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Toni Talks about PT Today

The Perspective of a CI

Published January 18, 2011 6:10 PM by Toni Patt

For the next 2 months, I am a CI for a DPT student. He is doing his neurological rotation. Today marked the end of his first 2 weeks on the unit so we completed the mini-assessment required by his school. I think having read our PT student blogs has given me better insight into what learning experiences to provide a student. So I thought I'd turn the tables this week and describe things from the eyes of a CI.

The biggest thing I have to remember is that everything is new for a student. Working in a hospital is new. Reading charts is new. Talking to patients and their families is new. Actually touching a patient for the first time is very new. After his first transfer, he told me how much different it was from transferring his classmates. Somehow during that first week I have to familiarize him with the hospital as well as begin teaching neurological basics.

That isn't as easy as it sounds. First I have to learn his terminology. All schools teach the same things but don't always use the same terms. I also have to figure out how he learns and learn how to tell when he's become saturated with information. All this must be done while continuing to carry my load of patients without letting any stress wash over onto him. From those patients, I have to try to identify the ones with both teaching potential and personalities who will be comfortable with a student.

Once we get past the initial hands-on-a-patient event, it's time to start work on practicing all those transfers and treatments he learned at school. That can be tricky. I have to provide constructive feedback in a positive way. I can't say something was wrong. Instead I have to build confidence by showing a different way. Everyone reacts differently. What doesn't bother one person might overwhelm another. It isn't always easy to tell someone he is wrong.

As a student progresses, I try to become invisible during patient treatments. Eventually I'll step aside. The only way to learn is to make mistakes. I'm there to prevent serious mistakes. Sometimes I have to push a student out of his or her comfort zone. Sometimes I do the treatment first. Explaining only goes so far. Humans are very visual. If I demonstrate, I have to do it in such a way that what I'm doing is obvious, while making sure the patient remains part of the process.

Then there are the notes. We've all had CIs who nitpick notes. I'm particularly tough on goal writing. Notes are merely descriptions of something that already happened. Assessments and goals are the thinking process. Every student will eventually sit for boards. Reading notes enables me to see the thinking process so I know where to go. Writing notes is how students learn to take in data, process it and apply it clinically. That is a vital skill for passing the examination.

It isn't easy being a CI. Every day is a new opportunity to learn and practice. My student has to leave me with entry level knowledge of neurological physical therapy. The same is true for any affiliation. I never feel like I have enough time. I'm always afraid I won't get it done in whatever amount of time I have.


I haven't had the pirvelage of being a CI, but I have had very good CIs in the past. One of the best things a CI did for me was give me confidence and a change to prove myself as a compentent PT in the making. Also, providing the student with resources such as favorite books, websites, blogs, exc. that will be helpful for them in the future is a great way to have a lasting impact. Good luck!

Sara L., DPT

sara, physical therapist January 20, 2011 4:39 PM

Toni, you're right, you don't have enough time to do it all. You have many years of wisdom which you are aware could easily become overwhelming for your new student. Kudos for your insights and recognition of all the various limitations on the two of you.

You have a unique opportunity. You are the professional that this young man will begin to model. You get to shape not just his mind, but also his attitude. You get to shape the future of this profession. You never know, he could someday be the director of a rehab unit, a state PT board or the APTA itself.

We've rarely agreed on most things, but I do believe that this young man will be a better professional for working under your supervision and I wanted to tell you that.

Cheers, Dean

Dean Metz January 19, 2011 4:03 PM

Good description.  It is challenging to be a teacher of any kind.  You have identified many areas that are taken for granted or overlooked.  Your students are fortunate to have you as a CI.

Janey Goude January 18, 2011 10:32 PM

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January 18, 2011 9:54 PM

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