How and Where Do I Get My Observation Hours for My PT School Application?
Physical therapy is an incredibly rewarding profession. Every day, physical therapists help their patients with activities ranging from rolling in bed by themselves, to throwing a fastball without pain in their shoulder, to walking to the school cafeteria without pain. However, the path to physical therapy can be challenging. Physical therapy school is an investment of time and money, both on your end as a student and on your school’s end. Therefore, it’s important that students gain exposure to the physical therapy profession before making the decision to apply to physical therapy school.
Many physical therapy schools require applicants to observe a physical therapist. Some schools require that you observe for a certain number of hours or in certain types of settings. So, how and where should you get your observation hours for PT school? Let’s dive in to learn more about this part of the application process, and learn more about our services to help build a competitive PT school application here!
Where Should I Complete My PT Observation Hours?
Physical therapy is a diverse profession. Physical therapists can now work in a variety of settings including hospitals, long term care facilities (such as nursing homes), inpatient rehabilitation centers, outpatient clinics, schools, wellness centers, hospices, and universities.
Given the profession’s diverse nature, it’s important to gain early exposure to different fields within physical therapy. Some PTs know from an early point exactly which field they want to go into. Some PTs start PT school with the intent of working in one setting, like sports rehabilitation, and a class or an internship convinces them to pursue a passion in a different setting, like outpatient pediatrics. Some PTs start their careers in one setting, like a hospital, and transition their career to a different setting, like an outpatient clinic.
PT observation hours provide you with an early opportunity to observe in a variety of PT settings. Take advantage of this opportunity! Try observing in at least three different settings, like a hospital, skilled nursing facility, and outpatient clinic.
Do These Hours Have to Be "Observation" Only? Can I Work Instead?
The hours you submit for physical therapy school can take the form of observation, volunteer work, or paid work. Many hospitals allow applicants to volunteer in their inpatient units, which provides you with the opportunity to see how a physical therapy facility operates while volunteering your time to help with various tasks. Many students enjoy pursuing job opportunities, especially at outpatient PT clinics. These jobs allow students to quickly learn about working in a PT clinic while earning money and participating in office work/patient care. It’s up to you and the facilities at which you complete these hours to decide the format your hours can take.
How Do I Contact Facilities About Obtaining Hours?
Since many physical therapy schools now either strongly suggest or require that applicants observe a physical therapist before applying to PT school, many facilities are open to welcoming applicants for work, shadow/observation, or volunteer opportunities.
When reaching out to a facility like an outpatient clinic, gym/wellness center, or school, you should introduce yourself and explain that you’re interested in pursuing an observation and/or shadowing opportunity so you can learn more about physical therapy. You can also contact private companies about job opportunities, such as working as a physical therapy aide/technician.
Many hospitals, inpatient rehabilitation units, and skilled nursing facilities have volunteer programs already in place. It may be best to contact their volunteer department and explain that you would like to volunteer in one of the physical therapy units.