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4 Tips to Leverage Mentorship During Your First Clinical Affiliation

November 11, 2016

By: Mathew Hilton, MS, SPT, Founder of Health Grad Advantage

As a student in your first clinical affiliation, it is normal to feel uneasy. This will likely be your first time treating real patients and you’ll be working under the guidance of a new mentor. Though this experience may seem intimidating, it can be rewarding with the right preparation and mindset. After reflecting on my experience, I have summarized four tips to help you maximize your mentorship and the relationship with your mentor during your first clinical affiliation.  They are:

  1. Establish Expectations with Your Mentor
  2. Set Goals for Your Self
  3. Provide Your Mentor with Feedback
  4. Maintain a Healthy Perspective

Establish Expectations with Your Mentor

When you meet your mentor, you should first seek to understand their expectations of you as a student. In order to have a positive learning experience, you need to be aware of your mentor’s expectations so you can meet their goals. This will require some specific questions such as:

  • Initially, how much of the treatment sessions should I be expected to complete independently?
  • In what situations should I consult with you before proceeding with patients?
  • What skills and behaviors should I be demonstrating early on?
  • Am I expected to take the lead with patient education and answering patient questions

Set Goals for Your Self

As clinicians, we work with our patients to set goals for their recovery. Likewise, I believe that you should work with your mentor to establish goals for your learning experience. Take the time to honestly reflect on your weaknesses and discuss these with your mentor. Set measurable short term and long term goals while also outlining a plan for you to achieve them.

When I began my first outpatient orthopedic clinical experience, I struggled to keep up with the pace of the clinic. After some reflection, I realized that I was not utilizing the aides, taking too long to perform the subjectives and not structuring the treatment sessions efficiently. Working with my mentor, I began to map out each treatment session on paper and set time estimates for each component so I would know when I was running late. Using these methods, I was able to achieve my goal of treating each scheduled patient on time.

Provide Your Mentor with Feedback

Recognize that your mentor is there for your learning experience and that open communication will be key for establishing a beneficial relationship with your mentor. As discussed by Dr. Cindy Hon, PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS, FAAOMPT, some mentors are also learning how to best structure learning experiences for their students. As a student, I have found value in providing my mentor with constructive feedback to help facilitate my learning.

During my first clinical experience, I realized that I wanted to improve in my ability to analyze gait in the clinic. When I would observe a patient’s gait with my mentor, I would begin to discuss a few of my observations and then my mentor would tend to fill in the other findings. Understanding that I wanted to be pushed to think more critically, I discussed with my mentor that I would prefer to discuss all of the impairments that I observed and then pause for him to ask additional questions to see if I would catch any other missing impairments. My mentor agreed and we found this to be a better learning exercise moving forward.

Maintain a Healthy Perspective

You will have challenging days that may make you question your abilities. Keep in mind that you should experience adversity to know that you are learning and growing. By maintaining a healthy perspective, you can avoid feeling down about any particular day or situation and instead reframe the experience in a positive light.

This will be important for your overall mental health and to help you focus your energy on treating your patients. After all, you should be enjoying this opportunity to finally treat patients. Even though you may not exceptional in all aspects of patient care, be at peace that you will eventually get there with persistence, practice and a positive outlook.


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