WebPT’s theme for the month of April focuses on protecting and bettering the planet. As Co-Founder Heidi Jannenga stated, “While we want everyone to play their part in protecting and bettering our planet, we also want any green initiatives to benefit your practice—and your patients.” Thinking about this theme, it occurred to me that the best way we can help build a better future is to cultivate relationships with our current DPT students (and undergraduate students interested in applying to physical therapy programs). The students of today will become the leaders of our profession tomorrow. What better way to benefit all people than to plant and nurture seeds in the passionate group of students currently enrolled in physical therapy programs?
Through social media, I have been fortunate to meet a bright, engaging, dynamic group of students who have challenged me both clinically and professionally. Before I became active in social media, my experiences with DPT students had been less than favorable. I had interacted with only a few students (those doing affiliations at the clinic I was managing). I had mentally split all DPT students into two categories: those who were nice people but poorly prepared for clinical practice and those who were well prepared technically but poorly prepared on an interpersonal level. There didn’t seem to be any gray area. Either the students didn’t have the basics nailed down, or they did and felt like that entitled them to be confrontational with more experienced clinicians.
My overall view of the future of our profession was that we were in trouble. I felt that we were sending out students who were not well-rounded professionals. Some people argue that you can’t teach interpersonal skills like respect, empathy, openness, and curiosity; I disagree. I believe that it’s our job as educators and clinical instructors to foster appropriate interpersonal skills along with other clinical skills. We are, after all, in the business of caring for other human beings.
I am happy to say that since I have been more involved in social media (Twitter especially), I have met many DPT students who have changed my mind about the future of physical therapy. I have interacted both online and in person with several students who have impressed me with their passion, dedication, intelligence, and people skills. I have participated in the #DPTstudent chat on Twitter (Doctor of Physical Therapy Student is a live tweet-chat that takes place every Wednesday at 9:00 PM Eastern, beginning November 28, 2012. Matt DeBole @mattdebole and Lauren Riley @LaurenrSPT cofounded the chat) and been amazed by the commitment these students are making to their profession. I urge all clinicians to get involved in these discussions on Twitter. You will be impressed.
Some would say that we should act as mentors for the current group of students. I would argue that the mentoring should be a two-way street, because I have learned just as much from the students as I hope they’ve learned from me. They inspire me to remain passionate about what I do—15 years into my career as a licensed physical therapist. They generate hope for the future of our profession. Get involved with these students—it will change you for the better.