Going into college, I was fortunate in that I already knew what I wanted to be - a physical therapist. With my career path chosen, I elected to enter into the 6-year PT program at my school. While I knew I wanted to be a physical therapist, the only experience I had in the field was as a patient at an outpatient ortho clinic and volunteering at a VA. I had no idea what physical therapy entailed in the hospital setting.
Following my freshman year of undergrad, I was fortunate to acquire a job as a physical therapy aide at a hospital near my hometown. Being in a hospital setting and handling patients regularly was definitely a nerve-wracking experience at that age. I remember going into the ICU my first couple weeks terrified of touching the patient or any of the cords! Over time I became more comfortable working with various patients. As I became more experienced, I became more and more familiar with medical terminology, transferring patients, and the hospital setting in general. When it came to courses focused on the inpatient setting, it definitely made the material easier, but probably the most beneficial aspect of the position was an alternative perspective gained from working in that setting. The way we are taught in school is not always the way techniques are performed in the clinic! For example, while it is essentially universally understood that there should always be two practitioners present while performing stairs, my school was different in that it taught us the therapist should stand behind the patient on the stairs. I realize this is almost unheard of with other practitioners. One of my teachers reinforced it in me specifically by having me try to guard her, while standing in front on the stairs. She purposely had her legs give out and slid down several stairs! The point is working with therapists outside my classroom setting has made me realize why some practitioners prefer their methods. Bringing in multiple perspectives can really help to develop your own style of care.
The early exposure to inpatient care also had an impact on my first inpatient acute care rotation. With having observed or performed many techniques over the prior 4 years, I had little hesitation in treating patients. While I recognize that inpatient PT does not require extensive utilization of specific techniques, it definitely has a high-level of clinical reasoning required. Knowing how to pick out the important material in a chart review, which lines you can disconnect, developing discharge plans and more can only become more efficient through experience.
I think what's important to take away from this is to always keep an eye or ear out for advice from PTs in all settings. You never can hear too many opinions or methods on how they choose to practice. That is one of the reasons we started this website. While going on our initial clinicals, we were encountering examination procedures and treatment styles not exposed to us in school. If we can continue to develop lines of communication through various schools and parts of the country, we can all benefit. Hopefully, it will lead to research that enables physical therapists to become more highly-skilled practitioners at a higher rate!
James Heafner DPT, Chris Fox DPT, and Brian Schwabe DPT, CSCS are recent graduates of Saint Louis University's Program in Physical Therapy.