How to Utilize a PT Intern to Your Advantage

In the healthcare field, hands on experience is truly the best way to learn. This is especially true in the field of physical therapy, when you are a manual physical therapist. The only way to learn manual therapy is to have the technique done on you and then you to do it on as many individuals as possible. For this reason, everyone should want to have physical therapy interns. However, many clinics and more clinicians find having a student a hassle; since they just view it as “more paperwork for them.” If that is your mind-set going into the clinical rotation, then nobody in the situation (therapist, intern, patients) will not benefit. So here are ways to maximize the benefits of having a PT intern.

Physical therapy interns make the best exercise technicians. Student’s curriculum includes course and lab work dedicated to learning as well as teaching specific exercises as well as the anatomy and physiology behind those exercises. As your intern is learning how your clinic runs, have them start all your patients with their “warm-up” exercises. This gets the intern hands on experience with patients, as well as allows them face time with patients to let the patients to become familiar with the new face working with them. All patients need a warm-up prior to any manual therapy, so this kills two birds with one stone; especially if you’re running behind schedule. If you are training new exercise technicians, having the PT intern work with them also allows for better integration of the exercises to allow for improved patient care.

Student interns should be learning new skills and practicing their already acquired skills on a daily basis during the clinical rotation. However, the intern should not be the only individual having a learning experience. When properly utilized, both the therapist and patients should be learning from their student. Having a student co-treating is a great time to have them teach the patient, and brush up on your skills in anatomy (ie: muscle, origin, insertion, innervation, action). Most students also have a different education from their CI’s, so they might have varying theories and treatment strategies for treating a certain ailment or diagnosis. Instead of frowning upon this and treating “your way or the highway,” this should be incorporated to help the patient get better faster. Differential diagnosis is essential in treatment many diagnoses, so having a second set of eyes on the case, might just be the breakthrough that patient needed.

Once the PT intern has become proficient in the treatment philosophy of the clinic, it is the best way to work with complex and complicated patients. We as therapists all have clients who have “full body aches and pains.” Yet in a single treatment session we are not always able to hit all the spots. With a second set of hands, we are able to treat their primary dysfunction, but also have an assisting set of hands working on the secondary/tertiary deficits, which a majority of patients have.

Finally, being a CI also has a few perks. Many schools extend offers to clinical instructors. Schools often allow access to their internet article database, which helps you stay up to date on the latest research in our field. Some universities also will offer certain free Webinars and CEU’s for their adjunct PT staff, which is also a great way to keep up on your required CEU hours in order to maintain your licensure. So instead of dreading “molding the minds of the future” look at is as an opportunity to not only teach, but also to learn to make yourself the best PT you can be for your patients!

Brad Murrison, PT, MPT