The clinical education portion of the Doctor of Physical Therapy Program is fully one third of the curriculum, and so the selection of full-time internships is an important undertaking. Clinical internships must enable students to meet all clinical objectives outlined by the program and achieve the outcomes necessary for the entry-level practice of physical therapy.
Although all students eventually receive confirmed assignments, some of the best internships go quickly and are very competitive, so it is never too early to begin the search. Planning ahead during the second year of the program will enable the ambitious student to take advantage of excellent opportunities out there for the final year of clinical work. Below are points to ponder and a timeline of tasks to help in landing that exceptional internship.
- Spend some time each week researching organizations and clinics. All of the contracted sites are listed online (CPI Web), and many have detailed summaries of the learning opportunities offered.
- Explore company websites and blogs.
- Review site files and site evaluations from former students.
- Make an internship folder to organize your notes.
- Develop a good professional resume. Review and revise it periodically.
- Meet with your Academic Coordinator of Clinical Education to discuss your interests and ideas.
- Attend regional and national American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) meetings, student conclaves, and special events coordinated by faculty or therapists you know.
- Talk with faculty members who have practice or research interests similar to yours for information about the important organizations, companies, and individuals who are respected and renowned in that area.
- Make a list of a dozen or so clinics of potential interest and check their requirements. Find out if they have a formal application process outside the NAU lottery system or offer internships on a “first come, first serve” basis.
- Narrow your choices and consider your budget, as out-of-state placements involve travel and temporary housing expenses.
- Apply promptly for any special application internships you know about. Some may have earlier deadlines.
- Keep thorough notes about the sites to which you submit applications. Save all e-mail correspondence, contact names, and phone numbers for future reference.
- On-site or telephone interviews may be requested, and you should research the facility and opportunity and develop your questions beforehand.
- Send thank-you notes after every interview, even telephone interviews.
- If you are applying for an internship that includes specific clearances or requirements, work on obtaining those early in order to avoid delays with processing. Any prerequisite or elective coursework, certifications, or prior clinical experience should be planned for accordingly.
The following are essential considerations for students who are intent upon obtaining top-notch clinical placements in order to get their professional careers off to a great start.
What are the key "ingredients" for an exceptional internship?
- The Mentor: Regardless of the practice setting, the potential of the clinical instructor at the site to model ethical behaviors and serve as a strong professional role model should be examined with the utmost attention. What is the individual’s level of commitment to continuing competence and involvement within the profession? Does the clinician have prior experience with instructing entry-level DPT students? How many years has he/she been in practice? Does he/she show interest in the pursuit of advanced clinical certification or training, American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties (ABPTS) specialization, or APTA Clinical Instructor Credentialing? Does he enjoy teaching and volunteer to take students?
- The Facility: For assuring the mutual satisfaction of all parties, the clinic philosophy must have congruence with the program educational philosophy. Do the company’s business practices enhance or detract from the student’s clinical experience? Is there value placed on promotion of clinical education for both students and therapists? Is there time allotted for formal or informal in-services, a journal club, or grand rounds? Is there an opportunity for the internship to be enhanced with participation in clinical research, data collection, marketing, consulting, or teaching? Does the organization support a culture of advocacy, pro-bono activity, or community outreach?
- And You, the Student! So that you can make the best of the clinical placement you decide upon, you should reflect on the following: What are your strengths and limitations with respect to your knowledge, skills, and professional and personal expectations for this practice setting? What are the goals you expect to achieve by selecting this experience? And are you ready to do your best to begin this internship fully prepared for success?
—Lorie Kroneberger, PT, DPT, GCS; Academic Coordinator of Clinical Education and Assistant Clinical Professor; Physical Therapy and Athletic Training