The Ins and Outs of PT Clinicals

By Laci Sewar, contributing writer

Daemen University offers a unique physical therapy program, allowing students to obtain a Bachelor of Science (NS, B.S.) and a Doctorate of Physical Therapy (DPT) in six years.

“Growing up, I played four, sometimes five sports, and I was put into physical therapy for an injury that happened my senior year of high school,” Marina Mearkl, a graduate physical therapy major said. “Since Daemen offered me a scholarship to play basketball, I chose to go here. I also saw how good their physical therapy program is from my physical therapist, who happened to be a Daemen graduate.”

Some students come to Daemen with a solid plan that quickly changes when they experience what the program has to offer.

“I would say I chose Daemen since it is so small and gave me the most money,” Amber Oczowinski, a graduate physical therapy student said. “I was originally a social work major, but I switched my major to physical therapy after taking an anatomy class with a great professor.”

Daemen is widely known for its physical therapy program as well as many other health-related programs, like the physician assistant program. Students can enter into the NS, B.S./DPT program as freshmen or transfer students, or directly into the DPT program after obtaining a baccalaureate degree with the required prerequisite courses.

“I came to Daemen for purely graduate schooling,” Anna Dow, a graduate physical therapy student said. “I did my undergrad at Penn State and wanted a small school experience, so I came here.”

 Colleen Corcoran, PT, DPT, the newly hired director of clinicians from D’Youville University, works to schedule and place graduate-phase students in placements that they’ll enjoy most. 

“With help from a clinical managing system called EXXAT, the students make a wish list that has every place they would like to go, taken from a master list given to them of available places to go,”  Corcoran said. “The list has their top pick on the top and goes down from there. Every student’s list is then put into EXXAT that uses an algorithm that generates each student’s clinical site to hopefully their top pick. It’s usually within their top three choices.”

Students in the graduate phase have to go through four clinical rotations. Students must complete rotations in musculoskeletal, neuromuscular, and acute care, with the fourth in a chosen specialty area of the students choosing.

“Students are required to go more than 50 miles from the Daemen campus for one clinical rotation,” Corcoran said. “The other three rotations can be anywhere the student wants, as long as they are on the master list.”

“I did one of my rotations in Erie, Pennsylvania,” Maddie Barrick, a graduate physical therapy major said. “It was very stressful to find a living space, but I did end up renting an Airbnb. Some people don’t have issues since they have family living down where they want clinicals, but I wasn’t so lucky.”

However, there is a process the students must go through before going to their desired clinical site. 

“Each of us had to go through something different, especially since different sites require different things. But for me, I just had to submit typical health documents and vaccines,” Barrick said. “I also had to read over a PowerPoint slideshow that my clinical instructor emailed me and take a mini quiz to make sure I know how things play in their clinic.”

Mearkl said she had to have a background check done on her before she could go to her clinic in her hometown of Binghamton. 

“I had to email my clinical instructor ahead of time and fill out a small ‘get to know me’ sheet so they had a better understanding of who I am,” Oczowinski said. “It was nice though because they got to understand how I am and I got to see some things they do ahead of time.”

As students go through this process of filling out the paperwork and getting into contact with their chosen clinicians, some issues may arise. 

“Sometimes the students are allowed to reach out themselves to locations that are not on the master list, but this is only for special occasions,” Corcoran said. “Some placements can fall through and then we scramble to place students, but that is rare.”

Some students did experience their placements backing out on them.

“So my original match backed out at the last minute and left me with no placement,” Dow said. “I panicked a little, but then Dr. Corcoran helped me email around and find a placement within a reasonable time.”

Barrick had a similar experience to Dow, leaving Corcoran with difficult decisions to make.

“I did not get a placement on my second clinical rotation. The place I was supposed to go to backed out,” Barrick said. “I reached out to Dr. Corcoran to see what I could do and she said I could reach out to Buffalo Hearing and Speech since my mom used to work there and I have connections.”

Corcoran places the almost 60 students in the second and third-year graduate phase of the physical therapy program into their clinicals. However, she loves getting connections with people outside of Daemen as well as building relationships with the students. 

“I enjoy getting to know the students: the history, their background, and what their interests are,” Corcoran said. “I want to know their passions and their interests and why they are here in the first place. This is the whole reason I went into this job, was to get close with the students.”

Students start their first clinical in the summer between their fourth and fifth years, with the second rotation the following summer. The last two rotations occur in the spring semester of their sixth year, one following the successful completion of the other. All clinical rotations are nine weeks in length.

“For my first clinical, I went to Buffalo Rehab Group, which is an outpatient clinic. My second one was at Saint Joseph hospital, where I dealt with wound care and did wrapping of injuries,” Eric Matthews, a graduate physical therapy major said. “My third one was in my hometown of Albany at St. Peter’s hospital where I was in the cardiovascular ICU. And the one I am in now before I graduate is in Buffalo at a school [pediatrics].”

Everyone goes somewhere different and has different experiences, which helps them determine where they want to work in the future. 

“Because I am only a second-year graduate student, I have only completed one clinical rotation but I will be doing another one this summer,” Mearkl said. “But for the one I went to, I went to an outpatient orthopedic clinic called Southern Tier Physical Therapy Associates.”

Students in the physical therapy program take these clinicals for experience and networking. Most times students get job offers from the clinics they go to, getting to work full-time as a newly hired physical therapist. 

“Since students are at their clinicals for nine weeks, I like to think of them as long unpaid internships,” Corcoran said. “They are there for such a long time, so they can really see if that is a place they want to potentially work in the future.”

“I really enjoyed my time at my clinical down in Florida,” Dow said. “It was a fun drive with my sister to our aunt’s house. I didn’t have any issues with transportation or anything and my clinical instructor was one of the best.”

Many students have said that they have experienced good things at all the places they have been to, but some have said that they are realizing what really does not work for them. 

“I really liked my second and third rotations, and I believe that one day I will work in a school with kids,” Barrick said. “But, my first clinical experience wasn’t the best due to me not really liking the setting and not having a full understanding of what actually happens during clinicals.”

“My first clinical experience wasn’t the best due to my personal issues and intimidation from my clinical instructor,” Oczowinski said. “I did, however, really enjoy my clinical at ECMC as I can see myself working there one day.”

Dr. Corcoran appreciates what the physical therapy program does for Daemen and the community. So many undergraduates are getting the help early to prepare for the graduate phase of the program.

“I really like how small Daemen is and what the PT program has made. We are like a family that continues to grow,” Corcoran said. “We do need to get more graduate students to communicate with the undergraduates to spread their experiences.”

Students in the graduate program have spread their wisdom. 

“Make sure to find your habits now and learn time management because it does not get any easier from here, but make sure to have fun,” Mearkl said. 

“Find ways to make your undergrad fun, but also make time for your studies,” Dow said.

“Continue to reach out to people like graduate students, professors, and other workers in the physical therapy program like Dr. Corcoran,” Barrick said. “Grad school is hectic, but you’ll still have a great time!”

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