Making the Most of Your Clinical Experience

The hands-on learning during your clinical experience is a vital part of your physical therapy education. That's why it's important to research potential clinical learning sites to find the best fit, says Jody Frost, PT, DPT, PhD, director of APTA's Department of Academic/Clinical Education. She encourages you to ask yourself about your personal learning goals and what facility would best fit your needs. Below are some key questions to help you sort through the maze of information about clinical education sites.

Questions about yourself and your goals:

  • What kind of learning environment will benefit me (eg, very structured, general oversight, somewhat independent)?
  • What is/are my preferred style(s) of learning (eg, kinesthetic, visual, auditory)?
  • What am I looking for with regard to a clinical mentor?
  • In conducting an honest appraisal of my current performance, what are my strengths and limitations with respect to my knowledge, skills, and professional behaviors in physical therapy? Based on this appraisal, what do I need to still learn, practice, and teach others?
  • What can I offer to a clinical experience as a partner in the learning process?
  • What do I want to be able to say that I accomplished at the completion of this clinical experience?
  • Would I be proud to list this clinical experience on my résumé?

Questions about the clinical facility:

  • What are the expectations of students at this facility?
  • What areas of physical therapy practice will I be exposed to (patient-related, business aspects, facility organizational issues, diversity, etc)?
  • Are clinical mentors involved and current about issues in the profession and health care? Are they members of APTA?
  • How does this facility enhance student learning experiences (eg, supervision, in-service schedule, grand rounds, journal club, evidence-based practice, systematic data collection, clinical research, business skills, etc)?
  • Are there areas for collaboration within physical therapy as well as other health professions?
  • What is the overall reputation of and satisfaction with this health care facility?
  • Can I afford a clinical experience at this facility based on housing and travel costs?
  • What do I need to do to prepare for a clinical experience at this site to make the most of this experience?
  • Would I want a position at this clinical site after graduation?
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