Arguably the most important aspect of your physical therapist assistant training is the clinical practicum. This is when you will take all of the knowledge and skills you learn in your academic courses and apply them to working with real patients. All accredited physical therapist assistant schools offer clinical practicums, so no matter where you go this will be a large part of your training. Clinical practicums often lead to job offers, so this is the time to work hard and do your best.
Here is what to expect from your clinical practicum as well as some tips for success.
When will I take my practicum and how long will it last?
This varies by school. At some physical therapist assistant schools, the clinical practicum is divided into several short (three- or four-week) sessions, while at others there is one long (twelve- to sixteen-week) session. In general, you will take your practicums in the second year of your program, after you have a good foundation in science and physical therapy equipment and techniques.
Where will the practicum take place?
Whether you take your practicum in one session or three, you will probably have a chance to work in a variety of different clinical settings. For example, you may spend three weeks in an outpatient private practice, three weeks in an acute care facility, three weeks in a nursing care facility, and three weeks in a rehabilitation center. Most physical therapist assistant schools have relationships with several different clinics, so you will get a chance to see how each one of them operates.
What are the goals of a practicum?
The main goal of a practicum is for you to get hands-on experience applying the skills you have been learning in the classroom. Keep in mind that the skills you are practicing are not only physical therapy techniques, but also communication and interpersonal skills—when it comes to dealing with patients, these are just as important as knowing how to do exercises and use equipment.
What are some tips for succeeding in a practicum?
This is your chance to reinforce your learning, identify any areas where you need to put in more effort, and practice your skills. To do these things, you will need to show up every day ready to learn. Take notes on what happens during the day, ask questions when you don’t understand something, and take advantage of every opportunity you are given. This will not only improve your skills, but it will show that you are serious about becoming an excellent physical therapist assistant. You never know—you might even be offered a job.
The clinical practicum is one of the most exciting and important parts of your physical therapy assistant school program. Have fun!