13 Essential Questions to Ask Your CI Prior to Clinicals

Clinicals are a pivotal time in every PT student’s development as a therapist. My favorite CI threw me into every situation imaginable (and some I never imagined, let’s be honest), and I am a better PT because of her willingness to let me get a little uncomfortable. There are many situations you can’t prepare for as you enter clinicals, and that’s okay, but these questions will help you to start your new adventure with a solid foundation.


1. What does a normal week's schedule look like?

How many days per week will you be working? Which days each week? What will your standard daily schedule look like? Establishing your routine before day one will help you meet and exceed expectations as a clinical student, and it will help you structure your lecture and study time outside of clinicals. Also, pro tip: if you are allowed to arrive earlier than your CI for your clinical shift, do it! Even if there is prep time built into your schedule, this extra effort will ensure you’re not rushed and show your CI that you are committed to excellence and learning as much as possible.


2. What is the expectation for working on weekends and holidays?

Patients don’t stop needing care just because the calendar says it’s a Saturday or a holiday, and the unusual work hours typically start long before you’re a practicing professional. Before you make long weekend or spring break plans, talk to your CI about the expectations for working on weekends and holidays so you can plan accordingly.


3. What does a typical lunch look like?

Every facility will have its own routine when it comes to breaks and lunchtime. Find out if most therapists leave for lunch or brown bag it and eat at the facility, and how much time is allotted. You may have a long enough break to go out and get food, or it may be standard for therapists to eat at the facility and document during lunch.


4. Are there any required consent/HIPPA/insurance forms that can be completed ahead of time?

Anything you can complete ahead of time will help you feel more prepared for day 1, and keep you from becoming overwhelmed with all the information flying at you from every angle.


5. Is there a required drug test and/or background check?

If your facility requires either of these items before you begin working, take care of them as soon as possible. It may take several days or weeks to process these, and you don’t want to miss your first day because your results aren’t back yet!


6. What is the expected/required attire?

A hospital or inpatient facility will typically ask you to wear scrubs, perhaps of a certain style or color, whereas a private clinic may abide by a business casual dress code. Find out what the standard dress is for your clinical experience and stock up on what you need beforehand so you can show up on day one looking like you really know what you’re doing (although you’ll feel like you have no idea what’s going on, and that’s totally normal). If it is a shorter clinical, or in a practice setting that you are not planning on going into, you may want to ask around to see if you can borrow these kinds of clothes and save some money. Don’t forget to ask what is expected or allowed for hairstyle, jewelry, tattoos and piercing, and fingernail grooming.


7. What are the PPE expectations?

Your facility may provide the required PPE for you, or you may need to purchase specific items yourself and bring them with you. Be sure to find out whether any medical-grade mask is allowed or if you need to be fitted for an N-95 respirator. Some facilities also require goggles or additional gear to better protect you and your patients.


8. What are the characteristics of a normal caseload?

This will depend on the type of facility you’re working in, as well as the size of the staff and occupancy. Find out how many patients you will treat on average and how often you will see them, as well as what types of conditions are most commonly treated at your facility.


9. What is the standard productivity requirement?

Productivity is a major buzzword in the therapy world, and if you don’t want to stay late at the facility documenting instead of studying for boards then make sure you are clear on productivity requirements from the beginning.


10. What are the most common outcome measures or special tests utilized in this setting?

These can be very specific to the practice setting. Joint specific special tests in outpatient, the BERG balance test in acute rehab, or the 6-MWT in cardiac rehab for example. Knowing how to perform and score them, what the results mean, and how to use them in goal writing will give you a leg up and demonstrate your preparedness.


11. What types of modalities are used in this setting?

Does the facility just utilize ice, compression, and heat? Are they advocates for the use of E-stim and ultrasound? Do they use less common modalities like diathermy and iontophoresis? Knowing this ahead of time will allow you to re-familiarize with all the details and safety measures of the specific modalities and be ready to assist with the use of them from day one.


12. What is the PT to PTA ratio?

Knowing how much support to expect from your team on a regular basis is essential for your sanity and success during clinicals. There may be PTAs readily available to assist you with a lift, or it may just be you and your lift equipment going it alone. Establishing accurate expectations from the beginning will help you problem solve efficiently and help you maintain a high level of  productivity and patient care.


13. What documentation system is used?

Familiarizing yourself with documentation before you officially begin will give you an edge on your productivity from the beginning, and you can focus on learning important treatment methods and techniques from your CI instead of worrying about how to document. There may be a template you can start practicing with before you begin clinicals, so get your hands on that if it’s available.


Want to download this for reference?
Use this link to download and print the 13 Essential Questions to Ask Your CI Prior to Clinicals. 

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published