What Makes for Great PT Observation Hours?

Although your main goal will be to observe the therapist’s work without treating clients, you can still gain a lot of valuable knowledge and experience through physical therapy shadowing. However, the amount you learn and experience is determined by the actual quality of your observation hours.

‘Observing without practicing’ doesn’t mean there is nothing to gain. On the contrary, high-quality observation hours can give you an advantage, allowing you to learn about many practical and clinical aspects before sitting in the classroom.


But going forward, it will be essential to differentiate high-quality from mediocre quality Physical Therapy Observation Hours. This will help you determine whether you are getting the best out of your observation hours or if you should look for a new and better one provider.

Today, we will explain what makes for GREAT Physical Therapy Observation Hours and what to expect from them.

What to look for in high-quality observation hours

While it is true that you won’t be actively participating in the treatments and therapies, there are many characteristics that determine the quality of your observation hours.

These characteristics are easy to identify and include aspects such as:

Interaction with the therapist

Physical therapy shadowing is just part of the equation, and observing alone is not enough to acquire the knowledge you could get.

Interaction with the shadowed therapist is an essential element of every high-quality pre-program. Actually, during the therapy, the professional should explain what they are doing and why. This allows you to have a better understanding of the different therapies while getting familiar with them.

Since Physical Therapy belongs to the health field, there may be a vast amount of
terminology that is foreign to you. PT’s speak two languages: medical jargon, and patient friendly language. Medical jargon can be difficult to understand to not just the shadow, but the patient too — which is why it is important for therapists to communicate and educate using friendly language that makes it easier to understand the patients’ condition. 

Furthermore, the different treatments are not the only thing the therapist should explain to you, as that is only half the equation. Talking about the lesions or conditions the patients are suffering from is also an essential element of high-quality observation hours.

As there are many conditions that may bring a patient to physical therapy, the therapist should give you some basic information regarding each case they treat. This includes essential points such as the etiology (cause/mechanism of injury) of the lesion, how common it is, and diagnostic signs and symptoms, and potential prognosis–how long it will take the patient to reach their stated goals!

During your high-quality observation hours, the shadowed therapist may even ask you simple questions throughout the session. This is done to ensure you remain engaged and help to educate you.

Also, they may change their demonstration and teaching strategy on the go. Especially if they realize you are having trouble understanding or are not getting the most out of your observation hours.

However, for good communication to exist, both persons need to actively participate in the conversation. This means that the therapist can’t be the only one speaking. He or she should encourage and allow you to ask as many questions as you may have and answer them politely, clearing all your doubts.

You should never be afraid to ask a PT a question – there may be certain time, places or circumstance when a question is more appropriate—but the chances are that if you have this question, you’re not the only one! Actually, the physical therapist probably had similar questions when they were in your shoes!


Interaction with the patients

Allowing the students or observers to engage a direct communication with the patients is also a crucial quality of a great observation hours program.

Talking to a patient is not the same as talking to your family or friends. Patients are usually physically and mentally anxious, in pain, or exhausted. Therefore, communicating with them can sometimes be complicated as it requires high levels of empathy to help them feel safe. As a result, interacting with the patients throughout your observation hours helps you develop your communication skills faster, leaving you prepared to do so once you start taking your classes.

Moreover, watching the therapist do it before giving it a try can give you an idea about what and what not to say and how to behave. Furthermore, during your high-quality observation hours, the therapist may even directly engage and encourage you to join the conversation. In fact, they may likely even give you a few tips on how to do it to make you feel comfortable and secure before trying.

This will help you achieve a better relationship with your patients in the future, making the treatments more effective as there is a better response and attitude from the patients.

The balance between cleanliness and observing

Discipline is an essential characteristic every therapist must have, and observation hours can be an excellent way to develop it.

Also, it is vital to keep the working area as clean and tidy as possible due to the multiple patients that the therapist can treat daily. Undergoing therapy in a clean room gives patients a good impression and experience while making them feel more comfortable and confident towards you and their treatment.

During Physical Therapy Observation Hours, you may learn how to keep the practice’s table clean or do an in-house laundry routine. This is also a great way to compensate and show appreciation to your therapist as a ‘thank-you’ for everything taught and learned.

However, balance is essential, and of course, shadowing is more important than cleaning. While helping maintain the therapy room and laundry may be appreciated, you should not spend more time doing so instead of shadowing.

Remember that, during high-quality Physical Therapy Observation Hours, there must be a perfect balance between cleaning and learning. You are not ‘relief day help’. Your goal is to spend as much time as possible learning from the therapist without taking breaks to perform other tasks or duties. This interrupts the observation flow while making it harder to focus on the information being transmitted and making you lose some critical moments of the therapy.

What to look for in high-quality observation hours

When you are performing your observation hours, there are three essential elements needed to qualify as high-quality.

First, communication with the therapist while shadowing is vital. Because it enables you to learn and get familiar with therapies and terminology.

Secondly, conversing with the patient is also an enormous advantage that only high-quality observation hours providers encourage.

Lastly, taking mental notes about what makes for a good balance between shadowing and cleanliness is necessary to be able to pay attention to the professional and make the most out of your observation time.

Start & Finish Your Virtual PT Observation Hours Today!

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