Student Post

5 Things I learned In My First Clinical Experience

David Treichler, SPT Class of 2017
Hometown: Minneapolis, MN
Undergrad: Iowa State University

Congratulations! You have made it through your first year of coursework. You’ve learned how to measure with a goniometer, complete a basic lower quarter screen, and how to properly perform a PASSIVE straight leg raise (not active, as I was corrected during a practical).

With all this newfound knowledge, you are now headed off to your first clinical! As you prepare for your first day you may be feeling a whirlwind of emotions: excitement to work with patients, curiosity on how you will handle the daily patient workload, and maybe a bit of nervousness to prove to your clinical instructor, professors, and yourself that you didn’t just forget everything from the first year of classes. So, to help prepare you for your first day here are 5 things I learned after completing my first clinical.

1.  Do not expect to know everything

This is something most students burden themselves with, especially in the first clinical. We have spent the better part of the first year of school soaking up information from our professors, much of the time in sheer awe of the knowledge they have concerning physical therapy. Remember this: our clinical instructors and professors have spent years honing their craft, learning and growing in their knowledge of PT. They have seen thousands of patients but still experience times of uncertainty. Strive to learn as much as you can, but know PT school is just the beginning of a lifetime of learning.

2.  PT needs to be fun for kids

Physical therapy can be a scary place for kids. They are at your clinic most likely due to some sort of injury or post-surgery treatment. They are worried about being able to get back to their previous level of function. Make therapy fun. Kids are active, so keep them interested during the treatment session. Make games that help achieve therapy goals. I was able to watch my CI create innovative ways to help children perform exercises in a way that was fun. Use your imagination to maximize the child’s ability to recover.

3.  If you give 10 home exercises, your patients will pretty much only adhere to icing

Patients do not want to go to therapy to be given a grocery list of home exercise programs to be performed twice a day, every day. Remember, in addition to going to therapy, your patients have jobs, kids, activities, errands, meetings, etc. Give your patients exercises that will clearly help with any limitation they have and explain to them the need for it. I learned not to give more than 3-4 exercises to a patient. This helped keep them focused and increased their willingness to do their exercises at home.

4.  Strive to be an advocate for physical therapy and prove to your patients you can help them

I can remember a few patients coming back from their initial evaluation appointment with a look of amazement on their face as they explained, “I left the last appointment thinking physical therapy will never work, and you know what, I was wrong! I did the home exercises and they have actually helped!” Patients often come to physical therapy as a final resort because everything they have tried before has failed. Others are there because their doctor told them to go. It is our job to advocate for the physical therapy profession and prove to our patients the value in our work. Strive to positively impact every patient that comes through the door. Create patient buy-in the very first visit so they have proof to know we can help.

5.  Relax

Remember, this is your first real experience with patients while in school. Your professors and clinical instructors believe in you. They want you to succeed. Work hard, trust yourself, take a deep breath, and enjoy your experience.