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Journey of a DPT Student

Mentoring PT Students

Published March 4, 2014 5:54 PM by Lauren Rosso

At Pitt, we have certain "benchmarks" that our program has assembled to guide us through the yearlong clinical. As the months roll on, there's an expectation that we will try our hands at role reversal and mentor younger PT students on their journey to DPT Year 3. I had some of my first opportunities to check this benchmark off the list last week. Lesson learned -- I have a lot to learn before I become a clinical instructor.

My shortcomings are not just from a knowledge standpoint, however I fully recognize that I need more exposure to a number of patient populations before I feel confident in my abilities to teach someone else about physical therapy. What I found more obvious was that I didn't know what to highlight, what to omit, and what to expand upon. I felt like I was basically word-vomiting everything I had ever learned about post-stroke rehab to this poor girl as she kindly listened to my "lesson." In reality, I should have kept my explanations about creative intervention strategies for hemiplegic gait to a minimum. My lack of an organizational teaching process gave away the fact that I had never mentored someone before, both to myself and likely to the younger student.

I was thinking a lot about this over the weekend. The best mentors, clinical instructors and coaches I've ever had found a way to tease out the fundamentals of each task/skill they were trying to teach. Once the fundamentals are mastered, they smoothly progress to implementation and carryover of each skill in a logical and organized way. It takes intimate knowledge of the craft to be able to do this... and I'm just not there yet. That poor 2nd-year student -- neither of us stood a chance!

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I can understand the almost disappointment you feel in yourself at the inability to communicate the essentials clearly. As a PT students about to graduate, I have also been given moments to teach students not as far along in the program or who are still looking into the field. My best intentions at education turn out as a semblance of facts that I feel are important but are not necessarily the foundational keys. Like you, I feel like I am guilty of word vomit. Three years of a doctoral level graduate program and I still fumble through my words. I would like to think that we are just trying our best to help (as our profession is so very known for) and impart all the wisdom we possibly can on these "young minds." However, it has become increasingly apparent that teasing out the basics is a fine art and takes practice. I have seen the carryover in regards to patient education. I remember some of my treatment sessions on my first clinical when I would overwhelm my patients with information. My skill in this area has progressively gotten better, so I guess there is hope for our teaching skills as well.

Elizabeth March 26, 2014 8:36 PM

As a former college instructor, I am very familiar with the concept that the best way to truly learn any concept is to teach it.  Even though the exercise of mentoring a newer student in the program was certainly nerve racking and uncomfortable, it was also likely a key learning experience in a variety of ways.  Not only did you learn about yourself and your readiness to be responsible for someone else’s education, but you probably have a better understanding of the topic you discussed with the 2nd year student than you had before.

Of course we expect that effective mentors / coaches / instructors have a certain level of organization and ability to start with the basics and build from there.  However, I find that the most effective educators, while knowledgeable, have the humility to realize they do not know every answer to every question and to be open to what they can learn from their students.  Allowing oneself to appear less than 100% expert in the mentor role can also reduce the stress levels often associated with being placed in that position.  This admission of imperfection may also help facilitate an attitude of patience with the learner through his or her struggle.

Further, as physical therapists, we are intrinsically playing the part of educator and coach with our patients, as well.  Therefore applying the same approach of being organized and humble will surely prove to be beneficial for both patient and therapist.

Jennifer March 17, 2014 12:14 PM

Apologies- I am not sure why it did not post correctly the first time.

At ECU's DPT program, mentoring begins prior to our second year as we are attached to incoming first year students. I was matched last month to my first year "buddy" and am looking forward to helping my first year student but also practicing and developing my own skills at mentoring.

We are required to participate in the prospective DPT student interview day every year, though there are only a small portion of spots for a weighted panel interview. I ended up in an unweighted, one-on-one interview that is designed to provide a student voice to answer any questions the student may have about the program, city, industry, etc. Unfortunately, my student interviewee did not have a plethora of questions lined up, leaving it for me to lead the Q&A session. I, similar to your experience, found myself in a whirlwind of passionate verbal vomit. While I did attempt to follow a structure in my head, I often found myself getting carried away on detail filled tangents. Reflecting on it, I should have kept my answers more simple and I hope I did not overwhelm the student on interview day (!). In the end, I am happy that I provided the prospective student with my email address in the event of further questions. One tactic I have found to help streamline mentoring information is through email. Now I have only to practice translating that same appropriate thoroughness and organization into all mentoring interactions.

Marianne Gross, , SPT ECU March 15, 2014 10:46 PM
Greenville NC

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