Lessons Learned During the First Clinical Experience

Name: Kelsie Jordan, Class of 2019
Hometown: Portland, OR
Undergrad: Oregon State University
Fun Fact: I spent the summer of 2014 studying in Salamanca, Spain.
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When I tell people I was in California for my first clinical rotation, everyone’s minds seem to jump to the flashy big cities like Los Angeles, San Diego, or San Francisco. Sorry guys, I wasn’t lying on the beach or treating the movie stars; I was working more in the realm of Middle of Nowhere, CA in a small town called Orland. If you’ve ever driven to or from Oregon along I-5, you’ve probably driven right past it without ever even knowing it existed, as I actually have multiple times. I have lived in or near major cities all my life, so I had no idea what to expect from working in a rural setting. I was worried I was going to be bored, and that being away from everyone I know would make me lonely. But Orland, with its farmers, high school football, and Dollar General stores, turned out to be the best place I could have been for my first clinical.
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Welcome to Orland!

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.

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Wine tasting in Sonoma!

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.

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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.

 

Coming to PT School From Another Career

 

Quite a few of our classmates came to physical therapy school after 1, 2, or even 3 previous careers! Laura and Tara are academic all-stars, wonderful additions to our Class of 2018 cohort, and have some of the coolest past experiences out there.  

Name: Laura Baker, Class of 2018
Undergrad: University of New Hampshire, Durham
Hometown: Seville, Ohio
Fun Fact: During college, I studied abroad in Tamil Nadu, India!

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Name: Tara Businski, Class of 2018
Undergrad: Bates College
Hometown: East Lansing, MI
Fun Fact: I have swum in 4 of the world’s 5 oceans.

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First off, tell me about yourself. 

Laura: I grew up on a small farm in Ohio. My father raised hogs and grew crops while my mom operated a strawberry business. Much to the delight of the unsuspecting customers, chaos ensued when piglets escaped from their pens and ran straight for the berry patch.

I chose UNH for my undergraduate degree because of their intriguing curriculum and to chase after the ocean and mountains. I received a resource economics degree that laid the foundation for my natural resource conservation career. After graduation, I spent a year in Queensland, Australia as an intern studying resource economics of tropical rainforest re-forestation. I chose my next job as a forest conservation activist based on running: the people of Ketchikan, Alaska informed me that there were miles of trails (and black bears and wolves were rarely problematic). So there I went–Alaska or bust! I spent the next 11 years working various conservation jobs in Alaska with the majority of my time being spent at The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in Juneau.

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Laura doing some plant surveying for TNC

Tara: I grew up in Michigan, went to college in Maine, then moved to Newfoundland to study biological oceanography. After 4 years of graduate school, I joined the Marine Corps to be a helicopter pilot. I stayed in that job for almost 9 years, then resigned to come to PT school.

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Tara’s Christmas in Afghanistan

When did PT first catch your eye as a future career? 

Laura: I’ve had a number of encounters with physical therapists, most resulting from mundane, physics-gone-wrong scenarios: a torn ACL here, a nagging hamstring injury there, a helluva whiplash and concussion situation, etc.

After I turned 30, I felt like I had lost the passion for working in the natural resource field; I quit my job and travelled for a year. Several months into drinking wine and picking olives in Italy, I found myself unhappy with my state of uncertainty.  I knew that physical therapy was a profession with attributes that aligned well with my values and goals: a specific and defined skill set, available work in remote areas of Alaska, and getting to support others’ well-being in a tangible way. It seemed like the perfect next step!

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Laura on the job in AK

Tara: When I was considering post-military careers, I was looking for an intellectual challenge and a consistent schedule. I had a biology degree, a Pilates teaching certificate, and a little medical background from my time as an EMT and as a search and rescue volunteer. Physical therapy seemed like a logical extension of these experiences. I’m excited about the new challenges, variety at work, and job prospects.

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Talk about a cool past career! 

Describe how you went from thinking about PT as a career and getting into PT school.

Laura: I came back to Alaska to work odd jobs and sent myself back to school for the basic sciences. I shadowed physical therapists in various settings in Anchorage and Juneau and gave myself 2 years to get accepted into PT school. If, within that time frame, I was not accepted to a program, I figured it was not meant to be and that I would return to the conservation world with new goals and intentions.

Tara: I observed in an outpatient clinic on the base where I was stationed for a handful of hours, but was unable to get very many hours due to work demands. I also took anatomy and physiology at the local community college in the evenings. After I decided on Regis for PT school, I was able to get more observation time at the naval hospital in San Diego. That experience was invaluable and has had a major impact on my interests within the PT profession.

What is an unexpected challenge in PT school?

Laura: I could not have anticipated how much I miss the relationships I had built during my time in Alaska. Also, I’m giving up years of income and will be facing a level of financial instability that makes me squeamish. However, I am completely energized by my motivated classmates, committed faculty, and opportunities that I could not have otherwise imagined!

Tara: Group work across generations. I didn’t even have dial-up internet until high school! While I am proficient with technology, messaging and social media are not as natural to me as for many of my classmates. I like meeting face-to-face much more than messaging…And how many different messaging apps do I really need, anyway? Can’t all my different groups just use the same one? Modes of communication that appear effortless to others take extra time and energy for me to work with

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Tara and Laura take a study break on their bikes

What’s an unexpected awesome part of PT school?

Laura: I am thrilled about the professional and leadership development offered within the curriculum at Regis.

Tara: Being on the puppy raising team!

 

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Laura: My plan is to practice in southeast Alaska where towns are located among the islands. I cannot say if I will be in a specific clinic, providing tele-medicine, or traveling on the ferry or floatplane to treat people in remote areas. I can say that I am looking forward to settling back into life in Alaska where everyone moves just a little slower than in the big city and where patients compete to bring you their finest smoked salmon.

Tara: Denver–I don’t want to move any more! I’m interested in working with patients with neurologic health conditions so I’d like to be in a rehab center or hospital.

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Tara and Laura sip some cocktails and study for a neuro test

What pieces of advice do you have to incoming students (particularly those coming from another field)?

 

Laura: My advice to incoming “career-changer” DPT students is to practice patience with yourself and others and to recognize that your skills and experience from previous work add significant value to this field.

Tara: Beware of hubris. You bring life experience and maturity to your new profession but you’re still a novice. On the flip side, don’t sell yourself short. You may be new to PT, but have confidence in your new skills and use your life experience to improve communication with your patients and to manage time.

Also, homework sucks. However, when you think nostalgically about being able to leave work behind at the end of the day, remind yourself that school work is helping you become good at your new job. Also, it lasts less than 3 years, so you’ll get back to the real world soon (or so I believe)!

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Questions for the bloggers? Email Tara at tbusinski@regis.edu or Laura at lbaker@regis.edu.

Then and now: Meet Alumna Erin McGuinn Kinsey

Erin graduated from the Regis DPT program in 2010 and is now a pediatric physical therapist for Aurora Public Schools; she also serves as a Clinical Instructor for current students. 
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Name: Erin McGuinn Kinsey, Class of 2010
Hometown: Denver (but grew up in Georgia, Alabama and Florida)
Undergrad: University of Florida (Go Gators!)

Fun Fact: I am a huge Florida Gators fan and have been to 3 National Championship games, including football and basketball (all of which they won)!

More than six years ago, I completed my PT school capstone with the theme of “balance,” which led me to my graduation from Regis University with my Doctor of Physical Therapy degree in 2010. Every day during these past six years, I’ve held onto that philosophy of balance in both my personal and professional life. Life has definitely been a journey since then, and I am thankful for my profession, colleagues, friends, and family who have been a constant support. I always make time for my family, staying active, and traveling while dedicating myself to the children and families I serve as a physical therapist.

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My dad and me on graduation day! My parents were a huge support during my time at Regis.

As a Regis physical therapy student, I considered several areas of practice with an interest in pediatrics or orthopedics. It was when I ventured off to Ethiopia for the intercultural immersion experience that my decision was made to pursue a career in pediatrics. I have always enjoyed coaching children in gymnastics and being a nanny, but this was a new responsibility. My eyes were opened to the importance of access to timely and appropriate healthcare—especially early intervention for children. There were so many preventable and correctable impairments that would have changed the lives of these children if they had been addressed earlier in life. My passion for working with children was intensified, and I knew there was good work to be done in my future.

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Our time at Project Mercy in Ethiopia

After graduation, I decided I wanted to pursue pediatric physical therapy in Denver. I completed the Leadership and Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (LEND) Fellowship through JFK Partners and the University of Colorado (which is now the University of Colorado Pediatric Physical Therapy Residency Program). This opportunity gave me a variety of academic and clinical experiences, including supportive mentorship that was invaluable as a new physical therapist. I highly recommend further education after graduating, especially if you have determined an area of specialization! It is amazing how many continuing education opportunities are available now for physical therapists.  The experiences can enhance your education early on and increase your confidence in your clinical skills and decision making.

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My wedding day with my Regis girls by my side

I currently work as a pediatric physical therapist in Aurora Public Schools. My perception of the role of the physical therapist has really expanded in this setting. Access to the educational curriculum covers a broad spectrum and all aspects of a student’s school day. We are responsible for the physical access to the school environment in any scenario; this includes  getting on/off the bus, participating with peers on the playground, moving through the lunch line, evacuation plans, equipment management, gross motor skill development, and much more. I truly value providing services in the natural environment for the child.  There is something to be said for practicing the skill in the environment it is expected to be performed while directly supporting the student’s participation in his/her school life.  After spending most of my early career with the birth to three-year-old population in the home setting, the school setting has provided new challenges and learning opportunities across the school-aged lifespan. I remember in my interview with Aurora Public Schools one of my colleagues mentioned, “you will never be bored.” Now in my second year in APS, I have quickly learned this is true!

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My wonderful PT team at APS!

The beauty of being a physical therapist is that there are so many different opportunities within the profession, and you can always change your mind. People need our help whether they are young or old, active or sedentary. Get out there, find what you love, and create your balance.

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My family on vacation to Carmel Valley and Pebble Beach, CA

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.” – Albert Einstein

Flat Stanley Goes to Clinical

Name: Nicole Darragh, Class of 2017

Hometown: Columbus, OH

Undergrad: Regis University

Fun Fact: I think kale is totally overrated.

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The Class of 2017 recently returned from their second clinical rotations with a plethora of new knowledge and stories to share.  Some students even had a visitor along the way: Flat Stanley.  Flat Stanley is a small paper figurine that keeps students connected outside of the classroom.  Students take a photo of Flat Stanley completing an activity, learning a new technique, or going to a cool new location, and share those photos with their classmates through social media.  This helped us learn a little bit about each rotation, and keep in touch with our classmates.

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Pictured: Sarah Campbell ’17 with Flat Stanley on her first day of clinical (PC: Sarah Campbell)

Flat Stanley traveled to a wide variety of locations across the country including California, Wyoming, Kentucky, and even Alaska!  Along the way, Flat Stanley learned new documentation systems, new techniques in the clinics, and went on a lot of hikes.  Really, what Flat Stanley is trying to tell you is that while you’re on your clinical rotation, don’t forget to take the time to explore your new surroundings!

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Flat Stanley reviews Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) while at clinic in Chico, CA (PC: Adam Engelsgjerd)

 

Clinical rotations work in a variety of ways.  The first is the lottery option; students choose ten clinical sites from a large list compiled by the clinical education faculty, and rank them in order from 1-10.  Once the lottery is generated, students are placed at a site.  The second is the first come, first serve option; students can choose a site before the lottery begins that they are particularly interested in, and request to be placed at that site before it is taken.  The third is the set-up option: students are allowed to contact a clinical site that is not affiliated with Regis and set up a clinical rotation with them if they are interested.  When rotations get closer, you’ll learn more specifics about how they work, requirements, etc.

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Flat Stanley’s meet up at Devil’s Tower outside of Gillette, WY (PC: Amanda Morrow)

 

Throughout the clinical process, it is important to know that you might not always end up in Denver, and you’ll have to try something new!  Wherever you do end up, make sure to enjoy your free time.  Clinical can sometimes be very overwhelming, and it is crucial to take time for yourself, whether that be exploring your new surroundings, trying a local restaurant, or binging on Netflix.  And if the thought of being gone for six, eight, or twelve weeks scares you a little, all of us will tell you that the time flies by so quickly.  There isn’t much time to be bored!

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Flat Stanley goes sandboarding in the Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado (PC: Lauren Hill)

 

If you have any further questions about clinical rotations–or other places Flat Stanley and/or students traveled–please feel free to contact me at darra608@regis.edu!  Also, I would recommend reading the post below called “Class of 2017 DPT Student Lindsay Mayors Reflects on Her Clinical Rotation.” (https://regisdpt.org/2016/05/27/class-of-2017-dpt-student-lindsay-mayors-reflects-on-her-clinical-rotation/)

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Flat Stanley helps out with some end-of-the-day documentation (PC: Amy Medlock)

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Flat Stanley enjoying a nice Moscow Mule after a long week at clinical (PC: Amy Medlock)

 

 

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Flat Stanley joins Lauren Hill and Jenna Carlson to run the Bolder Boulder race (PC: Lauren Hill)

Cover PC: David Cummins, Class of 2019

 

Injury, surgery and rehab during PT school: Meet James Liaw

Name: James Liaw, Class of 2018

Hometown: San Jose, CA

Undergrad: University of California, Davis

Fun Fact: Climbing! More Climbing, snowboarding…let’s go climb.

 

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Getting injured is always going to be hard to deal with, but you never realize how much it will affect you until you’re experiencing it firsthand. The summer after my senior year of high school, I hurt my left wrist; I did not find out until this semester—six years later!—that I had broken the scaphoid and it had never healed. Deciding to get it fixed in my second semester of PT school was tough, but necessary: as we will be learning many hands-on tests and measures this summer to use for our first fall clinical, I figured now was the best time for the surgery. Since I’ve always been interested in hands, I did a lot of my own research. A vascularized bone graft over my scaphoid would normally be the best option, but, because my fracture was practically ancient, my surgeon and I decided that the best option was to get a four-corner fusion.

After waking up from surgery, though, I learned that there was a complication. The goal had been to fuse the carpels and have my lunate articulate with the radius instead of the scaphoid; when my surgeon began, though, she found that there had already been damage to the surface. She decided that it was best for me to get a proximal row carpetomy (PRC) to preserve as much ROM as she could. So, essentially, the surgeon took out the scaphoid, lunate and triquetrum in order to have my wrist articulate at the capitate.

It was only after undergoing my PRC that I realized how much I utilized both my hands for everyday activity—and, particularly, that I could no longer climb. Losing my main source of both stress relief and fun hit me hard. I tried to find other things to fill the time and to burn off the excess energy that I had from sitting in class all day, but, to be honest, nothing really worked. Not climbing made me restless and unmotivated to study. My life had been built around climbing and school, so losing half of that was devastating. Everyone was extremely supportive and assured me that I would get back to climbing in no time, but this “short” stint of five weeks of immobilization felt like forever—and, almost just as paralyzing as the cast was the constant worry that I would lose the climbing ability I had worked so hard to attain.

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James created his own customized walker to practice in the Class of 2018’s transfer and mobility lab

That time in the cast gave me more insight into what my future patients will be feeling:  I felt helpless as I sat in lecture, hand over my head to reduce swelling, and thinking about my four years of climbing work slipping out from my fingers. This is the kind of thought that we will have to deal with. Patients will come in with an injury and with goals and fears of never reaching them, and I can see more clearly now that it’s going to be my job, as a clinician, to assist with both physical rehabilitation and help motivate them to push past their fears.

Dealing with an injury can be large distraction from school. Luckily (or unluckily), I have other classmates that are going through a similar process with their injuries, and we have formed a support group to talk about our experiences. All the professors have been very supportive, and I’ve also learned a lot about wrist and hand injuries in the last month through obsessive research (it’s reinforcing Regis’ emphasis on evidence-based practice!). I will be starting physical therapy soon and I’m looking forward to getting back on track—and, hopefully, more energized than I have been in the last month. Even though I have a long way to go, I can’t help but be excited about healing up and enjoying the beautiful Colorado climbing!

Students take on CSM: Nolan Ripple on attending the national PT conference

Name: Nolan Ripple

Hometown: Peoria, AZ

Undergrad: University of Portland, OR

Fun Fact: Lacrosse player freshly converted to marathon enthusiast.

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Hello all!  My name is Nolan Ripple and I am a first year PT student.  About two weeks ago, the national PT conference for students and professionals—called the Combined Sections Meeting—was held in Anaheim, California.  During our three years at Regis, each one of us is expected to attend one national conference.   And—since this one was so close and we had class time off—many students chose to go, including myself.

Going into the experience as a first year student, I wasn’t expecting to receive much more than the credit of actually going and checking it off the list.  However, I can say that despite being relatively new in PT school, CSM was a positive experience both professionally and personally.  First, imagine sun, the beach, good food (In N Out included!), time off of a grueling second semester, and a bunch of classmates hanging out.  It was impossible not to have a good time…Needless to say, there was plenty of fun mixed into the week, and students enjoyed time at the beach, local restaurants and breweries, and mingling with the PT students and professionals from around the country.  It was invaluable to build that camaraderie amongst one another and within the PT community as a whole: it was refreshing to take a step back and see how other schools and clinics operate than the ones in the immediate Regis community.

 

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Anaheim, CA hike

In regards to the actual conference, I thought it was well organized and there were a plethora of talks to attend.  The lectures I attended ranged from topics of trunk stability and pelvic performance, running mechanics, concussion rehab in pediatrics, and even one concerning “burnout” in the PT profession.  It was super cool to engage in a number of topics, especially ones that are less emphasized in our own curriculum.  To put it bluntly, some speakers were better than others.  In that sense, I definitely had my favorite talks.  But, overall, being able to learn and engage in a variety of specialties was an extraordinary opportunity.

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With so much time off, I also got to see a lot of family.  I stayed with my grandparents and visited my aunt, uncle, and two cousins out there. The majority of students crammed into hotel rooms together, but as part of the Regis PT family, that is no weirder than a normal palpation lab.  Overall, this was an excellent opportunity to step back from the daily work of school, learn from professionals, and spend quality time with friends and peers.  A- experience (if it hadn’t rained the first day…then A+).