Here are just a few things I learned along the way:
Work schedules > school schedules
I’m not going to lie, clinicals are exhausting. Being on my feet all day, both literally and figuratively, drained the life out of me, especially in that first week. The good news is, I immediately discovered how great it is to come home at the end of a long, demanding day and have nothing–and I mean nothing–to worry about. After a year straight of exams, projects, and endless studying, I forgot how nice it was to have a mellow evening without feeling guilty about procrastinating. My clinical instructor (CI) once asked me what I generally do after work and I had to laugh; my nightly routine was pretty much eat dinner, drink an occasional glass of wine, and re-watch early episodes of Game of Thrones. Call me lazy, but I look at it as taking advantage of the free time I never get to have during school.
It’s never easy, but it gets better
As barely a second year student going into this rotation, I was pretty much inexperienced in every sense of being a physical therapist. Even the skills I was most familiar with had a different feel to them when working with real patients instead of practicing on healthy classmates. Luckily, my CI was an amazing teacher. He did a great job of layering on responsibilities for me so I always felt challenged but never felt thrown into the deep end. After an observation-heavy first week, I was tasked with doing the subjective interview portion of every evaluation and taking over the exercises for a couple patients. At the time, that honestly made me nervous and it felt like a lot of independence. But fast forward to my final week: I had somewhere around 10 patients all to myself, I was flying solo on pretty much every lower extremity and back evaluation, I was completing all documentation, and I had discharged three of my patients. We had a packed 8-5 schedule and it was never easy because my CI always gave me more to do before I got fully comfortable. It was demanding, I made a lot of mistakes, and being challenged every day sometimes made me feel like I wasn’t improving or I shouldn’t still be struggling. But looking back at what was difficult for me in that very first week compared to what I was able to do by the end, it’s easy to see how much I learned and improved!
Confidence takes practice
I have always struggled with my outward displays of confidence in patient interactions because I get nervous and tend to doubt myself. I’ve always been told, “Fake it ‘til you make it,” but that’s a lot easier said than done; I guess I just don’t know how to fake confidence. Instead, my confidence builds gradually as I experience success and overcome challenges. And that’s exactly what happened during my clinical. From prescribing and teaching exercises on my own to completing several full evaluations in Spanish, I was definitely challenged, but I was also successful. Sure, I felt like I didn’t quite know what I was doing half the time, but I learned to not dwell on mistakes and to push myself out of my comfort zone. Most importantly, I gained confidence in my own knowledge and abilities, and I now feel more prepared to take on the rest of PT school. If there’s anything I learned from my clinical, it’s that I am capable of doing far more than I ever thought I was.
Solo adventures are good for the soul
I’m usually go go go from one thing to the next for fear of missing out on any fun, so being alone in a rural area was definitely a change of pace. Although I was lucky enough to reunite with some college friends during trips to San Francisco and Lake Tahoe, I actually probably spent more time alone over the six weeks of clinicals than I did throughout the entire first year of PT school. It allowed a lot of time for self-reflection I didn’t even realize I needed. I was itching to get out and explore, and my weekend adventures were definitely worth all the miles I put on my car: I took my first solo camping trip, discovered a National Park I had never even heard of, and hiked upwards of 35 miles by myself. Of course I missed my friends and my normal crew of camping/hiking buddies, but I learned how to embrace time alone without being lonely.
I enjoyed the opportunity to appreciate silence and just be.
Support systems are necessary
As a class, we spend so much of our lives together throughout the year that, I have to admit, it was oddly nice to be away from everyone. No, I’m not saying I was sick of my classmates, but those 6+ weeks apart allowed me to actually miss my friends. And, although I already said I enjoyed my time alone, man did I miss them. When you go from sharing all of your time together to none of it, all while you’re being thrown into a new situation, there’s a lot to catch up on after just one day! I did my best to reach out to my friends here and there to see how their clinicals were going, and sometimes those check-ins turned into 2-hour phone conversations. Shout out to the two friends who kept up a group text with me every single day–we practically shared a play-by-play of our clinical experiences, from funny patient stories to weekend plans. Knowing everyone else was having similar challenges was reassuring, and receiving daily encouragement and sharing my accomplishments kept me excited to keep learning.
In a rural setting, a physical therapist needs to be a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none, as my CI once told me. As a result, I got to see a little bit of everything. Sure, there were quite a few back, shoulder, and knee injuries, but I also did some detective work with more neural issues, and I got to observe several vertigo treatments as well. I absolutely loved being in Orland, not only for the varied learning experiences, but also for the people and the small town charm. I found out the correct way to pronounce almond is “am-end” (according to Northern California farmers), and I even joined in on the tradition of wearing blue on Fridays in support of the high school football team.
“You are enough!”
That’s what we were told in our final pre-clinical prep session over the summer, and it turns out it’s true! At first it was easy to think,“I’m just a student” and feel as though I had to run every thought and decision by my CI. However, as he let me become more independent, I realized even as a student, I really did have enough knowledge and skill to make a difference in patients’ lives all on my own. Now, when people ask me how my clinical went, I have nothing but good things to say. I was pushed into recognizing how much I was capable of, and humbled into realizing how much more I still have to learn. Although it was a short period of time, those six weeks were like a refresh button to help me overcome the burnout I had experienced after a year in the classroom, and allowed me to come back to Regis ready to keep expanding my knowledge base before I head back into the real world again.