Physical therapists are responsible for creating patient recovery plans that include strength training, stretching, exercise, and manipulation. Being a successful PT requires a deep understanding of the human body. But science is only a fraction of what a PT assistant should know. Your patients will also benefit from your ability to motivate and communicate effectively with you. It is a job that requires both hard skills and soft skills.
You will likely do some or all of your online studies these days. Online learning can be difficult in a profession such as physical therapy. This guide provides practical tips and tricks to make the most of your PT or PTA education.
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5 Essential Soft Skills for Students in PT
Although soft skills might not be listed on a PT assistant’s resume, they are essential. They are just as important in your career launch as the hard skills you acquired at physical therapy school. They can be a source of guidance for your colleagues, mentors, and teachers. These are five skills that are crucial in any profession, and especially in physical therapy. Here are tips for mastering them.
Physical therapists must be able communicate clearly with their patients. You need to be able explain to patients what you do and why. It strengthens your relationships with your patients by communicating your ideas. Patients who feel they can communicate easily and trust you will have a greater confidence in you as a PT/PTA. To communicate better in healthcare, here are some key points:
- Eye contact is important with patients.
- Pay attention to the body language of your clients.
- Encourage them ask questions if they don’t fully understand something about their treatment.
- To show them the exercises you want them doing at home, use illustrations or graphics.
This is the flipside to communicating. Listening to your patients is the best way to help them heal and get pain relief. If patients feel that you truly listen to them, they will be more comfortable with your ability to help them and more likely to follow the exercises and stretches at home that you suggest.
Start in your PT program listening to other students and professors to help you become a better listener. When your patients are speaking, as a PT professional, you should not interrupt them. Both as a student PT and a PT, you should ask follow-up question to prove that you heard the information.
3. Critical Thinking
Critical thinking skills are essential to assist patients in reducing or minimising pain, restoring function, and preventing further injury. You need the following critical thinking skills:
- Information gathering.
You need to evaluate what is working for your patients during each session. Your critical thinking skills will allow you to suggest a solution for those aspects that might need adjustment. Good data is essential to critical thinking. You need to learn as much as possible about the problem. Talk to your teachers (in class) or mentors (on-the-job) about how you can best assess the evidence and determine the best way to implement potential solutions.
You choose to be a PT assistant or a PT therapist because you love helping people. Even on the worst days, you have to be kind and compassionate. Patients will feel more comfortable working alongside you when you show compassion.
Research has shown that you can learn compassion. It’s possible to show compassion by asking your patients specific questions regarding their health and showing that you are truly interested in what they have to say.
- Be kind and acknowledge their feelings.
- Do you see any improvement? Please tell us.
- Be open to understanding where they are coming from.
- Time Management
Effective time management is vital for any job. It’s especially important when you work with patients and have to stick to a set schedule. Prioritizing is key to time management. A typical PT session takes between 30 and 90 minutes. Learn how to identify what is most important for your patient sessions. You will need to decide what should be done first. Other important skills in time management include:
- How to make realistic task list.
- Find out when and which tasks you should delegate.
- How to take breaks and plan your time.
- How to plan, pivot, and prepare for unscheduled interruptions in your schedule.
Other Skills That are Important
You need to be able to communicate with clients and build relationships.
- Conflict resolution: You must be able and able to quickly solve conflicts with coworkers, bosses, and patients. It is possible to avoid patient mistakes by knowing how to manage conflicts.
- Flexibility: Technology and society are making healthcare more flexible. No matter how old you are or how new you are to the field, you can be flexible and open to new ideas.
- Patience: patients often feel stressed and worry about their ability to heal. You may find them less cooperative than you would like. To deal with their uncooperative behavior, your patience is a key ingredient to achieving the results you desire.
- Motivation: It is important to have the ability to motivate patients and to keep them motivated so that they can apply what you are teaching to their own healing. Break down your day into manageable goals. Encouragement is achieved when you reach your goal.
5 Hard Skills that are essential for students of physical therapy
Hard skills can be learned in person, online, in the classroom or through on-the job training. Usually, you will learn the skills necessary to become a PT/PT assistant from your instructors, lab work and videos or reading materials. Hard skills are usually a series of steps that must be learned from beginning to end. Once you’ve taken the hard skills courses, it’s possible to test your knowledge and prove you have mastered them.
- Human Anatomy
Physical therapists need to have a solid understanding of science in order to fulfill their duties.
- Cardiovascular system
- Exercise physiology
- Systeme pulmonare
- Physical stamina
You must be strong and dexterous to work as a PT or PT assistant. You’ll likely need to be on your feet a lot during your workday, be able bend and kneel fairly a lot, and be capable of moving patients, some of which may be larger than your own. Your hands are required to perform therapeutic massages and set up equipment, including ultrasound and electro stimulation machines.
It is important to do regular exercise, eat right, and get enough sleep in order for you to learn and improve your physical endurance. Find what you enjoy doing and set aside time to do it. This will help you not become stressed. Your education should include learning how to nourish your body as well as your mind.
Kristen Gasnick PT, DPT, a Livingston, New Jersey physical therapist, said that another important skill that you should learn in physical therapy school will be the ability to differentially diagnosis patients.
You will need to be able to integrate the patient’s symptoms and complaints with their medical history as well as the results of their physical examination. Dr. Gasnick states that many patients present with vague complaints and prescribes from their doctor, such as “My shoulder hurts.” Your job is to gather more information and to use your clinical expertise to determine the root cause. This is a difficult skill that requires you to pay attention while doing assignments as well as paying attention in class. However, it gets better with practice.
Like many other fields in healthcare, physical therapy is constantly evolving. New equipment and technology are constantly being developed in order to allow patients to live a more normal life. It is your job to educate patients about the new technology, how to use it and when to use it. Rehab robots and virtual reality, for example, are just two examples of recent technology that is being used to assist elderly patients or those with cerebral palsy and traumatic injuries in their mobility and strength.
Technology is something you must keep up to date as a PT or assistant. Keep up to date with developments in your field. You should read medical journals and attend conferences. Follow leaders in the field on social media.
Physical therapy requires you to learn how to be an observer. Your patients must be able to see you from afar and when they are near. Are their gaits normal? What is the problem with their flexibility? To be able to see what is wrong with a patient’s body and how you can fix it, you need to have strong observational skills. Learn what to look out for as a student.
Pay attention during lectures, demonstrations, and laboratory experiments.
Your teachers and mentors should be able to discuss your observations.
Reading case studies.
Ask questions without hesitation, even if they seem stupid at the moment.
Other Hard Skills That are Important
- Medical terminology: Be familiar with medical terms that are applicable to the injuries and conditions you treat. Although you may not use them all the time, it’s easier to communicate with patients using lay terms. It is important to have a good understanding of the vocabulary in your field. This will allow you to communicate effectively with other healthcare professionals using its jargon.
- Healthcare professions. It’s helpful to find out about other healthcare professionals you will likely interact with — such as chiropractors and orthopedic surgeons or physiotherapists — so that when they send you patients, it’s easy for you to get along. You will likely work with occupational therapists. It is also helpful to learn what they can do that differs from your care. OTs are more concerned with improving the patient’s mobility than you are.