Therapist Interview: What is expected of students during observation hours for admission to grad school?

Felicia Stephens
January 30, 2018

I have had the privilege of interviewing a great therapist that is a coordinator for student observers and shadowers and a very good friend of mine. Keep reading to find out what she expects from a student observer or shadowing student.

Rebekah Geitner Allison, PTA. She has worked at University of Tennessee (UT) Medical Center (Knoxville, TN) for 10 years. She works with multi-trauma patients, joint replacements, but primarily work with neurological stroke patients. She is an experienced clinical instructor and coordinator for students who shadow in the rehabilitation department of UT Medical Center.

Me: How do you prefer students to request observation/shadow opportunities?

Rebekah: I prefer that students contact me via email. I spend a lot more time on the patient floors than in the office, so I really do not have time to talk to students on the phone.

Me: What are the most convenient times to observe for your facility? (Weekdays vs weekends) (mornings vs midday vs evenings) (holidays)

Rebekah: The most convenient times for students to observe are Monday through Friday, either 8 am - 12 noon or 1 pm - 4:30 pm. We do not have students shadow on weekends or holidays due to limited staffing.

Me: What is the protocol for observing at your facility? Are there forms, waivers, and testing involved?

Rebekah: The student must be 18 years old or older, must be a student attempting to get into a PT/PTA program. There are additional forms online that students have to fill out prior to observing. I send an email to the student with a link to those forms.

Me: What are your expectations on dress code for your facility’s observers?

Rebekah: We do have a written dress code. We suggest no open toed shoes, flip-flops, or sandals. We recommend tennis shoes or dress shoes, close-toed. We also suggest khaki/dress pants and dress shirt for men and women, or women can wear a dress shirt/skirt; no shorts. If not dressed appropriately, the student will be sent home. The student also has to bring their student ID or some other form of ID.  The student must always have identification on them.

Me: Give your opinions about punctual students vs students that arrive late to observe?

Rebekah: Students should always arrive on time or early. Students who are punctual leave a good first impression, and it shows they are truly interested. If a student is running late due to a traffic accident and makes an effort to let us know, that is fine, but students who show up late and don't let us know leave a bad impression. Being punctual is also a sign of respect for the therapist being observed.

Me: What is the level of engagement and attention that you expect from student observers?

Rebekah: I expect the student ask questions, that shows they are actually interested in the field they are going into. Students who are engaged leave a positive impression on the therapist they are observing.

Me: Are you more likely to go the extra mile for students who show a high level of dedication to getting great experience?

Rebekah: Sometimes students ask for a reference. The students who act professionally, ask questions,  make eye contact with the therapist, and even speak with the patient when appropriate; those students make a good impression and will likely get a good reference. I am definitely willing to give a good reference to someone who shows they are truly interested in this field. Also, I shouldn't have to mention this, but students do not need to be on their cell phones while observing.

Let’s recap:

Rebekah is just one of many amazing and knowledgeable clinicians act in the role of student observer coordinator and contact person. She is a little like the gatekeeper of her department for therapy students that want to enter and obtain experience and observation hours. She has been doing this a long time and she knows what a passionate student looks like. She is eager to welcome and guide passionate students. Make sure that you meet the expectations at the facility that you observe/shadow. You should strive to stand out as passionate and engaged. Make the most of your time with the skilled and knowledgeable professionals that volunteer themselves to you for growth.