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Journey of a DPT Student

When a Patient Refuses to Work with a Student

Published October 15, 2012 3:11 PM by Lauren Rosso

I guess my initiation as a PT student is finally complete -- today was the first time a patient refused to work with me after I informed him that I was a student. In a way, I'm surprised it's taken a year and a half for that to happen. At the same time, it was completely unexpected and I'm sure my facial expression didn't hide my surprise. This was the first time someone demonstrated even slight unease at being treated by me, a student, let alone completely refusing.

After I got over the initial embarrassment and slight annoyance, I took some time to think about the situation and I didn't take it personally. I actually wondered whether I'd do the same thing if I didn't know anything about physical therapy or what my treatment would entail. This particular patient was just a few days out from a total knee replacement and in a lot of pain. I can imagine that any sort of uncertainty or perceived "subpar" care was the last thing he was interested in. At first, I felt myself becoming slightly defensive but I'm proud of myself for handling the situation professionally and with a lot of understanding (even if it wasn't necessarily how I was feeling inside).

This whole experience was a very valuable lesson in displaying confidence in my skills and also in dealing with patients when they are unhappy with you. I was a bit timid with the next few patients who came in, but I had to remind myself that while I'm not yet a fully licensed physical therapist, I'm still a capable and intelligent person. A year ago, I probably would have had a very different reaction. It's amazing to see how far I've come in such a short time.


Hi Lauren, I am a DPT student as well, and as a former ortho patient who has asked for a resident to not examine them, just wanted to reiterate that this had nothing to do with you personally!

I had a spine injury and had been to this ortho doc once before. I knew that I would be examined by his resident before he came in only to repeat the exact same tests, many of which were very painful! So when the resident asked if he could do some tests on me after taking my history, I did ask him if we could skip the tests until the doc was there because they were so painful. At the time, all I could think about was my pain, not the fact that I was preventing someone else from learning valuable skills. I am assuming your facial expression was a lot like his! Plus, he let out an "Oh! umm...ok." I guess for me I learned the lesson from the other side, always keep in mind what your patient is going through, empathy is one of the best skills we can have and continue to develop. And especially in an acute setting, when we have so little time to develop a relationship with the patient, basically nothing is personal. I am glad you were able to bring back your confidence so quickly! You will be prepared for it next time. Who knows, there might not even be a next time; you are closer to the end of being a student than the beginning :)

Katie March 6, 2013 8:37 PM

Lauren- I am a first year DPT student about to embark in my first clinical experience. I have quickly glanced at some of your blog notes and find them very helpful. This particular issue is something that I otherwise would have been unprepared for. I will not know until I experience it firsthand what my reaction will be but I agree with you in that it is something we should not take personally. This will probably be easier said than done. Best of luck on your upcoming affiliations!

Alma , , DPT Student ECU March 4, 2013 8:34 PM
Greenville NC

If you are allowed to use the term "intern" please use it. It conveys a different idea to patients.  Keep up the great work!!

Jason Marketti October 15, 2012 10:44 PM

You need to remember that this person's response was not at all about you, it was about the label of "student". You are correct not to take in personally, as hard as that is sometimes.

Kudos for you for recognising how far you've come in what really is a relatively short period of time.

Dean Metz October 15, 2012 5:52 PM

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