“You’re school wants you to make the advanced intermediate mark on CPI within 8 weeks? Yeah, I don’t think that’s going to happen”. Those were some of the first words my CI spoke to me on my first day of one of my final clinical. I had simply spent the day in orientation, and she had not even seen me work with a patient yet. Little did I know that that this comment was only the beginning. From that day on, I felt like I was climbing a never-ending uphill battle. I would show up prepared, connect with my patients and see improvements, yet my CI would spend each day scowling at my treatment plans, and belittling me every chance she had. At one point she even scolded me for my shoelace coming untied during gait training and stated “ THAT’S why I triple knot MY shoes. To make sure MY patients are safe.”
While I feel like she did not necessarily do these things are of true malicious intent, I do not think she had the self-awareness to recognize just how abrasive and hostile she was being. Rather than taking the time to truly teach me and help me work on different areas, she instead felt it was her job to watch for me to do something that was even slightly different than how she would and attack me for it. It got so bad to the point that other students in our unit spoke with me about it and how they had considered speaking to their schools about how I was being treated by this CI.
Looking back on the situation, I know that part of it was her general demeanor and her chosen way of communication. She had a very abrasive personality and oftentimes would be very strict and harsh with patients and coworkers. On top of that, it was a very unhealthy work environment overall. Therapists would talk poorly about each other when one was gone, and oftentimes you could hear whispering between CIs which caused the students in the unit to assume they were talking about us. It got to the point where I began to struggle with anxiety issues, those of which I had never experienced prior.
With so much pressure and being treated this way day in and day out, I definitely struggled. I felt like more of my day was trying to do everything how she would do it rather than actually learning and figuring out what was best for how I should treat my patients. And, of course, I was worried about passing especially since she had essentially told me since day one that I wouldn’t make the mark. Thankfully, I had a great school that keeps up with their students on clinical rotations. I made sure to document her comments and emailed in with specific examples of how I was being treated. Eventually, my school asked to do weekly phone calls which helped me to make sure my side of the story was heard. I would give my school examples of what was being said and how I would respond in different situations. This helped my anxiety a lot knowing that at least my school knew exactly what was going on and that they were willing to hear how I was responding. I also tried not to take how she was treating me personally. Easier said than done, but I found that going home each night and reflecting and writing down the different pieces of criticism and coming up with ways to incorporate changes into my following treatment sessions helped me separate the feedback from the attitude and discountenance that it was presented with.
When it comes to being in these types of uncomfortable situations, it can be easy to become overwhelmed with feelings of uncertainty, worthlessness, and fear. If you are a student going through this, or fearful of what future clinicals may bring, it is important to know you are not alone in that and that you have resources available to you. I felt so much support from my school and my friends and had to choose daily to be proactive rather than reactive to how I was being treated. It is easy to want to shut down because of the way you are being treated, but know you have the ability to make it through. Choose each day to be as prepared as you can for each patient, take criticism with grace and professionalism, and reach out when you need support. You have made it to this point and continuing through these moments of adversity with grace and choosing to find ways to learn from it can help it become a time of empowerment and growth rather than defeat.
As for my story, I made it through. My school’s involvement was incredible, and they helped give me the support I needed. My final clinical following this one was a great reminder of how there are fantastic CIs also out there in the world. I was reminded of why I became a PT in the first place and was able to grow my confidence and diminish a lot of fears I had established during the prior clinical. Now I am officially graduated, passed boards and about to start my career as a travel PT on Monday! I even had the opportunity to be a teacher’s assistant for my program’s summer course after graduation and loved every moment of working with the students. I found myself pulling a lot of what I learned during this difficult clinical and treated the students I was teaching with respect, kindness, giving feedback in a way that empowered and challenged them rather than belittling them. I hope to one day have a larger role in education and plan to work towards that goal by first becoming a CI.
If you need advice or just some encouragement, please feel to reach out. I am passionate about helping students feel empowered despite difficult situations and ready to tackle the next challenge ahead. You can reach me via Facebook at (https://www.facebook.com/rachel.white.9655) or via Instagram (@rachelroamingdpt).
All my best,
Dr. Rachel White, PT, DPT
I want to give a huge shout out to Dr. Rachel White for sharing her experience. She overcame a bad situation and has come out on top. She is now a full-on PT and following her dreams. If you need someone to talk with for support in a bad clinical rotation feel free to reach out to me or Dr. Rachel White. She has some great insights and would be an awesome person to help you make it through.
-Dr. Dalin Hansen, PT, DPT