I am not a PT…

What is one thing that we do every single day when we go into our clinics, our gyms, or visit with our patients? We talk, we assess, we evaluate, we do a bunch of things, but what is the most important thing we do when we go to work? Personally, I don’t think that it is treating my patients, it’s not the prescription of exercises, or the soft tissue work. All of these mean NOTHING if I do not TEACH. We all have our different professions, but in the profession of physical therapy, we are not doing our jobs if we are not teaching our patients.
When someone is educated about their condition they tend to care more about what they are doing. When someone is educated about their condition they tend to know how to prevent further injury or re-injury. When someone is educated, it makes the therapist stay up to date as well. There are many reasons I need to keep my patients educated, but I think that sometimes we get busy treating, and lose track of our teaching. When a patient essentially goes through the motions without knowing why, how can they really be expected to go home and do their exercises, and really CARE about doing them. If the importance is not stressed then my patients will not feel a need to do them and then my patients won’t get better.
By teaching my patient’s about their condition, they become junior therapists themselves, who are then invested in their own recovery. These patients NEVER come in and say, “Why aren’t YOU making me feel better”. I am definitely a physical therapist first, but a close second would be teacher.
If you are currently attending physical therapy, take a second to ask your therapist some questions. “Why are you having me do this”, or, “is there anything I should focus on while I do these at home”. The more you know the better you will do, because in the rehabilitation process, patient education is just as important as the rehab itself. The day I stop teaching is the day I stop being an affective therapist.

7 responses to “I am not a PT…

  1. Very true. I used to always joke that I was a “reject from a family of teachers.” Then when I was in school doing clinical rotations, I realized I was just a teacher by a different name, and “grades” were actually something called “outcomes” and “adherence/compliance” of my clients.

    I always assume someone wants to know “why” until they tell me they do not, which is rare, and and almost always because you have their trust in another way. I always ask clients to explain their problem or what they are doing back to me later in their own words, and you know they have it!

  2. I would suggest the idea of education is taken a step further. Yes, education is important. More importantly though, in my opinion, is open dialogue between the patient and the clinician. You can learn a lot from patients too.

    Example… patient I met today. “Easy” case – torn medial meniscus, right? Sure, I educated her on her condition… but also asked her what worried her. The whole conversation took a huge turn because her fear – bone cancer in her leg. She had been having symptoms similar to someone she knows who she worked with who recently died of cancer because the person ignored the symptoms. I would not have known that if all I did was educate.

    I’d challenge you to focus on actually making a connection with every single patient. Know their story.. use your knowledge and expertise to shape their story and change their expectations/perceptions so both parties are on the same page and moving in the same direction.


  3. Thank you all so far for reading.

    Jen, you make a great point of being a teacher by another name. Making sure that your patients understand what is going on with them, and why we are doing things by repeating it back to us is like students learning in class.

    Once patient’s begin learning, they may feel compelled to do a little more research on their own, and like Mike T. says, our students may become our teachers. I have encountered many patients who have done the research and have been able to say which specific muscles, motions, nerves, etc are bothering them, which helps much more than, “My upper arm hurts when I move it this way [external rotation for instance].”

    Clearly connections with each patient need to be made, and we are fortunate as therapists to spend so much time with them, unlike many other health professions. Once this connection is made, patients are more likely to listen to our information, and therefore will be educated more.

    Thanks again for reading and keep on educating and learning.


  4. Love it…..I spend almost all day Teaching and Coaching people. The best compliment you can get is sometimes as simple as ‘Thank you….I did not know that.”

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