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Journey of a DPT Student

Lack of Variability in Clinical Settings

Published January 3, 2012 11:59 AM by Lauren Rosso

Our clinical assignments for the upcoming semester recently went out, and I have some concerns about again being placed in an outpatient orthopedic setting. The majority of my classmates will be at completely different settings than they were last semester, but there are a few of us who aren't going to see much change. I recognize that I still have quite a few rotations to complete over the course of my education, but I can't help but be disappointed at the lack of variability in my first year.

By no means am I saying that I'm even close to competent in the outpatient orthopedic setting. There is so much to learn, and it would take far more than two rotations to even be comfortable. However, I was hoping to have both an outpatient and inpatient experience prior to my full-time clinical this coming summer. The full-time rotation will obviously be the best learning experience, but I was hoping to have a more diverse knowledge base going into it. I'm also disappointed because I have an opportunity to complete the summer clinical abroad, and I was hoping to have a broader resume to promote myself.

I'm sure everyone has encountered some sort of anxiety in regard to their clinical assignments. I keep trying to remind myself that I will have ample opportunity within the next two years to gain experience in as many settings as possible. I just hope this first year doesn't dictate or predict what my remaining clinical placements will be like.


I am third year DPT student at East Carolina University in Greenville, NC. One thing I have noticed throughout my PT educational career is that not every school does rotations the same way. When I was researching schools to attend, this seemed insignificant; but now that I am nearly through the program, I can see what a large difference it can make. ECU requires us to do 4 rotations: 6 weeks, 8 weeks, 8 weeks, and 10 weeks all inter mingled between short, and regular length semesters. We are also required to do one orthopedic, one acute, one neurological , and one of our choosing. As it turned out, I ended up doing an orthopedic rotation, followed by another orthopedic rotation, leaving me with a neurological rotation for my last. Neurological PT is not my strong suit or my favorite setting and try as I might, I wasn't able to wriggle free of the requirements.

Now I am in my fourth (and  longest) rotation, in a neurological setting, and I have to say I finally agree with the school's requirements. Our faculty works with us to make sure we experience each of three settings and while it seems like a pain at first (especially when my heart is in outpatient orthopedics) it holds true value to making a student into a well rounded clinician.

I feel like 8 weeks, is enough time to become comfortable in any given setting. Having time to acclimate in each, has given me a chance to apply everything we have learned in our curriculum, thus helping to bridge the gap between classroom learning and hands on experience.

Now that I am beginning to review for the national exam, I am able to pull memories of specific patients from each clinical experience to help me remember certain facts and skills. I have also begun looking for employment and given that I have had experienced each type of setting for a rotation, I feel like I could be happy and competent in just about any setting which makes me a much more valuable candidate for employment.

Jillian Chiappisi, student - DPT student, Davis Community February 27, 2012 9:04 PM
Wilmington NC

Erin- great advice and perspective.  Thank you!  Now that I'm two days into my clinical, I'm actually happy to be repeating in an outpatient setting.  This clinic is much different than my last, and I hate to say that I think it will be a MUCH better learning experience.  I can use all the practice I can get.  Good luck with your first clinical!  I have learned so much more there than I have in class, and I'm sure it will be the same for you.  

Lauren Rosso January 12, 2012 7:09 PM

I am a first year DPT student and will be starting my first clinical in March.  My first clinical is in an outpatient setting.  I feel like there are just more outpatient orthopedic settings available for us DPT students.  I know while volunteering prior to starting PT school I was able to gain a lot more hours and experience in an outpatient setting versus an inpatient setting.  For one it was much easier to get permission to volunteer in outpatient settings because there are so many less policies and procedures than in an hospital for example.  I know that for my second clinical, which is at a hospital, I am going to have a whole new learning experience because I have not had much exposure in an inpatient setting.  I do not think that your first year will dictate what your remaining clinical placements will be like though.  You will be a well-versed PT when you graduate ready to jump into the setting of your choice!  Just remember Lauren that you will have more opportunities to work in various settings and take every opportunity you have, whether it be in two outpatient clinicals or not, to learn as much as you can so that you can help your future patients to the best of your ability.

Erin Bostic January 10, 2012 2:56 PM

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