Physical Therapy Students in the Pelvic Floor Rehab Clinic

Brigid Ellingson, MPT, OCS

This blog post was written by faculty member Bridgid Ellingson, DPT, MPT, OCS, BCB-PMD. Bridgid is a private practice owner in the Chicago area and she is an instructor for the Institute's pelvic floor course series Level 2B course.

For years I resisted taking a physical therapy student into my clinic for their final rotation. The traditional physical therapy curriculum does not adequately prepare a student for the experience and I do not believe that physical therapy for the pelvic floor is entry level work. However, I recently had a particularly motivated student convince me to give it a try and I’d like to share my experience to help prepare other clinicians interested in taking students.

I first reached out to physical therapists in the community for advice- there were very few in the private clinic setting who had taken students. I was advised to interview the student to make sure she was a good fit. I was also advised to set realistic expectations with the student and the advisor- I could not guarantee how much hands-on experience she would get in my clinic. In the end, we agreed to a split clinical with the student in my clinic two days per week for ten weeks. This student had displayed entry level skills in previous clinicals and her advisor was not concerned that she would not be working independently or even with just supervision.

The next step was to prepare her for the clinical. The ideal scenario would have been to have her attend Pelvic Floor Function, Dysfunction and Treatment (Level 1) prior to the clinical, but the logistics did not work out for her. Instead she took two online continuing education courses: Functional Applications in Pelvic Rehabilitation Part A and B. She studied anatomy extensively and utilized many other internet resources. In my clinic, I prepared my clients by telling them that a special PT student with a strong interest in learning about pelvic floor rehabilitation would be working with me for the next ten weeks but that their care would not change and they always would have a choice as to whether to allow the student to observe or participate in treatment.

In the end, I feel that the clinical went quite well for me, the student, and my clients. The student was well prepared, respectful, professional, and had a good rapport with my clients. She was able to participate in history taking, health screening, orthopedic assessment, treatment planning, and documentation. Her ability to analyze data and formulate hypotheses and prognoses progressed well over the ten weeks. While she did not perform a pelvic floor examination on a client, she did bring in a “model” and I talked her through a complete pelvic floor examination. She did learn a variety of external treatment techniques and was exposed to the use of visceral manipulation, craniosacral therapy, trigger point dry needling, biofeedback, and rehabilitative ultrasound imaging specific to the pelvic floor. I believe that the after she gains hands-on experience by taking the Herman Wallace Pelvic Floor Series courses, she will be adequately prepared to start her career as a physical therapist specializing in pelvic floor disorders.

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