By Jennifer Lesko, PT, DPT

To reflect on the question of “what I believe” I must first give thanks for all I have worked for and received from others to get to my current place in life. In doing this, it leads me to define what I believe, which is giving back. I give a lot of myself to things for which I am passionate—one of those being our profession. We all know that paying it forward is the right thing to do and have all experienced the personal benefits of giving, but I believe as medical professionals we have a social and professional responsibility to do this. Many physical therapists give back to their community and within their personal lives as well as volunteer for our association. Yet relatively few of us as private practice owners give back to the profession in the easiest way, as clinical instructors within the clinic.

Physical therapy and physical therapy assistant programs consistently report difficulty in finding affiliations to fulfill the clinical internship component of education. If you are a clinical instructor, this is substantiated by the numerous requests you receive annually from schools to take students. From personal experience, the requests often seem to be more than we can accommodate. Statistically, there are over 185,000 employed physical therapists in the U.S. and 25,971 enrolled physical therapists and 11,650 enrolled physical therapist assistant students. We can do this. The schools are not all knocking on your door at once; they have been kind to spread clinical affiliations throughout the year.

We all know the simple impact of a clinical instructor on a student. The impact lasts far after they leave your clinic and are practicing as clinicians. We are so lucky because of what we do; we have had a glimpse into the future. I think about this a lot because my parents are getting older. I am getting older. We are all getting older. We have witnessed what happens to the body when it is injured, diseased, and aged, and the impact this has on society and families. We have also seen how impaired function can be restored with the help of physical therapy. Personally, my parents do not live near me. I must depend on other health care professionals to educate and treat my loved ones. I hope those professionals have been mentored and trained in their clinical experiences by good clinical instructors. I, too, must be responsible with training new physical therapists to be the best they can be for the future of the profession and to positively impact the future for my aging parents and my aging self.

There are several excuses not to take students.

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The time excuse: “I do not have time.” Well, nobody has time. You just have to make time, because it is important and should be done. And like so many things in life the time commitment just requires preparation. Once the student arrives all is smooth.

The “it is not my thing” excuse: The other excuse I hear, which does not make any sense to me is “I am not an educator or mentor, that is not my personality.” Every physical therapist must educate their patients daily and be very creative at a moment’s notice to get a person to understand how to move their body or complete an activity. Give yourself a little more credit!

The clinic burden excuse: “It is going to cost my clinic money and stress to accommodate having a student in the clinic.” This may be true, but you are paying this one forward. You need to teach that prospective graduate not only how to treat and interact with patients, but also how to get paid for the work. The nuances of billing, and what is really going on in the health care world, is something that can best be experienced in the clinic. It is your responsibility to pay it forward to whomever the student is employed by in the future by helping them become a complete package as an entry-level clinician. Not only will they care for the patient, but also they will care for the business of physical therapy.

If you think the health care environment is scary now, just imagine the future when you are the consumer on a different level. It is not easy being a clinical instructor, but the rewards are numerous. We all were at the receiving end of this instruction to finish our education and become a licensed physical therapist. We have all given to others as a part of our professional role and someday we will be on the receiving end. It is time to give back what others have given you in the past. We have the responsibility to help create the best physical therapy possible for the future of our profession, community, family, friends, and selves.


Jennifer Lesko, PT, DPT is a PPS member and owner/director of Therapeutic Associates Queen Anne Physical Therapy and outpatient orthopedic practice in Seattle, Washington. She can be reached at

Excerpted from “What I Believe” speech. 2014 Graham Sessions, Salt Lake City, Utah.

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