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Life of a PTA

The Human Connection

Published January 14, 2011 4:11 PM by Allison Young

In the (almost) 2 years I've been in the PTA program, I've learned countless skills and information regarding the movement and anatomy of the body. I dutifully memorized OIANs for each and every muscle, practiced palpation and end feel patterns and became obsessed observing gait patterns of random people on the street.

Now that I am applying my knowledge to practice in my last clinical quarter, I've discovered one key element which was not taught - although also of vital importance; the human connection. In the current outpatient clinic where I am completing my clinical affiliation, one can experience this with almost every PT and client (yes, it's an outstanding clinic). Whether old, young, athletic, de-conditioned, diseased or healthy, nearly all patients leave their appointment feeling like their physical therapist (and/or PTA) considered their comments, cared about their pain, but best of all listened.

Both my clinical instructors are absolutely gifted at making patients feel comfortable sharing details about their lives, what their plans are for the weekend or which movements they are doing (or not doing) at home. I am so far from being an expert on PT "bedside manner" - it's rather pathetic. I completely admit, I'm new to this game and have only witnessed a couple dozen or so therapists in action. When I finally observed a therapist with that ability, I really could recognize when other therapists struggle with this skill.

I've found that when you see a therapist connect with a grumpy (and no doubt, in pain) patient, it really is a sight to behold. To see quiet and withdrawn patients light up and become animated over discussion of their family, the latest big game or their gain in the last five degrees of ROM they needed to climb into their truck, makes for a rewarding treatment session. When that patient's therapist genuinely gets just as excited over their patients' stories and gains, it's truly special.

Sometimes I have to hide my surprise when my CI tells me this was the first time she has met and treated a certain patient. After the first 5 minutes, with such a warm and comfortable rapport, you would think she and the patient had known each other for years. With so many new clinical lessons hurled at me (literally) each day, I'm hoping one day I can hone this skill when I become the clinician. With experience, practice, compassion and keen listening skill in play, I'm sure I will be able to reach that connection as well.



You've identified one of the most difficult tasks of PT and PTA programs:  to identify students that have both intellect and the ability to relate.  There are times a lower GPA with relational ability will make it into the program over the higher GPS who has no people skills.  Both are essential in a PT/PTA.  But sometimes a student will present better in the interview than they do in "real life" and you get the PT/PTA who lacks the ability to connect.

The fact that you were able to observe the connection, and think back to times when it was missing, is a good indication that you are closer to the skill than you think.  We are always hardest on ourselves.

Throughout your posts you demonstrate your great powers of observation.  It's great you aspire to greater heights.  Make sure you also recognize the skills you already have!  Keep up the good work.  

Janey Goude January 20, 2011 7:08 PM

Allison, great observations! You have already found the key...listening, really listening. It is a lost art in our multitasking, over stimulated society. We talk more than ever on cell phones, skype, IM chats, and on occasion even in person. But how much listening goes on?

Listen, be there...really be there with someone, they will know the difference and so will you. You will pick up so many subtle cues that hours of questioning couldn't uncover.

You doing well, keep up the good work and even better growth!

Cheers, Dean

Dean Metz January 20, 2011 3:15 PM

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