8 Ways to Make the Most of Your Clinicals
Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes
APTA asked several #FreshPTs what they learned while serving clinical rotations, and what they wish they'd known going in.
Although they worked in vastly different settings—from large hospital systems to small private practices—in cities large and small, treating patients and clients of all ages, distinct themes emerged.
Here are their tips for making the most of clinical rotations:
Focus on what you're doing, not where you're doing it.
"I often hear students complaining about the location of their clinical. I wasn't excited about going to Tupelo, Mississippi, but it was the best of all my rotations. Don't get caught up on the location. You are there to learn."
"Do not use your clinical rotation as a vacation. Also, don't pick a clinic just because of a convenient location. Your job is to learn as much as you can from your CI [clinical instructor] and fully embrace the experience of treating patients in that setting. You made a commitment of 3 years of your life so that you can help other people improve their function. So do it!"
Seek out settings and experiences that challenge you.
"Clinical rotations are a time to broaden and refine your skill set, and each CI will offer you a unique learning experience often very different from your PT school education."
"Challenge yourself by tackling at least 1 task each day that you haven't ever done before."
"I thought my CI was going to fall out of her chair when I asked to go shadow a surgery, wound care, and the hand therapy clinic. She was more than happy to set that up for me. You have to remember you will only get out what you put in during your time on rotation. Use those 8-12 weeks to your advantage!"
"Always investigate your clinical locations ahead of time to learn the organization's mission, vision, and treatment techniques."
"Go in with goals! It might be that you want to learn the business side of the practice. Or maybe you want to learn a technique that your CI knows well. Don't just show up."
Strive to improve yourself, not prove yourself.
"You're going to feel like you don't know what you are doing, and that's okay. Go in with a good attitude and absorb as much as you can. Ask questions. Take the time to look up answers."
"When I started my clinical rotations I was always striving to impress, and it sometimes prevented me from asking critical questions. It is important to realize no one is expecting you to be a master clinician right out of the gate. As a student you should prepare for the many mistakes you will make and be humble enough to learn and grow from them."
"Be comfortable with asking lots of questions, even if you feel like you should know something. Have patience with yourself and practice what you find difficult."
"You will never, and should never, be able to master your setting in the 6-12 weeks that you are placed there."
Take responsibility for learning from your CI.
"When you are struggling, talk to your CI about it. Ask for time to study in the clinic if you need it. Ask for 1-on-1 time. They became a CI because they want to teach, but you have to let them know how. And ask as many questions as possible."
"My CIs had no problem staying 10-15 minutes late with me or using our lunch time to discuss an article I found, a technique I was interested in, or a certain patient on our schedule. If your CI sees that you are trying, they will more than likely be happy to help."
Keep an open mind.
"Each clinical instructor offers a unique take on physical therapy, and checking all potential biases at the door is a must."
"If your clinic or instructor operates in a way that you find to be difficult, try to make the best of it by focusing on the positive, rather than the negative, aspects of the situation."
Learn to communicate with the people you treat.
"One of the most valuable skills you can take away is the ability to interact and connect with your patients. If your patients don't trust that you have listened and understand their needs, it doesn't matter how many 'tools' are in your toolbox."
"The best things you can do for your patient are to listen and explain. Often you will be the first person to explain their diagnosis to them in a way they can understand."
"Remember: You're not treating a patient. You're treating a person."
Don't stop learning.
"The temptation when you finish 3 long years of school is to take a huge break. The problem is most people take years to get back to learning. Dedicate the first 5 years of your professional life to soaking up knowledge."
"Don't let your discomfort as a clinician scare you. Embrace it, because it will facilitate new learning opportunities. A good friend and physical therapist once told me, 'If you are feeling comfortable in your day-to-day practice, you are probably doing something wrong.'"
Have advice about clinicals for students? Leave them in the comments section below!
Giving Back to the Community That Supports Us
Estimated Reading Time: 1 minute
In an effort to give back to our community and put into practice the core values of what a physical therapist (PT) is, first-year students at Trine University in Fort Wayne, Indiana, spent a day in October volunteering to serve food to the homeless.
The event was organized by Erica Hoot, SPT, along with Serving Simply, an organization that serves the homeless population in Fort Wayne every Saturday.
"I thought that volunteering for Serving Simply was a great experience for our class because we impacted people right in our own backyard of Fort Wayne. Our community is extremely important to us and I think it was great to give back to the community that supports our school and students," said Erica.
In addition to serving dinner, students handed out personal hygiene items and clothing, including hats and gloves.
Students who participated found the experience to be eye-opening and put the struggles of a physical therapy student into perspective.
"I think the most important takeaway from the experience was to see that no matter how hard we think we have it as physical therapy students, there are people in our own community who have it much harder and have to think about getting by day by day. It is important that we, as part of the community, help them as much as we can," said Alexandra Court, SPT.
Students agreed that lending a hand to those who are struggling is important.
From this experience, I took away that no one is exempt from hard times. Whether it is a family, single man, mother, or grandma everyone has their own struggles, and it was an incredible opportunity to come together as a community and help others with whatever struggles they may be facing.
Torrey Christopher, SPT, is a first-year student at Trine University in Fort Wayne, Indiana. To learn more about community service projects at Trine University you can contact Torrey at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes
You know that feeling when you instantly connect with someone?
Whether it's knowing where your hometown is, sharing similar interests, or even knowing the same person, that connection can feel electric—like a bolt of energy and excitement—when this stranger you just met instantly becomes your friend, and that friend feels like family.
These are the type of connections I have felt when attending conferences in my state and nationally.
As students, we share experiences, like knowing the struggle of getting into physical therapy school and then we bond with our classmates, as we battle through our classes together all with the same goal: to join this amazing profession.
As future physical therapists, we all share strong common interests like improving the health of our communities, working and engaging with individuals, and providing care to help people reach their goals and live a healthy, pain-free life.
To me, one of the most valuable things about my APTA membership is that it allows for opportunities to share experiences with people who have that fire and passion for our profession. And while there are many ways to experience this community, whether virtually or in person, APTA conferences are one of my favorite ways.
Conferences allow you to meet "your people," your #PTFam, face-to-face, for a week of engagement, networking, and so much more.
In 2017, I attended my first National Student Conclave (NSC) in Portland, Oregon. I remember APTA President Sharon Dunn, PT, PhD, speaking about the importance of collaboration with others and acting as the "lightning before the thunder."
That idea has resonated with me to this day. For me, I believe that each of us has this lightning in a bottle that holds our ideas and passions and that one connection you make can light that fire to inspire others, and it becomes a chain reaction.
Each connection I have made as an APTA member and conference attendee has left me fired up and wanting to do more and be more for the profession I love so much.
Now, it's almost been a month since attending NSC in Providence, Rhode Island, and I'm still riding that postconference high and counting down the days to Combined Sections Meeting in 2019.
I'm ready to reconnect with my #PTFam and experience the electric love of being surrounded by those who support your dreams and aspirations and want to help our profession to continually grow and move forward!
Okay, Google, play "Electric Love."
Join us January 23-26, 2019 in downtown Washington, DC for CSM 2019. Registration discounts end December 5, 2018.
Kristen Santos, SPT, is a student at
Pacific University School of Physical Therapy. You can connect with Kristen on Twitter at: @ksantos_spt.
Podcast: The X-Ray Showed a Bird
Listening Time - 15:49
Welcome to the Pulse podcast, I’m Amelia Sullivan. This podcast series expands on notable articles originally published at APTA’s Pulse blog for PT and PTA students so they can reach a wider audience.
In this episode, we talk to Kaylee Van Deusen, SPT, about visual thinking strategies.
We start with a journey to a campus art museum, and Kaylee explains how that experience provides lessons for improving communication and listening in the clinic.
Here's our conversation with Kaylee.
Podcast coming December 2018.
To read Kaylee’s original blog post, "The X-Ray Showed a Bird," visit the Pulse blog at APTA.org/Pulse.
APTA Podcasts like this one are available on iTunes and Google Play, or visit APTA.org/Podcasts
Collaboration as Students
Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes
I have been a part of many sports teams over the years, and some of my favorite memories are experiences I have shared with my teammates. The countless hours we spent together at practice, in the weight room, and traveling on the bus to games strengthened our relationships, which ultimately helped us achieve our goals. Our teamwork allowed us to win multiple championships and set school records, so I assumed that my experience of being part of a team would make working with other health care professionals a breeze.
Collaboration has become a buzzword used to describe health care providers working together. So I wonder, are collaboration and teamwork the same?
Teamwork involves a group of individuals working together. Each member of the team has a specific task and a leader who guides the team toward their goals. Collaboration involves a group of individuals working together, but it requires flexibility, creativity, and shared responsibility. In collaboration, there is not one specific leader, but rather the team is self-managed with leaders arising when needed for specific tasks. When individuals collaborate they trust each other, respect the opinions of others, and come together to achieve something bigger than themselves.
In order to provide the best outcomes for our patients, we as PTs and PTAs need to strive to collaborate. A great time to start this collaboration is as students.
Although you may agree that collaboration is important, you could be like me wondering how I can collaborate as a student if the nearest physical therapy program is 78 miles away. Thankfully, for you and me there are many options!
The first step in building a strong collaborative team is to have a good understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the teammates we will be working with. The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) has provided many great resources to help us understand the educational requirements, the specific roles in providing physical therapy, and the entry-level skill set of PTs and PTAs. Previous blog posts by the interprofessional collaboration committee in the APTA Pulse have done a great job of explaining the importance of the PT–PTA team.
Once you have a better understanding of who PTs and PTAs are and what they can do, it’s time to spend some time together. But who has time to drive 78 miles to get together when there is homework to do, group projects to complete, and an upcoming practical? No problem, connect with another PT–PTA program over lunch through a video conference. There are 364 PTA programs and 242 PT programs in the United States. You can connect with a program across the country or in the same state. You can spend time chatting and getting to know each other, or you can work through patient scenarios together to understand the perspective and clinical reasoning each teammate brings to the partnership.
There are multiple state and nationwide activities that encourage collaboration between PTs and PTAs. One example is PT Day of Service. To see if your state has any activities planned contact your core ambassador or state SIG chapter. If nothing has been planned start your own event! Get a group of physical therapy students together to help with a home build, clean up a local neighborhood, or find a local pro bono clinic and volunteer to help take vital signs.
Another great opportunity to connect and build relationships is at state and national conferences. This fall the National Student Conclave held in Rhode Island connected physical therapy students through conference connections and provided the opportunity for students to collaborate together through a community service project during the onsite Build a Hand event in Providence. Look for similar opportunities at CSM in January, and check out the programming to find sessions on PT–PTA collaboration.
With all these opportunities to collaborate as students, what are you waiting for? Strengthening the PT–PTA relationship as students will allow us to collaborate more effectively as clinicians, strengthen the physical therapy profession, and ultimately allow us to provide the best care for our patients. #StrongAtHome #BetterTogether
Sarah Costello, SPT
Health Through Movement and Nutrition
Estimated Reading Time: 1 minute
On October 19, as part of this year’s 2018 Physical Therapy Day of Service (PTDOS), Ohio University (OU) physical therapy students volunteered their time to participate in a garden cleanup effort at one of the local community gardens near the campus.
About 20 students came out to help at the Eastside Community Garden, 1 of 5 community gardens in the area managed by Community Food Initiatives (CFI), a local nonprofit organization.
CFI’s mission includes food access for southeastern Ohio communities. Their projects include maintaining community gardens, supporting school gardens, teaching nutrition classes in schools, as well as collecting and distributing fresh, local produce to local food pantries.
This was the second year that students from OU’s Physical Therapy program had helped out with this effort, and CFI garden coordinator, Bailey Stein, was pleased with how much work the group got done.
“The garden cleanup went extremely well! The physical therapy student group accomplished so much more than I would have ever been able to get done by myself, and they helped accomplish a task that is necessary to the flow of the garden, but not something I'd be able to focus on this time of year.”
Adam Paynter, an OU physical therapy student who attended the garden cleanup, had also been involved in the CFI community gardens by having a garden plot for 2 seasons at the Southside Garden location.
Adam enjoyed participating with CFI and praised the organization for providing a tangible community built on healthy lifestyle choices and food access.
“It was great to connect with other classmates and Athens community members over the common task of helping provide high-quality foods to local people in need.”
The OU Physical Therapy program hopes to continue to partner with local community members like CFI in the promotion of health through movement and good nutrition, both of which were cultivated in the name of PTDOS 2018!
Leda McDaniel, SPT at Ohio University.
The Battle of the Blitz
Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes
Crash. Bang. Wooh!
I looked up to see a physical therapy student rolling across the baseline of the basketball court at Charles J. Ping Center at Ohio University.
Her arms are up in exclamation and a volleyball is sitting in her lap. She is seated in a rugby wheelchair, as her teammates finally found a way to score against the members of the Ohio Buckeye Blitz, a semiprofessional wheelchair rugby team out of Columbus, Ohio.
This is the rare scene during the 12th Annual Quad Rugby: Battle the Blitz fundraiser hosted by the Ohio University Department of Physical Therapy. Each year, teams of 4-6 people can sign up to play against the Blitz for a 30-minute game, often to their own demise. The event is a big draw for physical therapy students and alumni, but anyone can play in the event.
A standard game of wheelchair rugby is played 4 vs 4 on a hardwood regulation basketball court. For a goal to count, 2 wheels of the player's wheelchair must cross the goal line with complete possession of the ball. It must be carried across, not passed. Physical contact between wheelchairs is permitted and is actually encouraged—one reason why wheelchair rugby used to be termed murderball.
To be eligible to play wheelchair rugby, athletes must have some form of disability with a loss of function in all 4 extremities. Most wheelchair rugby athletes have spinal cord injuries at the cervical level, but other eligible players may have multiple amputations or other neurological disorders. Players are classified according to their functional level and assigned a point value ranging from 0.5 (the lowest functional level) to 3.5 (the highest functional level). The total classification value of the court at one time cannot exceed 8 points.
Players use customized wheelchairs designed specifically for wheelchair rugby. These chairs can cost up to $7,000 each. In order to play competitively, it's estimated that league fees, tournament registration, travel, housing, spare wheels, and other equipment for the year can cost more than $17,000. That is why the Battle the Blitz fundraiser means so much to players like Jeremy Finton.
"The event allows me to play throughout the season, lessening the financial impact. Without it, I would only be able to play in 1 or 2 tournaments, at best."
Over the last 12 years, wheelchair rugby has provided Jeremy with an outlet to work through life's frustrations. He says that by being around like-minded people, he has figured out to make life functionally easier. He states that he is less depressed and is physically stronger as a result of playing this competitive sport. "It is a fun team sport where I can get some exercise. It's basically bumper cars! Who doesn't want to do that?"
Blitz team member Daniel Pitaluga adds, "This event not only serves as a fundraiser to be able to afford playing in tournaments throughout the year, but it is also an opportunity to introduce adaptive sports to future physical therapists who can either serve as an advocate for the sport to a newly injured patient, or even participate in an administrative or coaching capacity at some point."
The physical therapy students also enjoy the opportunity to work closely with these adaptive athletes. Alyssa Flora, a third-year physical therapy student at Ohio University says: "As a student, this event has taught me far more about spinal cord injury than any class could have taught me. And experiencing my own soreness after playing a 30-minute game, I've gained an appreciation for the amount of upper extremity strength and endurance required of athletes with absent or diminished trunk control."
She continues, "It is a great opportunity for the community to learn about wheelchair rugby and lessen the financial burden it places on its participants. It is also an opportunity for individuals who have quadriplegia in the surrounding areas to learn about the local adaptive sports resources available to them. Most of all, this event creates an opportunity to bridge the gap between individuals who are disabled and individuals who are able-bodied. It puts us into the shoes of the athletes who have quadriplegia, addressing the stereotype that persons with disabilities should be objects of pity or sympathy, when in fact they most often desire to be treated the same as everybody else."
Members of the Buckeye Blitz give back to the students throughout the school year by volunteering their time and speaking about their experiences with physical therapy, including wheelchair prescription and functional training. They also allow students to practice their fundamental skills like manual muscle testing, bed mobility, and full evaluations. This provides us as students with a unique opportunity to work with patients with spinal cord injury prior to clinical experiences.
Alyssa states, "I have been lucky enough to have extensive conversations with many of the team members and understand what types of communication and treatment approaches they value in health care providers. With this understanding, I can now enhance the quality of my own patient care."
As the duct tape is being ripped off gloves and the scuff marks are being scrubbed off the court, a final count of money raised is being completed. This year on PT Day of Service, the 12th Annual Quad Rugby: Battle the Blitz raised $6,164.44—the biggest event yet!
Emma Fish, SPT, ATC, is a current third-year physical therapist student at Ohio University and is vice chair of the Ohio Physical Therapy Association Student Special Interest Group. You can connect with her on Twitter at @efish7.