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.

Student Post

What Makes A Good PT Student: A Personality and A Dream

Matt DeStefano, SPT Class of 2017
Hometown: Glen Head, Long Island, NY
Undergraduate: SUNY Albany
Degree: Psychology

What does it take to get into PT school and become a PT student? Well that would be: good grades, PT experience, worldly experience, letters of recommendation, interest in physical therapy, certainly good interview skills, and other traits akin to what makes a good candidate to any other medical program. Throughout PT school I have been beat down many times by the stress and rigor of medical school, but a common thread is weaved throughout the fabric of my student being: I have continually picked myself up from my lowest places and turned distress into eustress. I want to share with you what I believe MAKES a great PT student.

Getting good grades is great. The feeling of mastering a concept makes you feel like you’re becoming one with the cosmos (OK everyone is different). But here is one lesson I have had to accept: you can’t learn everything! And you certainly won’t remember everything you’ve learned in school. Instead of hopelessly trying to remember every vibration that enters my auditory canal, or every photon that graces my retina with its presence, I have begun to focus most of my attention on the exact things that make me most excited about PT, and the things that are most related to my area of interest (Outpatient Orthopedics – Sports PT). I understand that we are working towards a degree as a PT generalist in order to serve our future patients in a variety of settings. Here is my student life-hack: Instead of trying to remember everything, which is impossible, I focus more intently on the things that make me tick as a PT student. This helps me retain the information way easier, and it also adds to the positive feedback loop of learning through excitement. If you’re stoked on what you’re learning about, it doesn’t really feel like work, and it reminds you why you came to school in the first place. In addition, by focusing on these things that interest you, it helps to add context to your education which is a HUGE bonus, which makes retaining the information a whole lot easier (“Why did Paul Mintken tell me in lecture to put my hands here again?” – Duh, because if you actually put it into the clinical context, you’ll remember that any other hand position simply hurts!)

Another question I ask myself to stay motivated is this: Why did you come to PT school in the first place? For me, I was interested in athletes and sports physical therapy. When I take a step back and remember why I’m excited about PT, and I start filling my time reading and learning about sports-related topics, student life seems to make more sense. I also notice my stress levels decrease. PT school is a daunting road, but when you take the time to focus on things that actually make you smile, you’ll find it’s a whole lot easier to travel down the road and continue learning 🙂

Finally, I wanted to talk about another aspect of my academic career that has allowed me to survive and prosper as a PT student.

School consumes your life. There is no questioning that. Sit in class for eight hours per day, five days per week, read papers on your bus ride home, get home, eat dinner and maybe eat your papers too. There is ALWAYS something to do as a PT student, most of which is self-directed study, and because of this can make a student anxious to always be studying. I want to encourage all of you when you get in this state of anxiety to remember you are not defined as a student, but a complex individual who has many passions. For me, I have a passion to climb.

I’m a climber. I love to climb and I use it as a release from school. It keeps me sharp, clears my head, and keeps me from burning out. As a successful student, it is imperative that you have an activity that you enjoy, UNRELATED to school, that you can turn to a few times per week to unplug and show yourself some love. For me it’s climbing, but for you it might be hiking, mountain biking, or maybe just reading comic books. Whatever it is, make sure you completely disconnect from your student brain, and fully engage in your extracurricular activity. And DO NOT let yourself feel guilty for taking some time off.

I’ll be honest with you, I probably take more time away from schoolwork than most students, but my mental clarity is top notch as a result. There have even been times right before a comprehensive exam or even a final exam when I have dropped my books, grabbed my climbing shoes, and headed for the climbing gym, only to feel very confident in myself leading into the test. And it has paid off every time! You’ll be surprised how beneficial some “you time” can be, especially in those stressful moments of “Oh no I need to cram for this exam!” Put the book down and go have some fun! You deserve it, and your brain will thank you too.

You might be asking, “But where do you find the time?” The answer is that the time is always there, you just have to make it. Because school is so time-consuming, you have to hold yourself accountable by telling yourself, that you will have x, y, and z finished by a certain time or date in order to go play. By doing so, you can then enjoy your activity guilt free, and reap the majority of the benefits. However, sometimes I don’t meet my self-administered deadline, but I still go play. Trust yourself. Your brain needs it, and your body needs it. Go have fun and all is well. Don’t sell yourself short. Throughout my whole academic career in PT school so far, I have promised myself that I would climb at least twice per week, and I have held myself to it with excellent results.

What does this look like? I have a routine to climb in the gym a few times per week or I make plans to go climb outside on the weekends, and take trips to various climbing areas around CO, UT and CA. By making climbing a priority, I’ve become a more efficient student, but if nothing else, I’ve become a much HAPPIER student. I also share my passion for climbing with my girlfriend, so taking time for myself also affords me time with the person I love, adding a double bonus to my extracurricular life. Do what makes you happy and do what you love.

The bottom line to all of this is simple: follow your true interests within the PT curriculum, and make time for yourself to let loose from school and have fun. We are human after all, and it is not healthy (at least for this human) to bury yourself in school work all the time without taking time to get out and play. It’s a delicate balance, but it is possible. You just have to tell yourself it’s possible, and that it’s important, and everything else will fall into place. In school, we are feeding our brains, but don’t forget to feed your mind, body and soul. You’ll thank me later.

Thank you for reading 🙂


Matt DeStefano

Instagram: @basebklyn1 & @theclimbingpt

Where is Matt now? – I wanted to share a little extra information related to my musings above. All of my extracurricular attention to a sport that I love, has really started to pay off. I am currently collaborating with two other students to partake in an independent study elective looking at rock climbing injuries and PT interventions related to climbing. Additionally, I have started to teach some injury prevention classes at local climbing gyms in my area. I am also using my business project assignment to research how I can make a personal dream come true: To become “The Climbing PT”. Before starting school, I worked at a climbing gym in San Diego, and my dream is to return there as the in-house PT. By allowing myself the time to climb during a stressful curriculum, I’ve been able to dream big and put my education in perspective related to my future. I have fostered the energy and the determination to put my education to work for me in setting the foundation for making a dream a reality. PT school is not all about the books. It’s about finding yourself and paving a road that YOU want to travel. Follow your passions and make time to have fun!

Student Post

Combined Sections Meeting 2017- A Student Perspective

Sarah Poinski-McCoy, SPT Class of 2017
Hometown: Tallmadge, OH
Undergraduate: University of Cincinnati College- Conservatory of Music
Degree: Dance

What were you hoping to get out of CSM? Did you achieve that?

I hoped to be re-invigorated and excited about what we can accomplish as future physical therapists. Yes, I definitely accomplished this, and I discovered new avenues of PT I hadn’t thought about before.

How did CSM benefit you as a student?

It is really great to see the scope of the profession before we graduate to give us ideas about the many possibilities of our future. Since our courses are divided into Neuromuscular, Musculoskeletal Conditions, and Medical Conditions, it’s easy to see the world of PT as a student in just these three areas. CSM is like going from the basic box of crayons to the 100 color box of crayons.

Previous post-graduate classmates and now PT students at Duke and University of Missouri

What was your favorite lecture and why?

I got really excited about ALL the lectures I attended. The one that was the most inspiring personal journey was the Shumway-Cook lecture: You can let go of me now: Harnessing Neuroplasticity for Good and the Road Not Taken by Dr. Andrea L Behrman, PT, PhD, FAPTA. The most excited I got about policy and advocacy was after the lecture Love Global Health? Then Care About Policy! featuring our own Dawn Magnusson, PT, PhD and three of her public health peers, including Ira Gorman, PT, PhD, MSPH of Regis. I could go on, but those two stuck out the most for me.

Why should future students attend CSM?

Students should attend CSM to get a break from the daily grind of school and be reminded of how big and beautiful our profession is. It is also exciting to discover the new growth our profession has achieved. It’s like an active rest from exercising. You are still focusing on your future as a PT, but in a whole new setting.

What advice would you give future students when attending CSM?

Don’t spend too much time in the Exhibit Hall as it can be overwhelming. When you do, go in with a plan, visit the APTA section booths or poster presentations, and get out before too long. Educational sections are one of the best ways to spend time at CSM. Use twitter while you are there and follow the hashtag #aptacsm to avoid FOMO of all the other lectures, since people tweet about the cool key points often. Use twitter also to tweet about the cool stuff you are learning as well! Don’t be afraid to check something out that looks interesting if none of your classmates or peers are going to attend. This is the best way to reach out and get to know the PTs and fellow students who have the same interests as you!

Student Post

Working While In Physical Therapy School

Michelle Stauffer, SPT Class of 2017
Hometown: Phoenix, AZ
Undergraduate: Northern Arizona University
Degree: Exercise Science. Minor: Chemistry and Health Wellness Coaching

I work as a waitress roughly 25 hours a week (3-4 shifts) outside of being a full-time PT student. Seem crazy? I agree. Do many recommend doing this? No, definitely not; however it works well for me.


Since I was 15 I have always worked one if not two jobs while going to school. I got my job immediately after moving to Colorado (and a kitten, hello overload), prior to the start of my first semester of school. I decided to get a job to maintain a consistent schedule in order to stay on task. Without a job I would have weekends free making it easier for me to be unproductive with school work. For the first few semesters I started out with fewer hours (ranging from 10-15), but as I gained a better understanding of time management I slowly increased my hours.


I love having a job that enables me to get away from the stress PT school creates. At work I worry about catering to my customers rather than remembering hand placement for an inferior shoulder mobilization. Plus, as a waitress I can interact with my community and feel more connected (the friends I have made through serving I wouldn’t trade for the world). My job gives me an added purpose to be here in Denver. I also meet great people outside of school who can inform me about all Denver has to offer (sweet hole-in-the-wall restaurants, where to go hiking, CONNECTIONS, etc.). In addition, waitressing provides a passive income for me that is interest free! It is a personal goal of mine to borrow the least amount of student loans while in school and one way I do this is by working. As I mentioned earlier I got a kitten upon my arrival in this great city and she has not been cheap. Unexpected vet bills can be paid for through work rather than adjusting how I budget dispersed student loan money.

Recommend it?

If you never worked a job unrelated to your field of study while attending school I would not recommend getting a job that doesn’t pertain to PT. Many of my classmates work as caregivers working less than 10hrs a week and they really enjoy it. Personally, I would recommend completing your first semester (maybe even 2nd semester) before getting a job so you can create a foundation for your life during graduate school. When you feel ready to start working start slow with minimal hours and see how you do as you can always increase from there.

If you want to ask me more questions about having a job during physical therapy school I am more than willing to talk with you. You can contact me via email: