Optimizing Your Clinical Education Experience: From Preparation to Best Practices

By following these top 10 strategies, DPT students can maximize their learning and growth during clinical education experiences at Tufts.
Physical therapy clinical setting featuring equipment like medicine balls and hoops

In the last three semesters of Tufts University School of Medicine Doctor of Physical Therapy programs, students apply their learning during 31 weeks of clinical education in diverse settings nationwide. This immersive phase ensures students are well-versed in real-world patient care and exposed to various health conditions. 

To better prepare our students, we recently consulted our directors of clinical education (DCEs) for advice on how Tufts DPT students can enhance their clinical education experiences and maximize their learning opportunities to become successful future physical therapists.

Here are the top 10 ways that students can prepare and optimize their DPT clinical education experiences:

1. Understand Requirements Early: 

Recognize and fulfill all site-specific requirements before your clinical placement. Plan ahead to ensure all paperwork and information are ready in advance. Work closely with the clinical education team to understand these requirements and deadlines.

“The clinical education team will help you learn what those requirements are and what the deadlines are. It is vital that this information is ready and sent to the clinical sites at the times allotted to ensure a smooth transition to the clinical placement.” – Anthony Carroll, PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS, FAAOMPT, Director of Clinical Education

2. Maximize Didactic Opportunities: 

Take advantage of didactic curriculum opportunities to prepare for clinical education experiences. Participate and fully engage during clinical skills labs to practice psychomotor and communication skills before working with patients. 

“There are numerous opportunities for students to prepare for clinical experiences throughout the didactic curriculum. The clinical skills labs allow the students to practice the psychomotor and communication skills before they enter the clinical setting with patients. The program also places students in Academic Teams, which allows students to hone their skills in working with other people with varying skill sets.” – Kimberly Tyler, PT, DPT, Director of Clinical Education

3. Utilize Program Resources: 

The Tufts DPT programs provide comprehensive support to students in preparation for clinical placements, including a database housing all necessary information and deadlines. Seek 1:1 sessions with the clinical education team for personalized guidance and compliance updates.

“Our clinical education team works tirelessly to build the database that houses all of the information you need to have completed prior to the clinical rotation. We understand this process can feel daunting to the student and do everything we can to make it as painless of a process as possible.” – Anthony Carroll, PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS, FAAOMPT, Director of Clinical Education

4. Maintain an Open Mind: 

Stay open-minded and flexible during clinical education experiences. Embrace new learning experiences and challenges. Open and honest communication with clinical instructors will foster a conducive learning environment.

“Maintaining these characteristics in the clinic goes a long way for learning and growth. Students who display an open mind and communication, tend to have the best outcomes from their clinical experiences.” – Anthony Carroll, PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS, FAAOMPT, Director of Clinical Education

5. Communicate Effectively: 

Reach out to the clinical education team and student coaches for assistance when facing challenges in the clinic. Communicate concerns early and regularly to ensure a supportive and harmonious clinical experience.

“We rely on the student to be vocal about their concerns and to bring them up to our team early and often. We also bring in student coaches into the conversation to also assist with managing student difficulties.” – Kimberly Tyler, PT, DPT, Director of Clinical Education

6. Seek Feedback and Support: 

Practice open and vulnerable communication with clinical instructors. Share concerns and ask for feedback regularly. Actively apply feedback to improve performance and maintain a positive attitude.

“Be open to feedback and putting the feedback into action and try to maintain a positive attitude in the face of challenge.” – Anthony Carroll, PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS, FAAOMPT, Director of Clinical Education

7. Foster Collaborative Relationships: 

Build strong relationships with clinical instructors, site coordinators, and peers. Collaboration and teamwork are key to success in the clinic.

“Foster collaboration and teamwork to create a supportive learning environment where everyone can thrive.” – Kimberly Tyler, PT, DPT, Director of Clinical Education

8. Utilize Evaluation Tools: 

Understand and utilize evaluation tools like the Clinical Internship Evaluation Tool (CIET). This tool provides specific benchmarks for each clinical experience and helps track progress toward becoming an entry-level physical therapist.

“The benchmark level is increased each clinical experience to help push the student to perform as close to an entry level physical therapist as possible.”  – Anthony Carroll, PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS, FAAOMPT, Director of Clinical Education

9. Seek Diverse Clinical Experiences: 

Take advantage of opportunities to work with diverse patient populations across the lifespan. Exposure to various clinical settings enhances readiness for professional practice.

“We also work diligently to provide students with a wide range of experiences in the clinical setting across the lifespan. This sets them up for a successful transition to becoming an entry level clinician.” – Kimberly Tyler, PT, DPT, Director of Clinical Education

10. Stay Proactive and Engaged: 

Be proactive in seeking learning opportunities and engaged in the clinical environment. Demonstrate initiative, professionalism, and a commitment to continuous learning and growth.

Being proactive and engaged during clinical education experiences is crucial for maximizing learning.” – Anthony Carroll, PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS, FAAOMPT, Director of Clinical Education

Related Links

Tufts DPT Programs Overview
Clinical Education Information
Request Information About Tufts DPT