of a normal work day, and more.
After I worked with a patient and completed the documentation, I began improving my time efficiency by using tips and tricks from my CIs, making sure that I was effectively treating my patients, but doing so in a timely manner to meet our productivity goals.
When a physician called about a patient, I was given the opportunity by my CIs to take point in the conversation and speak on behalf of the patient who we were treating.
All of this gave me the experience to build confidence in myself and my skills that I had learned up to that point working with patients. It also gave me the experience and confidence in working with other disciplines in treating patients, which happens regularly in our profession. However, most students are not given that exposure while on clinical rotations.
I was given the opportunity to study with my CIs during downtime, which allowed me to keep fresh on some of the weaker areas in my studies for my upcoming licensure exam. This helped soothe my nerves as we were getting closer to graduation and my exam.
I also had to manage all the time it took for professional conferences and other obligations that I had outside of the clinic with my involvement in the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), which my CIs were very accommodating.
Throughout my experiences on clinical rotations, I was able to address my fears about accepting the full extent of what it takes to becoming an effective PT.
Before graduation, we were able to practice interview skills and questions, and went over several common topics regarding interviewing and job searching.
Today, I'm writing to you from the other side.
As a CI, I return the same favor as my predecessors and strive to give all my students the same experiences that I was given in learning and practicing all aspects and demands of being a clinician.
As my students progress through their clinical curriculum, they are gradually introduced to more expectations that we as clinicians are given on a daily basis. They are able to overcome their initial fears of transitioning from a student to a clinician and building a greater sense of confidence going forward that potentially other students do not develop until later.
By the time my students have completed their rotations, we have worked hard to become entry-level and beyond in their clinical practice skills. We have practiced efficient documentation skills to meet productivity goals, met and discussed patient cases with physicians and other providers, practiced flexibility with ever-changing schedules of an outpatient orthopedic clinic, practiced interviewing skills, and found time to enjoy fun evenings to make sure that we have that healthy work–life balance!
The students who I've had contact with after graduation have told me how confident and comfortable they felt moving into their new roles as clinicians. They are able to meet and exceed their employers' goals as well as being more confident in their clinical practice skills. They can accommodate not only the clinical side of our profession, but also the administrative side, which greatly shortens the transition period. Their classmates who were given similar experiences leading up to graduation also were confident in their new roles.
Students have every right to feel uneasy when it comes to the final stretch of their physical therapy school journey.
There is naturally a great deal of excitement and gravity that takes place when you look ahead and see that you only have a few weeks left as a student before taking on a great deal of responsibility as a clinician and experience those expectations.
It is in the best interest of both students, and their CIs, to use every second wisely while on clinical rotations to learn everything that they can to truly becoming entry-level ready. This should address the fears that students have in their final moments of transitioning from a student to a clinician.
As our profession and the learning curve into clinical practice continue to grow, we will need to rely on our CIs to assist in ensuring that graduates joining the workforce are confident that they can transition seamlessly without any reservation.
I wage my success on that of my students—what do you wage yours on?
William Stokes, PT, DPT, graduated from Wingate University and completed his clinical residency in orthopaedic physical therapy at the Nxt Gen Institute of Physical Therapy. He currently practices at the Greg Ott Center for Physical Therapy in Mooresville, North Carolina. He is an active member of APTA and the North Carolina Physical Therapy Association, serving on several committees and task forces, and he is an advanced credentialed CI. You can connect with him on email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Facebook and Twitter.