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How to Facilitate a Successful Clinical Instructor - Student Outpatient Clinical Experience

04/27/2014, 6:15pm EDT
By Christine Licata, PT, DPT, SCS, CSCS

Good teaching leads to a good experience.

Christine Licata, PT, DPT, SCS, CSCS

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” William Arthur Ward


Deciding to become a clinical instructor (CI) is a decision that should not be taken lightly. It requires a commitment that will affect your daily responsibilities, schedule, and impact the life and future career of your student. It requires you to be open to new ideas, treatment techniques, and information that might not have been around when you attended PT school.  It also requires patience and understanding, especially in a busy outpatient clinical setting when often times it seems like there are not enough hours in the day to get everything done when you don’t have a student.  With each new student that I have the opportunity to work with, I grow as a clinician and a mentor and have discovered several key points to remember during the student’s clinical experience.


Learning Style

            Discovering the preferred learning style of your student should be done on day one of their clinical experience.  Whether they are listeners, doers, observers or thinkers, their learning style should impact your teaching style in order to facilitate the most efficient learning environment. If they are unsure of their exact preferred method of learning, have them provide examples that they have experienced in the past that were both positive and negative in order to assist with this process. We all have had at some point in our careers as a student or a clinician an experience where we felt our time was being wasted due to inefficiencies in receiving information and this can be easily avoided by addressing the issue straight out of the gate.


Past CI Experience

            All physical therapists are different and this has a dramatic impact on what experiences your student has to base their clinical decision making on.  Learning about the different treatment styles of their past clinical instructors is as important as introducing your own to them. Finding out the following about their past clinical instructors will help you out in the long run during their clinical experience:

·         Manual techniques or training that they most commonly use or philosophies/schools of manual therapy they follow

·         Their thought on modalities

·         The degree to which they practice evidence based medicine

·         Their patient population and clinic setting

·         Their writing style and things they emphasize with documentation

·         The company policies that they follow regarding billing, patient flow, delegation, and supervision


Writing Styles

            We all have different ways of phrasing things and expressing what we mean to say with our documentation. The goal of teaching our students is not to make them our clones, but to help them discover their own way to document with proper medical terminology in a style of their own.  They will come up with their own familiar statements, sentences and discover their favorite words to use and it is our job to help facilitate this. 


Their Fears and Comfort Zone

            There are students that want to stay within their comfort zone to ensure their success and those that want to experience EVERYTHING and dive right into a challenge.  Either way, the job of a CI is to facilitate learning experiences and carefully encourage the student to expose themself to a controlled amount of fear because as we all know, once they are on their own they will come across a patient experience or clinical scenario that scares them. The best way to help them overcome this fear and to feel comfortable with any patient experience is to prepare them for the unknown, teach them how to problem solve in a strategic way, and let them know that it is ok to not know everything.


Providing Feedback

            We all like to receive feedback differently and so do our students. It is our job as the CI to figure out how to provide feedback in the most efficient and effective way.  It is important to ask the student how they prefer to receive feedback or how they prefer to be corrected or questioned in order to encourage them to learn and improve their performance. I feel that it is important to avoid correction in front of patients unless that patient’s safety is in jeopardy and pointless quizzing which both make the student feel uncomfortable and in some situations decrease the patient’s confidence in the care that they are receiving.

Educational Background

            Depending on how long the CI has been practicing determines how long ago they went to PT school and the possibility of changes in PT school curriculum.  Be prepared for your student to perform different special tests, gather objective measurements differently, and have different ideas about plans of care than you had when you were a new grad. Our ever-evolving profession changes at a rapid pace and in the end, inevitably the CI always learns at least a thing or two from their student.


            Overall, being a CI to a PT student at any point during the clinical affiliation process is both challenging and rewarding.  Take the time to remember how it was when you were a student and adjust each CI/student experience to maximize their learning experience. 


Sponsored by Christine Licata, DPT, SCS, CSCS

Christine Licata, DPT, SCS, CSCS

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Christine recieved her Doctorate of Physical Therapy from Widener University in 2005. She is also a board certified clinical specialist through the American Physical Therapy Association in Sports Physical Therapy and is a certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the NSCA. 

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