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Striving to Be a DPT

My First Rotation

Published November 25, 2014 3:19 PM by Jocelyn Wallace

This week, I found out where my first clinical rotation will be. My program begins clinical at the end of our first year, in April, at a skilled nursing facility. Mine will be in Hialeah, Fla., part of the Miami area. While I'm excited for tons of delicious coffee, I'm super nervous about the language barrier. The majority of the patients will speak Spanish and Creole. I don't speak any second languages.

The funny thing is that I asked for this, as I want to stay in Miami after graduation and understand the benefit of learning Spanish. A large part of my family is Spanish and Cuban, as well, so I've always wanted to learn, but is 5 months enough time to learn what I need to get by? Will this pseudo-immersion experience finally thrust me into understanding the language I've spent all of high school and college taking? I guess I'll find out.

Other than the language fears, I'm very excited. The facility is a short commute from home and upperclassmen who've been placed there have enjoyed the experience. I've never spent much time in a nursing home so I'm not sure what to expect, but I'm hoping to have a chance to use what I've learned about wound care, transfers, assistive device prescription and more. It's exciting to realize I've actually learned something that may be useful to others in a few short months!

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Hi Jocylen,

I am a 3rd year DPT student at East Carolina University.  This post caught my attention since I was in the same position as you going in to my 3rd clinical in pediatrics.  I was completing my rotation in North Carolina and my CI was fluent in Spanish, however, I had not had a Spanish class since 8th grade.  We saw every Spanish speaking family that came through the clinic.  As a student I was nervous to begin with.  Add in the language barrier and I just knew it would affect my ability to provide therapeutic interventions.

I found it very challenging the first two weeks I was there, but my CI was really good at translating for me.  This was a huge help!  As the weeks progressed I became familiar with common PT words and phrases and it got a little easier.  My best advice would be to try to communicate the best you can. All of my patients were children and often times their family members were also involved in the therapy session.  They were so sweet and tried to help me develop my Spanish.  This clinical rotation did spark my interest to take a medical Spanish course. I plan on doing this after I graduate this spring.  

I hope you have a wonderful experience on your first rotation.  


Tamara April 27, 2015 11:48 AM
Greenville NC

Hi Jocelyn,

My name is Blair Meiggs and I'm a 3rd year DPT student at East Carolina University in NC.  While I haven't had many language issues during my rotations, I did complete a medical mission trip in Costa Rica and like you, I spoke little to no Spanish!  

I will tell you that it wasn't easy to communicate, but that it is worth it to try your best!  I think a lot times we don't realize how heavily we can rely on body language and portraying a caring and engaging personality to assist with getting our points across!  

I will also tell you that it's important to not get frustrated with yourself!  There were many times when I felt like I was pronouncing the word or phrase the correct way, but clearly I wasn't because my patient had no clue what I was saying!  Take your time and speak slowly, eventually the point will get across!

There are also a lot of really handy "key medical phrases" handouts out there on the internet and in books that are really nice to have to reference!  I personally didn't use any books, but I used my handout ALL the time as a reference!

I hope that helps a little!  Best of luck!

Blair Meiggs

Blair Meiggs, Physicaly Therapy - PT Student April 20, 2015 3:42 PM
Greenville NC

Hi Jocelyn,

I am a 3rd year PT student from North Carolina and I just finished a clinical rotation in an in-patient rehab setting.  It's not the same as a SNF, but it's still the neurological based setting and I will tell you that I absolutely loved it!  The patients that we ended up sending to SNF's were the ones that needed the extra time to get more functionally mobile, but often they were the ones that brightened my day.  I hope that you enjoy their personalities that come out the longer you get to work with them.  

I agree with the comment below mine in being comfortable with outcome measures - those are used frequently and the more familiar you are with them, the more efficient your treatment sessions will be.   As far as the language barrier, that will be an interesting skill to develop since it's something you won't learn in school.  It would be a useful skill to add to your resumé though, and would certainly make you stand out when you are applying for jobs!  Best of luck with learning medical terminology in Spanish and Creole!

Katrina March 26, 2015 10:07 AM
Greenville NC


I am a DPT student at East Carolina University and will be graduating this May. I just finished my last clinical rotation at a SNF and loved working with the geriatric population. As you head to your first clinical in the SNF setting here are a few tips:

1. Become familiar with outcome measures (ex. Berg, MSIT, TUG). Outcome measures are used often in the SNF setting to determine if a patient is at risk for falls.

2. Make it a habit to check blood pressure, heart rate, and oxygen sats at evaluation. With the geriatric population it is likely that a majority of your patients will have a history of cardiovascular disease, stroke, etc. This is also just a good practice habit to develop in all settings and as you start practicing.

3. Practice good body mechanics when handling patients. You may have patients that require a lot of assistance to complete mobility in the early stages of their rehab. If you start practicing good body mechanics now you will have a long and happy career.

Best of luck!

Courtney Beasley, PT Student March 25, 2015 5:48 PM
Greenville NC

Hi Jocelyn,

I am a first year DPT student at East Carolina University. I am actually about to go on my first clinical rotation this March to an outpatient clinic.

It sounds like you had your hands full for your first rotation; I am sure it was quite the experience having to not only have your first clinical but to have a language barrier on top of it.

I have always considered trying to learn Spanish; it seems like these days it gives you such a career advantage.

I spent some time observing in a nursing home before I got into PT school and I must say it was a very different experience from the outpatient clinics I shadowed at. With all that being said, I am excited to go on my first rotation and apply some of the things I have learned so far in school; it will be a much different experience than shadowing was now that I have a good knowledge base.

It was great reading your blog!

Laura Needham

Laura Needham February 1, 2015 9:43 AM

Welcome to SNFs! I have worked in about 20different SNFs ( in house, contract and travel) and love the geriatric population! They are fun and often fascinating. Good luck!

Celia, Pt - PTA November 25, 2014 5:07 PM

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