As I prepare to go out on my first clinical rotation I can’t help but feel a bit overwhelmed. When I imagine walking into the clinic on day one, my heart races and I get butterflies in my stomach. But as Dr. Rob Gilbert once said, “it’s alright to have butterflies in your stomach. Just get them to fly in formation.” In an attempt to organize my butterflies, I reached out to a few physical therapists in search of advice and here’s what I got.


 Dr. Zak Gabor – DPT, CSCS (@zakgabor.dpt)

“PT school is a really fun and exciting time, especially when you go out for your first clinical. That being said, PT students tend to put A LOT of pressure on themselves to be ‘know-it-alls.’

I think my biggest piece of advice is this: There is nothing wrong with knowing a lot of information, but remember you are treating entirely unique humansPlace an emphasis on human interaction and not: over-cueing, over-coaching, and over-educating just to show them how much you know.

Oh, and be prepared to eat a lot of humble pie on that rotation (it’s actually pretty tasty). Ps- ^That definitely wasn’t me during my first clinical…”


Dr. Teddy Willsey – DPT, CSCS (@strengthcoachtherapy)

Approach every clinical with an open mind even if it’s not the setting or environment you envision yourself working in. PT is a vast field, and your job as a student is to learn the entirety of it. Your first clinical is the beginning of you being a therapist. You will learn to observe and read between the lines. You will realize the history is not the only time you collect valuable objective information.

It’s time to put the textbooks down and start to work on your human interaction skills. Develop a rapport with your patients. Learning something about each and every one of them. Earn their trust.Learn to make wise clinical decisions in their best interest. Work on your observational skills. The best therapists pick up on everything. Stay engaged and be present.”


Chris Butler – MPT, CSCS (@cbutlersportspt)

“Be respectful to your CI, support staff and patients.  This is customer service profession, you are here to SERVE your patients.  If you cannot connect with your patients you will not help them.

Get comfortable with the gray.  The real world is not Black and White like it is in school.  Things don’t always make sense, (A) does not always lead to (B), sometimes you will not find what you think you are looking for, so just treat what you DO find.”

Keep an open mind and ask questions.  If you don’t know something ask, CIs do not expect students to know everything, faking it till you make has a place but they want to HELP you, so ask for their advice at appropriate times.”


 Dr. Zach Long – DPT, SCS (@thebarbellphysio)

“Talk Loud. If you are quiet, if you mumble and if you’re bashful in your interactions, you severely limit your ability to build rapport with patients. One way to project (and even fake) confidence is to keep your volume up; speak with conviction.”


Joe Rinaldi – SPT (@joe_flofit) [updated 2019 @joerinaldi.dpt] [updated 2021 @joearinaldi]

I know I’m still a student, but I figured I’d sneak this in here.

“Be genuine. I hope that I can speak for all SPTs and DPTs when I say that I got into this profession to help others. While I don’t have a ton of clinical experience, I can speak from my life experience. If you heart is in the right place, you can’t go wrong with being genuine in your interactions. Remember that patients are people and they need to be treated with compassion and care.” 


Here are some take away points:

  • place an emphasis on human interaction
  • be prepared to make mistakes and be humbled 
  • be ready to accept feedback
  • be respectful in all interactions
  • if you can’t connect with your patients, you won’t help them
  • things don’t always make sense; get comfortable with the gray
  • if you don’t know something, don’t be afraid to ask
  • be confident; it goes a long way
  • learn to make your clinical decisions with the patient’s best interests in mind
  • work on your observational skills and learn to read between the lines


Having worked sparingly in various clinics throughout my first year, I can attest that the advice I received is solid. After talking with Zak, Teddy, Chris and Zach I can’t help but feel ready to tackle this first full time clinical head on. I hope that this advice was helpful to any fellow SPTs and even DPTs who were able to take something away from this.


As usual I’m going to end with a quote that speaks volumes to me.

“When you have confidence, you can have a lot of fun. And when you have fun, you can do amazing things.”

Joe Namath

Confidence is born through preparation, dedication and hard work. If you put in the work before the first clinical – be confident and go have some fun!

Thank you for reading!

Joe Rinaldi, PT, DPT

IG: @joearinaldi

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1 comment

  1. Joseph you truly have what it takes to be successful. You have both the passion and compassion as well as dedication to be one of the best PT’s ever. You are just a wonderful person!

    Love Grammy

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