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How to Prepare for PT School Clinicals

I received an email from a person who lives in Australia, and their first name begins with “Y”. I was unable to respond to the email, so I made a blog post instead.


What resources should you take to your clinical placement?

I’ve only had clinical placements in my local area, so I’ve always had all my textbooks at notes with me at home. I didn’t need to pack any textbooks or notes to bring with me to wherever I was living for the 6-8 weeks, if that makes sense.

However, I did bring some notes into the clinic. In the acute care setting, I found it helpful to bring a clipboard that holds things inside, so I could carry around any notes I wanted (lab values, transfers, surgical precautions, etc). I honestly never glanced at these notes because there wasn’t too much time during the day to read them. Additionally, if there was something that I was unsure about, I would do one of three things:

  1. Ask my clinical instructor or someone else nearby that might have an answer
  2. Google it now (for example, if I was doing a chart review and was already at a computer)
  3. Look it up later (for example, if it was something old that I just wanted to brush up on, I wrote it down on a piece of paper and read more when I got home)

In the outpatient orthopedic setting, I initially only brought a small notebook to take notes throughout the day. Similar to above, I would ask my CI, look it up on the laptops I would document on, or just write down in my notebook and look it up later. Eventually I started to bring my laptop into the clinic so I didn’t have to share laptops for documentation, and so I could reference all my class notes that were on my laptop.

It’s always a good idea to ask your clinical instructor what types of populations and pathologies that they commonly treat, so that you can have a better idea of which notes and textbooks you might consider bringing with you. So, this really depends on what your clinical placement will be like and if you’ll even have time during the day to reference anything you bring.

Should you bring any study guides?

As for what study guides to bring, I often found that I usually didn’t have much time to look things up while in clinic. When I did have downtime, I would read textbooks and resources that I found in the clinic and didn’t have at home, search the internet for journal articles applicable to my patients, or got caught up on documentation.

I don’t think you really need any study guides because you probably know a lot more than you think you do, but here are some ideas:

  • Lab values
  • ROM and end-feel for each joint
  • Special tests
  • Blank evaluation templates for acute care, or for each joint/region in outpatient setting (shoulder, knee, low back, etc)
  • Differential diagnosis red/yellow flags
  • Manual therapy techniques
  • Exercises and progressions
  • Parameters, Precautions, and Contraindications for modalities
  • Common medications and side effects
  • Outcome measures

How can you organize your information in one location?

I am 100% the same way about needing to organize everything in one place! This is such a broad question though, and there are so many ways to organize your information.

For example, you can have a neuro binder separated by different diagnoses (CVA, TBI, Parkinson’s, etc), an outpatient folder separated by joints (spine, shoulder, knee, etc), a pediatrics folder separated by patholgies, DME, treatment ideas, developmental stages. If you already have an organization system that you’ve used in the past 2 years of PT school, I would try to stick with something similar.

  • Include pictures, diagrams, or your own drawings, just to break up the written word
  • Color-coding things can help you organize and find things faster
  • Label the different sections of notes with dividers or post-it notes

You just kinda have to find what works for you, through lots of trial and error. I feel like I’m constantly coming up with new ways to re-organize my notes with every new class and clinical placement.

I really hope this helps, and please let me know if you have more specific questions!

Do you have any tips for PT school clinicals? Please share them below!

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  1. Matt

    Hi Katie

    Thanks for the post. I don’t think I am the person who initially asked those questions, but I appreciate the response, as I am also a Physical Therapy student in Australia who is scheduled to start clinical placement in May. 🙂


    • Katie - My Road to PT

      Hey Matt! You’re definitely not that person since your name doesn’t start with a Y! 🙂

      I hope I was able to help, and thanks for reading! Feel free to reach out whenever you have any comments / questions.