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Journey of a DPT Student

Treating Friends, Family and Teammates

Published January 30, 2012 1:27 PM by Lauren Rosso

A number of my friends and family members are training for upcoming events (marathons, adventure runs, rugby games etc.), and it's scary to know that they look to me as a credible source for treatment-related information. When they ask me for advice, my gut reaction is to tell them they're asking the wrong person. In fact, that's what I used to do. But now, as we start to cover more and more of the musculoskeletal system, I realize I can't use the "we haven't covered it yet" excuse.

I have recently accepted that this might be the perfect way to learn some of the information we're being exposed to at school. It's one thing to recall the information for exams and practicals, but it's a completely different ballgame when you're actually applying skills to a real scenario with a real "patient" (even if that patient is your sibling).

The other day, my sister decided to do a training run in a snowstorm and inevitably sprained her ankle. I checked out her ankle when she got home, and was surprised that I remembered the majority of the special tests without having to look at my notes. I drew up a HEP and recently started doing posterior mobilizations of her talus to try and regain some of her DF range. (She says they help - hopefully it's not just to make me feel good).

Three months ago, I never would have considered any of this. And even though I'm still lacking some confidence, I'm at least getting to the point where I feel comfortable enough with the basics to use them with people I know.


I am a third year DPT student and recently completed my last 10 week clinical rotation in OP ortho in my hometown and ran into a similar scenario. It was a typical day in the clinic and upon reviewing the schedule for the next day I ran across a patient's name that I went to middle school with and would be evaluating s/p ACL repair. A million thoughts ran through my mind. Did I know enough information and have enough confidence that he would trust me and feel I was educated enough to make sound clinical decisions and establish an appropriate POC? Would it be awkward evaluating and treating someone I hadn't seen in over 10 years? Would I be able to establish my role as a physical therapist and still maintain a friendly relationship?

All my questions were answered the next day. The evaluation went great and I realized all the information I had learned over the past 3 years helped guide me through the eval while still maintaining a cordial relationship and being able to catch up on life in the process.

Throughout his rehabilitation process there were a few awkward moments in that he would challenge my thinking and push the limits in regards to what he could and couldn't do on his own. I believe this was due to his level of comfort with me, being the same age, and me knowing he liked to push the limits. A few times I had to put on my PT face and tell him to take a step back and not try to push himself too quickly while educating him on the healing process of his muscles and ligaments as pain was no longer his primary mechanism of knowing he did to much.

I discharged him during the last week of my rotation with full return to sport! This scenario helped improve my confidence in working with friends and allowed me to step outside of my comfort zone of treating someone I have known for a long time and not the typical "stranger" patient who doesn't question your knowledge and reasoning on a continual basis. To my surprise I received a call the next week from one of my other middle school friends who needed some therapy on one of his soccer teammates as he heard from my previous patient I did a great job rehabilitating him from his ACL repair.

For all of you out there worried about not knowing enough information or knowledge to treat or help diagnosis your friends or family....don't worry! Utilize the information you have learned, current research, and be confident. It will get you a long way!!

Jessica Tripp, PT - 3rd year DPT student, ECU April 4, 2012 6:24 PM

You express a valid point, but similar to Stacy, I feel I am not comfortable enough to give others a clear definite diagnosis or treatment (especially treatment because we have not covered it in our curriculum yet). This situation reminds me of an undergraduate experience. Since I was an exercise science major, a majority of my friends and family assumed I knew anything and everything about exercise. They assumed I knew what would be the right protocol for them and continued asked me to design an exercise routine. Early on in my major, I did not feel confident to express my views and referred them to a certified personal trainer at our recreation center.

As a first year DPT student, I am eager to get more experience and to test the knowledge I have gained thus far in my program. I want to be able to give friends and family advise, but only if it is right. The fact that my friends and family trust me so much and value my opinion makes me even more cautious about the information and advice I give them. At the moment, I have resolved this conflict at least in my own mind. When people seek advice, I first state that they should see a physical therapist. I inform them that my diagnosis is an educated guess and nothing more than a guess. This method helps me think critically and use my evaluation skills effectively. It also enables me to receive feedback. After my family member or friend goes to a physical therapist and receives a definite diagnosis, I am able to compare my thought processes to the actual diagnosis.

Jessica Spaleta, , PT-Student East Carolina University February 2, 2012 12:20 PM
Greenville NC

Stacy-  I can absolutely sympathize with you.  We luckily covered the ankle twice already (once in the summer, and once last fall) so I was willing to give it a try.  The confidence thing is really hard to overcome.  I still have a very long way to go, but I have noticed that the more I practice the basics outside of class, the more confident I feel.  It has even started to translate to clinicals.  You'll get there!!

Lauren Rosso February 1, 2012 11:52 PM

I completely understand where you are coming from and feel that I am still in the phase of lower confidence.  I am persistently asked by family to give them my PT diagnosis for some ailment that they are having, and I also encounter a lot of PT questions at the youth volleyball program, at which I work.  I hope that I will get to that point soon in which I will feel greater confidence in providing my experience.  I am still in the first year of my DPT program and can not yet express any real treatment plans, so I feel that informing them of their impairment without means to treat is kind of pointless.  I can not wait for the time in which I will be able to treat my friends, family, and teammates with confidence.  I think that once I get to this level of comfort in my education I will be able to practice and learn to provide better care to my future patients.  I appreciate your insight from your experience in PT school.

Stacy Krainiak, PT - Student, East Carolina February 1, 2012 5:05 PM
Greenville NC

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