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Journey of a DPT Student

Instructors Make the Difference

Published April 2, 2012 3:37 PM by Lauren Rosso

My first two clinical experiences could not have been more different. Fortunately or unfortunately, it made me realize that the quality of a student's clinical instructor can make a measurable difference in her experience. To an even greater extent, it's the clinical instructor's ability to recognize learning opportunities that makes the greatest difference.

Just so that you have some background, my first rotation was not a very positive educational experience. My CI was not a natural "teacher," and therefore did not challenge me to apply the information or skills that I was learning in class to even the most obvious and appropriate clinical situations. He didn't like manual therapy, either. On my midterm evaluation, he told me that I asked too many questions. I had been in school for three months and hadn't even covered the upper extremity yet. Of course I had a lot of questions.

Contrast that with my current experience where my CI has had a profound effect on the development of my clinical skills. Every day I'm there, she not only expects me to learn something, but also expects to teach me something (and doesn't tell me that I ask too many questions). Her instruction spans the continuum of clinical practice. When we have a patient with a unique medical history, she makes sure I understand the possible implications, and what else I'll need to find out. Any time someone comes in with an atypical presentation, she makes sure I work with that person to "get a feel" for things like hyperreflexia, clonus, excessive joint mobility etc. She seems genuinely interested in my learning, which is encouraging.

I'm thankful to have had both a positive and negative experience so that in the future, if I ever take on a student, I'll know what to do and what not to do. Most obviously, if someone is not willing to teach, he should not become a clinical instructor.


I have had a similar experience to what you describe with clinical instructors.  I feel that a good clinical instructor is essential for maximal learning and growth as a student physical therapist out on a clinical affiliation.  I have had several great physical therapists as clinical instructors who have provided me with knowledge and exceptional experiences.  I have had opportunities to gain hands on practice with many things that we learned in our coursework and to work with patients with rare diagnoses.  My CI was always excited to expose me to new things and positively supported my learning.  On the other hand, I have also had a clinical instructor that was not naturally inclined to present learning opportunities or challenge me as a student.  Also, I feel the personality of the instructor makes a huge difference.  When the instructor is positive and professional and encourages learning without being too stringent, I know that I am much more excited about going to work every day with them.  My experiences as a student have definitely helped me form criteria that I believe make a good clinical instructor and if I am a CI someday, I have an idea of the role that I would like to exemplify.  Good luck with the rest of PT school- I hope you get some awesome clinical instructors!

Brooke Lampron, , DPT Student East Carolina University April 18, 2012 12:19 AM
Greenville NC

Melissa-  I also find myself thinking about what I will/won't do if I ever become a CI.  I'm sure there is a very fine line between allowing a student to practice and not completely overwhelming them.  What matters most is that they're willing to teach.  Glad to hear you've had a good experience!  I hope I'm as lucky in the next two years.  All the best!

Lauren Rosso April 17, 2012 8:42 PM

I definitely agree that clinical instructors can have a big impact on the quality of a clinical affiliation. I feel blessed that throughout PT school, I have had CI's that have not pressured me too much and allowed me to learn at my own pace and comfort level. However, I also feel that his may have been a detriment to me as well. I have realized that I have a personality that really needs someone to push me a little bit to do my best. Moving "at my own pace" may sometimes be too slow and I feel that I could have learned a lot more on my clinicals had my instructors pushed me out of my comfort zone a bit. I know this may not be the case for everyone, but in retrospect this is what I have realized about myself and my clinical experiences. Someday if I ever decide to become a CI, I will try my best to challenge my students, but without making them feel overwhelmed.

Melissa April 16, 2012 9:06 AM

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