clinical internship for a physical therapy assistant

A clinical internship is a pivotal component of your training as a Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA). It bridges the gap between classroom learning and real-world application, providing you with hands-on experience in a clinical setting.

During this phase, you’ll not only refine your technical skills for the field but also develop essential soft skills, such as communication and teamwork.

Orientation and Initial Training


Your internship will typically begin with an orientation session. During this time, you’ll meet the clinical staff, tour the facility and learn about the policies and procedures of the institution. You’ll be introduced to your clinical instructor (CI), who will be your primary mentor throughout the internship.

Initial Training

The first few days might involve some training sessions on the facility’s electronic health records (EHR) system, safety protocols and patient handling techniques. This training is crucial to ensure that you are well-prepared to start your clinical duties.

Hands-On Patient Care

Direct Patient Interaction

One of the most exciting aspects of your clinical internship is the opportunity to work directly with patients. Under the supervision of your CI, you’ll assist with various physical therapy treatments. This could include administering exercises, applying modalities like heat or ice packs and using therapeutic equipment.

Assessment and Treatment Planning

You’ll learn how to assess a patient’s condition by observing their movement, strength and flexibility. Based on these assessments, you’ll help in creating and implementing treatment plans tailored to each patient’s needs. This hands-on experience is invaluable, as it allows you to apply theoretical knowledge in practical scenarios.


Building Technical Skills

Modalities and Equipment

During your internship, you’ll get extensive practice with various physical therapy modalities and equipment. This includes ultrasound machines, electrical stimulation devices and therapeutic exercise equipment.


Accurate and thorough documentation is a vital part of a PTA’s job. You’ll be responsible for recording patient progress, treatment modifications and observations you make during sessions. Your CI will guide you on how to maintain comprehensive and compliant patient records.

Developing Soft Skills


Effective communication is essential in physical therapy. You’ll learn how to explain exercises and treatments to patients clearly, making sure they understand the purpose and benefits of their therapy. Additionally, you’ll practice communicating with other healthcare professionals to coordinate patient care effectively.

Empathy and Compassion

Working with patients who may be in pain or frustrated by their limitations requires a high level of empathy and compassion. Your internship will help you develop these soft skills, enabling you to provide emotional support and encouragement to your patients.


Professional Growth and Feedback

Regular Evaluations

Your performance during the internship will be regularly evaluated by your CI. These evaluations are designed to provide constructive feedback, highlighting your strengths and identifying areas for improvement. Take this feedback seriously, as it’s an opportunity for professional growth.

Goal Setting

Set personal and professional goals at the beginning of your internship. Whether it’s mastering a specific treatment technique or improving your patient communication skills, having clear goals will help you stay focused and motivated throughout your internship.


Exposure to Different Settings

Diverse Clinical Environments

Depending on your internship program, you may have the chance to work in various clinical settings, such as outpatient clinics, hospitals, rehabilitation centers and long-term care facilities. Each setting offers unique learning experiences and challenges, broadening your understanding of the physical therapy field.

Specialty Areas

You might also get exposure to different specialty areas within physical therapy, such as orthopedics, geriatrics, pediatrics or sports medicine. This experience can help you identify your areas of interest and possibly shape your career path.


Challenges and How to Overcome Them

Time Management

Balancing patient care with documentation and other responsibilities can be challenging when you first enter an active care role. Develop strong time management skills to ensure that you meet all your duties efficiently. Prioritize tasks and create a daily schedule to stay organized.

Handling Difficult Cases

You may encounter complex cases that require critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Don’t hesitate to ask for guidance from your CI and other experienced professionals. Use these opportunities to learn and grow.

Dealing with Stress

Internships can be demanding, both physically and emotionally. Practice self-care strategies, such as regular exercise, healthy eating and getting adequate rest. Remember to take breaks and seek support from peers and mentors when needed.


Building a Professional Network

Connecting with Professionals

Your clinical internship is a fantastic opportunity to build a professional network. Connect with physical therapists, PTAs and other healthcare providers. These connections can provide valuable mentorship opportunities, job references and potentially improve your future career prospects.


Always maintain a high level of professionalism. This includes punctuality, dressing appropriately and exhibiting a positive attitude. Professional behavior will leave a lasting impression and could lead to job offers post-graduation.


Get the Skills You Need to Excell During a Clinical Internship as a PTA in St. Louis, MO

The clinical internship as a physical therapist assistant is both challenging and rewarding. At the St. Louis College of Health Careers, you can enroll in our comprehensive PTA program, which includes hands-on clinical internships.

Apply now here on our website or give us a call at 866-529-2070 to get started.

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