NSC: A First Year's Perspective
6 minute read
This October, I was given the opportunity to travel to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to attend the American Physical Therapy Association's (APTA's) 2019 National Student Conclave (NSC). This experience was eye-opening and introduced me to a variety of individuals who are passionate for furthering the profession of physical therapy. I learned much more than I had anticipated and would strongly recommend attending this conference to anyone who is able.
Attending this conference as a first-year student, I was very uncertain about what to expect.
One of the third-year students from my program was slated for an APTA Student Assembly Board position, so I saw this as a chance to support her while getting to learn more about the inner workings of APTA.
I quickly gravitated toward a group of student attendees from Florida, whom I met a couple of months prior at the Florida Physical Therapy Association Annual Assembly. Following advice given to me at a previous conference, I unofficially designated my now good friend Riyad Mohamed of the University of North Florida to be my "conference mentor." As a more experienced and heavily-involved student, he was able to explain numerous concepts and occurrences that I was not aware of going into this event. I would strongly recommend using a conference mentor for new attendees or first-year students. We hear of different conferences and events on the national level, but it may be a challenge to decipher between each of these events, especially as a first-year student, so allow me to break them down briefly.
There are 3 large conferences every year: APTA NEXT Conference & Exhibition, Combined Sections Meeting, and National Student Conclave. In addition to these conferences there are state and federal advocacy forums and APTA's House of Delegates. Each of these events offer exciting avenues for involvement within the profession, in conjunction with unique opportunities to broaden our professional networks. With that, I would like to tell you about my recent experience at APTA's 2019 NSC.
Conferences are typically comprised of a variety of interactive informational sessions, presented by industry leaders and topic experts. These sessions often will have an exhibit hall of vendors, organizations, and employers. In the exhibit hall, attendees are able to learn about new groups and organizations to become involved with, as well as potential employment opportunities postgraduation or for clinical rotations. The sessions and exhibit hall were about the only happenings I was anticipating going to ahead of this weekend. I later found that the APTA Student Assembly elections also take place at NSC each year and was given many opportunities to get to know the candidates, as well as learn of the process leading up to these elections.
The first general session at NSC started with a variety of high-energy, quick presentations from student members. We heard from APTA President Sharon Dunn, PT, PhD, and keynote speaker Joanna Lohman, a former professional soccer player, who discussed the hurdles that physical therapists helped her overcome during a career-halting injury. These talks were an awesome way to begin a fantastic weekend. NSC happened to fall on Halloween this year, so in the spirit of the holiday that evening's PT Pub Night social was packed with conference attendees decked out in their Halloween costumes. The Foundation for Physical Therapy Research launched its new fundraising challenge that evening as well.
On Friday morning we had the pleasure of hearing from President Dunn in a presidential town hall. Students were able to engage with her and ask a variety of questions. It was apparent that she valued the questions and the opportunity to speak with students. Later, we heard from the APTA Student Assembly candidates and their visions for students within APTA. Following these discussions, we heard from 3 industry leaders and learned their success journeys. Among these individuals were Jimmy McKay, the founder of PT Pintcast; Shante Cofield, PT, DPT, founder of The Movement Maestro; and Josh D'Angelo, PT, DPT, one of the developers of Movement X, Move Together, and PT Day of Service.
Throughout the day, attendees meandered through the exhibit hall to learn of various postgraduate employment options as well as additional opportunities to get involved in national physical therapy organizations. The conference also provided attendees with professional services, such as free headshots and resume reviews.
As mentioned previously, another awesome component of most conferences are the informational sessions. Attendees are able to choose which sessions to attend and are provided with insight that can be difficult to find outside of these settings. Some of the lectures I attended taught me the power of advocacy, the McKinsey approach to chronic pain, and obstacles faced during interprofessional collaboration. I also learned the importance of networking, which was fortified with every interaction throughout the conference.
Beyond the many learning experiences were the opportunities to participate in community service events throughout the conference. During our dinner Friday evening, at the center of each of our tables were giant bundles of fluff and numerous unstuffed teddy bears. Attendees put together an assortment of stuffed animals for local children in need. Another service event we got to participate in was the FUNFitness Special Olympics screening. This event was extremely enjoyable and included collaborating with students from other schools to provide an array of wellness screenings to the athletes of the New Mexico Special Olympics.
Another highlight was staff interaction. NSC attendees were invited to attend a focus group with APTA staff. We gave feedback about APTA, communications efforts, membership, and more. Just another example of APTA wanting to hear from students and valuing our feedback.
Attendees also enjoyed the PT-PAC party, where we gathered outside the Rio Bravo Brewing Company to play cornhole and further strengthen the budding friendships established earlier that day.
The eventful weekend ended with the lively game-show style Knowledge Bowl, hosted by EBS Healthcare, where attendees got to test their knowledge with practice questions from the National Physical Therapy Examination. And the swearing in of our newly elected APTA Student Assembly Board. It was a great time!
I sincerely enjoyed the opportunities to learn during NSC weekend, but I am even more appreciative of the professional relationships I was able to form at this conference. It seems that the profession of physical therapy attracts passionate, welcoming, and enthusiastic individuals, as these traits were apparent in nearly every person I had the pleasure of meeting. It also was nice getting the chance to meet face-to-face with people who I had previously connected with on social media.
The connections made at these events will surely remain with me throughout my career, and the insight they have provided me has already proved to be advantageous. Without taking the leap to attend an event I knew little about, I would have lost out on building these incredible relationships and the creation of my "PT Fam." I urge everyone reading this post to seek out these opportunities, and take advantage of the numerous benefits offered. Thank you for allowing me to share my NSC experience, and I can't wait to see you in Denver this February for CSM!
Marino Bucci, SPT, is a student at the University of Central Florida. You can connect with Marino on Twitter at @MarinoJBucci.
Bottom Line, NSC Is the Conference for Students
3 minute read
National Student Conclave (NSC) is the American Physical Therapy Association's (APTA's) conference "by students, for students," meaning that this conference is planned and organized by physical therapy students for the benefit of their fellow students.
This year, students from across the country gathered in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for NSC where we experienced an unforgettable weekend of networking, lectures, and service opportunities.
NSC is something I'd briefly heard about throughout school, but my program put much more of an emphasis on APTA's Combined Sections Meeting (CSM), so it never occurred to me what a good opportunity going to NSC would be.
I personally opted to attend the Florida Student Conclave each year, which is similar to NSC, but on more of a local level. Throughout the 2 years attending these conclaves, I slowly got more involved with APTA, the Florida Physical Therapy Association (FPTA), and student leadership within my chapter, which helped me develop some amazing relationships with students all throughout the state. As I finally entered my third year of physical therapy school, I decided to take the plunge and attend NSC 2019 at the encouragement of my Florida #PTFam.
Despite being the only student from my program at NSC this year, I actually never felt alone the entire time I was there. I was fortunate enough to have built many great relationships with students beforehand, whether it had been in person or on social media, so I had plenty of people surrounding me. And by attending NSC I met so many students and made many more connections.
It was said a few times throughout conference weekend, that when you put a bunch of like-minded individuals together in a room, the energy in the room is palpable, and I could not agree more.
At my program, I'm considered the "APTA guy." I'm the person who either attends conferences, gets involved in APTA/FPTA events, or greatly advocates for being a member of the professional associations. At NSC, I was surrounded by people just like that and it was honestly the most refreshing experience that I didn't know I needed. I couldn't be more grateful to be able to be around my #PTFam.
Attending NSC also made me realize how much APTA values students.
The first night of conference, APTA President Sharon Dunn, PT, PhD, kicked off the conference by explaining that 30% of APTA membership was made up of students and that student opinions were not only heard, but valued. She definitely put her money where her mouth was, as she spent most of the conference engaging with as many students as possible. I was fortunate enough to speak with her, and it was amazing to see the busiest person in our profession take her time to answer every question that I had with pleasure and with care and concern.
Lastly, NSC provided me with a great opportunity to get involved and give back to the local community. While at conference, I participated in the Special Olympics FUNfitness screening hosted by APTA. This event may have been one of my favorite things about this conference. I may be alone on this, but I genuinely enjoy being able to volunteer and really show what we are capable of as physical therapists. The fact that we were able to do this with the Special Olympics at the conference made this even better. The screening we performed involved multiple parts including, 5 Times Sit to Stand to assess function, Timed Up and Go, and Tandem Stance for balance and falls risk, the 2-Minute Step Test for aerobic fitness, a flexibility assessment, and, of course, the most important thing we can do: provide education. Another benefit of the screening was that it served as an opportunity to work in groups with students from across the country, at different programs, different years. All the students shared knowledge and reasoning, and the experience let us collaborate in a meaningful way. All of the athletes we screened were amazing individuals who were so appreciative that we took our time to do this. However, I feel like we were the ones who should have been grateful to them for allowing us to work with them.
Bottom line, NSC provided me with amazing opportunities to not only get involved, but also to meet some of the most incredible students nationwide. I plan on keeping each and every connection I have made thus far and look forward to continuing to build them at the next conference!
Riyad Mohamed, SPT, is a physical therapy student at the University of North Florida. He serves as director-at-large of the FPTA Student Special Interest Group. Connect with him on Twitter @riyad_mohamed.
PT Education: The Next Generation Needs Us
8 minute read
Education is big in our profession.
When clinicians ask what led me to physical therapy as a career choice, I always tell them it was a "happy accident," and that I originally wanted to be an elementary school teacher.
Each and every therapist (without fail) has smiled at my response and said: "Well, that's because we basically are teachers!" or something along those lines. I've heard it from countless therapists across my rotations—from orthopedics to inpatient rehabilitation to pediatrics.
As physical therapy students, we've lived in the education world for a long time. We've graduated from high school, college, and maybe even gotten graduate level degrees before pursuing our physical therapy degree. As future clinicians, we spend time in class learning from our teachers the very things that we will go on to teach our patients and their families. Once we become practicing clinicians, many of us will take on students during their clinical rotations, and a few of us will go on to get postprofessional degrees to start careers in research. A lot of us will go on to teach in physical therapist and physical therapist assistant programs to educate the next generation of our profession.
There are several ways to advance your practice to be considered for a position in physical therapy academia. I've always thought of going back into education after practicing for some time. If you look at the faculty lists of Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) accredited doctor of physical therapy programs, this means that I will either need a clinical specialization and many years of clinical practice under my belt, or an additional academic degree (eg, PhD, EdD, MBA, MPH). However, the idea of completing another degree right now is less than appealing.
Like many others considering the same career path, I will be graduating from physical therapy school with a considerable amount of student debt. Pursuing another degree during the standard 10-year repayment period just seems like a terrible financial investment. I'm not sure that in 10 years I will have the time to put aside the dedication toward a career because I may have commitments that I currently do not have (eg, a spouse, a mortgage, a family). I haven't even started my career as a clinician yet, but I do know that I want to be more involved with the education of physical therapy students. Maybe I'll teach a class or two, be an advisor, or help out with lab instruction, while still treating patients. Tenure isn't a word that I see myself seeking anytime soon, but I might give it a try one day if I find that I'm passionate enough about a topic to get a PhD in it.
Before I applied to physical therapy school, I thought that only medical doctors did residencies; now, I am considering pursuing a residency in my near future. However, while this prepares me to be more of a clinical expert, it may not be all that I need to go back and teach one day at a program.
Clinical expertise is expected the longer you are in practice; your time in a clinic is not just spent treating your patients, it is also time spent advancing your knowledge and applying concepts from evidence to patient care, and communicating what you've learned to coworkers and other providers to advance the profession as a whole.
Even if I were to sit for a specialization exam, I would still be expected to continue to advance my practice beyond that level of knowledge of the test, as any health care provider should, because practice changes!
In order to be considered for full-time faculty positions, and especially for tenure track or program leadership faculty positions, a postprofessional degree (ie, PhD, EdD) is essentially required. Not only do you have to be a physical therapist (PT) to be a professor, you also have to bring something else that differentiates you from the crowd to the table. What talents, skills, and breadth of knowledge do you have to impart on the next generation of students? And a follow-up question because I'm curious: What did you have to give up in the process of achieving the level of knowledge you acquired?
With that in mind, it's important to remember that great clinicians are some of the best teachers this profession has. Great clinicians have handed down the basics of physical therapy to each of their students, and each of those students to theirs, in turn.
Each and every one of you who has read this far into this article can pinpoint at least 1 clinical instructor (CI) who took the time to cultivate your skills, your passion, and your clinical confidence. I've been fortunate enough to have multiple CIs who have done so; I've also been fortunate enough to learn from faculty who do the same.
Throughout my time in physical therapy school, what I've learned is that the amount of letters behind someone's name doesn't always guarantee that they will be a good teacher—the interest in their students, however, does. It makes me sad that some clinicians who would otherwise be wonderful teachers choose to forgo a career in education because they felt that they wouldn't stand a fighting chance against their PhD or EdD level-educated peers. There should be a way to incorporate these candidates into education on a greater scale without making them sacrifice extra time, money, energy, and sanity into a degree they don't really desire in order to do what they can already do without it.
But physical therapy education is quickly changing. The cost of our education is rising exponentially when compared with rates for entry-level physical therapist salaries; the desire to become a PT has been leveraged by public and private institutions alike in order to make a profit off of each class that comes through, despite a programs' best efforts to keep costs as low as possible.
As American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) President Sharon Dunn, PT PhD, alluded to in her 2019 Presidential Address at APTA's NEXT Conference & Exhibition, this global tuition hike is preventing many new clinicians from reinvesting in themselves, whether that be through continuing education, pursuing a residency, pursuing that extra degree, or doing something else that will advance their clinical skills and knowledge that has a monetary cost. It also has decreased the amount of people who will go back and become educators in the profession. Many individuals will stay clinicians for the duration of their careers simply because they cannot afford the short-term pay cut of going part-time, while pursuing a postprofessional degree, or even a residency for 1 year. They need higher paying clinical jobs in order to keep paying off their student debt for where they are currently in their lives. They can't think about the slight monetary loss in the long run that pursuing a terminal degree would cost them for fear of defaulting on loans. When combined with the increased need of a postprofessional degree in each faculty member's repertoire that programs state as required—both by universities and CAPTE—who will be left to fill the faculty positions once current faculty members retire from physical therapy programs across the country? And who will step forward to fill new positions at new programs that are opening?
Obviously, this is a gross oversimplification; staffing of programs is a multifactorial issue. However, if universities require certain percentages of each department's faculty to have higher level postprofessional degrees apart from their professional doctorates in order to secure grant money and funding (and maintain CAPTE accreditation), with the increasing cost of education, it's not hard to see how quickly some physical therapy programs will run out of candidates who apply to fill the positions and who fit their prerequisites.
What if there is a PT who wants to teach, has an excellent record as a clinician, has a specialization, is able to carry out a lecture that enables first- and second-year students to clearly grasp concepts, and holds their attention, but does not have the terminal level degree? Should they continue to be part of the applicant pool? What if they are competing against an applicant who has all necessary requirements, but is not interested whatsoever in developing new clinicians, and is only present for research purposes? Who should get the position?
Now more than ever, the profession needs individuals who are excited and energized to fill the staffing demands of the future. There aren't enough candidates who are both PT and PhD educated to fill the gap as it stands today, and money is definitely a big factor for us. Do we need more PTs willing to go on to pursue a PhD? Absolutely. We will always need new evidence to better practice on a global scale. But we also need to find a fix to help incorporate clinicians back into education because their expertise with one-on-one patient care is just as important as the expertise of those PhD-educated individuals who are changing practice through research. I'd be willing to bet the vast majority of us chose this profession due to the amount of patient contact we get, and because of that, a lot of the professors who do still practice have a greater influence on students. Do I have a solution for how to do that right now? Definitely not, but I might have some ideas in the future.
Our profession needs those of us who want to educate, no matter what your current qualifications or other professional aspirations may be. And the next generation of clinicians need us too.
Samantha (Sam) Puller, SPT, is a student at Virginia Commonwealth University. She is passionate about pediatrics and physical therapy education. You can connect with her via email.
Haven't Missed a Beat
1 minute read
In February 2019 I attended my very first American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) Combined Sections Meeting (CSM). I was in one of my favorite cities, New Orleans, and, well, you could say the rest is history. I fell in love.
CSM provided me with knowledge and memories that I will cherish for the rest of my career. During CSM I was forced out of my comfort zone by interacting with other attendees and exhibit hall vendors. I developed a passion for evidence-based practice and research, all of which I hoped to apply in the clinic. I was even more thrilled to attend lectures and hear from the most elite physical therapists (PTs) in the world. I was so energized by my CSM experience that I served as a volunteer at CSM 2019 in Washington, DC.
I have been fortunate enough to take advantage of every opportunity presented to me through APTA; I have not missed a beat.
In addition to conferences, I am extremely passionate about advocating for our profession. I have sent letters to Congress regarding student loan repayment and next year’s proposed cuts in Medicare Part B. I also have encouraged my classmates to make a difference by organizing and leading Mobile, Alabama’s, first-ever APTA Student Assembly National Advocacy Dinner (NAD).
Organizing our area’s first NAD was a unique opportunity for me. This role allowed me to be bold and take action as a student. To engage attendees, I arranged for 2 speakers to attend our dinner—both have positions in our state chapter. They discussed how we can advocate for our profession here in Alabama and nationally.
I want to thank each individual who continues to run this prestigious association. I love where we are and where we are going as a profession, thanks to APTA.
Want to share your APTA love story? Submit it here! Haven't had such an experience or moment? We encourage you to contact George James, SPT, Director of Membership, APTA Student Assembly Board of Directors to discover APTA value and opportunities.
Mason Baker, SPT
Stronger, Humbler Physical Therapy Student
1 minute read
Physical therapy school is so much more than the never-ending exams, presentations, projects, papers, and constant studying; it is a place where I have found humanizing passion and cultivating motivation for my future profession.
I have learned that I can balance countless responsibilities, while continuing to make contributions to the profession.
But more importantly I have learned what I cannot do and what I cannot handle.
I have given my all for things and I have fallen short.
I have pulled countless all-nighters just to not receive the credit that I thought I deserved.
I have frozen in clinicals when my clinical instructor put me on the spot, and I have been humbled in more than one way in the hospital.
However, every hurdle and every letdown has pushed me to get up even faster and stronger than before, to learn from my mistakes and shortcomings, and to grow as a future physical therapist (PT) and health care provider.
I have the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) to thank for allowing me to find my spark and for allowing me to become a stronger, humbler physical therapy student.
Deciding to attend a physical therapy school in which APTA was so heavily represented was no mistake.
I have consistently been motivated to not only be a physical therapy student over the next 3 years, but to be an advocate and a voice for our profession.
My decision to attend APTA's National Student Conclave as a first-year student was a stab in the dark; I had no idea what to expect or how to feel. I told myself that if I wanted to see the profession move forward in the future, I could not just sit back and watch it happen.
My decision to become an active member of the Student Assembly was the first step in that direction.
Want to share your APTA love story? Submit it here! Haven't had such an experience or moment? We encourage you to contact George James, SPT, Director of Membership, APTA Student Assembly Board of Directors to discover APTA value and opportunities.
McKenzie LeBlanc, SPT, is a student at LSU Health - Shreveport.
Why Choosing a Career in Physical Therapy Isn't Settling
7 minute read
Everyone gets asked at some point what they want to be when they grow up.
This question often comes up around the time of high school graduation.
In high school I knew that I wanted to be some kind of health care professional, and I went into college planning to explore my options.
Health care was the only field I desired to go into, and I knew early into my college career that I wanted to seek a professional clinical degree when I finished my undergraduate degree. I just wasn't sure which route I wanted to go.
There are so many career options within health care, but I was between medical and physical therapy school. There were aspects of both that I liked, and I could see myself being satisfied in either one.
As I researched more, I found myself drawn to physical therapy. I liked the fact that the physical therapy profession offered the privilege of spending a lot of time with patients and getting to build a relationship with them. Not only that, but I liked the idea of being able to help people in pain feel better and get back to what they wanted to do. And finally, there was something appealing about going into an ever-growing and much-needed field, and I was excited at the thought of being a small part in making physical therapy a mainstay of health care delivery.
Despite my excitement to pursue a future career in physical therapy, people advised against it. My advisor and mentor in college encouraged me to pursue medical school instead of physical therapy because he thought that I would be limiting myself by choosing it.
As my professor, he thought of me as one of his brighter students and thought that being a physician required more potential and I had what it took, and by choosing to be a physical therapist (PT) I would be settling.
Now, I know that my advisor supported me in whatever decision I made but wanted to challenge me, and I am grateful that he saw that potential in me and was invested in my academic career. However, I didn't agree that pursuing physical therapy would limit my potential. There were unique things about it that I liked and I thought that it was a great fit for me.
I write this now as a third-year physical therapy student. I'll admit that I am completely satisfied about the decision I made and am excited to be part of this profession. And now I want to share some reasons why I think choosing a career in physical therapy over other health care professions is not settling, and why you should be confident in your pursuit of it.
Physical therapy and medicine are different
When it comes to patient care, I think traditionally what often comes to mind is a hierarchy with physicians at the top and all other health care providers as subordinate. If that was the past, the future of health care is team based. No longer can one provider meet all the health care needs of an individual; it takes multiple professionals with different areas of expertise to care for the health of a person.
Using physicians and PTs as an example, both are important in providing care to patients and offer people different services. Whereas physicians focus on the medical management of patients, PTs support a patient's movement goals. The way the physician-therapist relationship works is unique for every patient.
For instance, it may be that a physician manages the medications that a patient is taking while being treated by a PT for low back pain. Or, a PT supports the rehabilitation of a person after surgery and helps them return to the activities that are meaningful to them, while the surgeon monitors for postsurgical complications. Both providers offer distinct services, and along with the patient, they form a team to provide the most optimal care.
PTs are autonomous practitioners and can provide care without a referral. This means that we have the freedom to meet our patients' needs and the responsibility to provide them with appropriate care.
PTs also earn clinical doctorates and are the experts of the movement system. As a profession, we can independently evaluate, diagnose, and treat people for movement problems.
If you choose to pursue the physical therapy profession, you can be confident knowing that you will be an expert in your field and will have the responsibility to make decisions about the best care for your patients.
Physical therapy is valuable
There is a lot of misunderstanding of how PTs help patients. Ask different people what PTs do and you'll likely get a variety of answers. I think part of the confusion is because PTs actually have a variety of ways that they can help people.
One of the things that I love about physical therapy is that in one career alone I have the opportunity to help people manage pain, walk again, become more independent in activities, return to work or playing a sport after an injury, and improve the overall health and wellness of an individual. I think this also shows the value of what physical therapy has to offer. We have an opportunity to help people not only when they have an injury or illness, but also to lead more meaningful lives and help them to better do what they want to do.
Furthermore, as our nation addresses epidemics in chronic pain and opioid addiction, physical therapy offers a real solution. Certain treatments like medication or surgery are often seen by people as quick and easy solutions for pain, and while they are appropriate in some cases, they are not the answer for everyone.
In the clinical rotations I have had so far, I've had the opportunity to see how physical therapy can help people in pain. I have been able to help some people feel relief from pain in 1 visit, while it might take several visits for others before they start experiencing significant relief. But no matter how long it takes, PTs can truly help people who are in pain.
Physical therapy is fulfilling
The most rewarding experience for me is being able to see someone start to feel better and be able to go back to doing what they were limited in or unable to do before. It's even more challenging, but worthwhile, to be with someone who has experienced pain for years and has been limited in their ability to return to doing what they enjoy and feeling well.
My favorite interactions with patients are those light bulb moments when they realize that they can do something they thought they'd never be able to do again.
Every patient is also unique and what works for one person might not work for someone else, so there is plenty of room to be creative in physical therapy.
And since we get to spend so much time with our patients, we have an opportunity to go in-depth in providing them education about their health and how the body works, which patients don't always have the chance to get.
As future PTs and physical therapist assistants (PTAs), we have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of our patients and our communities, and I know there is no other career I would rather pursue.
If you are a student of physical therapy, I hope that you are excited about the path that you are on. Be confident in your decision to pursue this field, and recognize the privilege it is to be in your position and the position given to you to help people. You're in a great profession with great people. Welcome to the profession!
Preston Tollers, SPT, is a student at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and serves as the Oklahoma Core Ambassador for the APTA Student Assembly. You can connect with him on Twitter @preston_spt.
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 email@example.com, or Facebook and Twitter.