During PT school, we learn many “best practices” and treatment approaches. All of that learning can be overwhelming, but there are also some things we simply need to “unlearn” when we step into a clinical setting, in order to be successful. Some are habits that can cost you your sanity or health, while others will simply prevent you from helping your patients as much as you’d like.

Here are just a few things to “unlearn” after PT school:

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1. Quite a Few Manual Techniques

Part of the rigor of PT school is learning what feels like every manual technique under the sun. When you graduate, you’ll quickly realize there are many, many more techniques out there. Because there are so many, you can pick and choose the ones that give you the most bang for your buck. Depending on your patient load, clinic setup, available equipment, and your own size, the techniques that you choose may vary widely from those that another therapist selects. 

Finding a clinic that will support your learning goals is important because the clinic you work in—and the potential mentors you work with—will influence your treatment style. Typical job sites like indeed.com can help you find PT jobs, and more personalized sites like covalentcareers.com can greatly simplify the process of finding the clinic most relevant to your interests.

2. Painstakingly Thorough Measurements

Unless your patient is post-operative, or you intend to see him/her for months on end as a Medicare patient, meticulous goniometry may not be necessary.  At the very least, you don’t need to measure each and every joint movement for each and every session. This can burn through your valuable treatment minutes, robbing you and your patient from making more progress.

3. Highly Structured Evaluations

During school, many of us are taught acronyms or other ways to remember extremely rigid, structured evaluation methods. While these methods are extremely helpful for teaching the foundation of clinical reasoning, they are often unrealistic, time-wise, in actual clinics. If you’re having a hard time breaking the habit of being too rigid with your evaluations, ask a trusted colleague for tips.

4. Steadfastness

In school, we’re taught to try, try, and try to learn the same things until they stick. In the clinic, you need to drop that attitude, pronto! If things aren’t working for a patient, try a new approach!  Again, if you’re feeling stuck with a patient, ask your colleagues for input. Most importantly, if a patient is not responding to treatment, refer him or her back to his or her physician (or other professional, if appropriate).  

5. Over-Treating

When we’re students, especially during practical exams, we get used to blabbering on and on about every measurement and intervention we’d perform during every given evaluation or treatment. The reality is that, if you really want appreciable results, you need to step back and only evaluate what you have time to truly look at (properly) and process. You can save the rest for follow up visits. The same goes for treatments: if you decide to do three types of stretches, two joint mobilizations, and six exercises in a single session, you’re not going to know what helped—or hurt—your patient.

6. Under-Treating

Different clinics have different cultures, and you may have been trained to be lazy. If you’re used to throwing every patient on a bike for 20 minutes, spending 10 minutes rubbing his or her shoulders, then sending him or her to a tech for exercises and a hot pack, you’ll want to unlearn that approach.

7. Wasting Time

When you’re a student, documentation isn’t always in the forefront of your mind. In many cases, the CIs handle the most complicated paperwork, as well as communication with doctors and other specialists. When you’re in the real world, all of that responsibility falls on you. If you’re in the habit of spending your down time surfing the net for new snowboard bindings, you’ll need to snap out of it. That time will likely be used for catching up on paperwork.


There you have it: seven habits to ditch after you get your DPT. What things did you have to “unlearn” after physical therapy school? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Meredith Castin, PT, DPT, is the founder of The Non-Clinical PT, a career development resource designed to help physical, occupational, and speech therapy professionals leverage their degrees in non-clinical ways.

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