Why Would I Work With a Student?



As a physical therapy student currently halfway through my 4th and final clinical affiliation, I have had many experiences with patients who do not feel comfortable allowing a student managing their plan of care.


I fully understand the apprehension, especially when taking into account the pain and movement dysfunction these patients are experiencing. The goal of this article is to inform patients who enter a physical therapy clinic why having a student manage their care ensures thorough and up to date treatment.

The majority of physical therapy students you will encounter today are studying to become doctors of physical therapy. Part of this process is extensive hands on work with a licensed, experienced clinician. Using my education as an example, 36 weeks of clinical work are required to complete the curriculum, including hospital and outpatient based experiences. During this time, students are assigned a clinical instructor who teaches examination and treatment techniques in real time. On a near daily basis, clinical instructors and students meet to practice manual techniques, discuss treatment plans, and troubleshoot treatments and exercises that are not producing the desired results. Consequently, when a student is involved in your plan of care, there is a clinical instructor aware of the plan, and two minds are better than one.

Current education for doctors of physical therapy revolves around the buzzwords “evidence-based practice.” This means that our decisions as physical therapists are backed up by scientific evidence of their safety and effectiveness. Student physical therapists frequently access this evidence to supplement their classroom and clinical education. Many experienced PT’s appreciate having students because of their knowledge of current evidence based practice. Therefore, having a student involved in your care increases the likelihood you will be treated based on the most current and highest quality scientific evidence.

For the reasons stated, consumers of physical therapy should not have apprehension when working with a student physical therapist. It is beneficial to your care to take advantage of the collaboration and evidence-based practice involved with being treated by a student. As always, be proactive with your care and challenge the student or therapist to educate you regarding this collaboration and evidence-based practice, and be pleased when you reflect on how you were part of the team that helped develop a future physical therapist.


Contributed by Dan Quirk, SPT, CSCS

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