By: Mathew Hilton, PT, DPT, MS
Many Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) programs highly recommend applicants to gain inpatient PT volunteer or work experience in order to be considered to competitive for admission. This makes sense because the PT profession is very broad and most DPT programs want to be sure that applicants have a wider understanding of the profession.
Instead of simply volunteering or working as an aide in an outpatient physical therapy setting for hundreds, if not thousands of hours, applicants should also strive to find inpatient experience. An inpatient setting basically means that the patients stay in the facility for at least 24 hours. When I learned about this type of setting as a former applicant, I immediately was thinking that I needed to volunteer in an acute care hospital setting.
While I eventually did find an experience in an acute care hospital setting, I had significant trouble finding a position. I called a dozen different hospitals and heard a variety of different complications or outright rejections:
- The inpatient PT department is full, but we can put you on the waitlist (never heard back).
- We require volunteers to commit to 100-300 hours of floater duties (greeting people at the door, transporting patients, administrative duties) prior to having a chance to apply for a clinical volunteer position.
- Volunteers need to apply and pay tuition of $200+ before being considered
As a college student, I was already busy with classes, extracurriculars and other obligations so I didn't have the time or the money to do any of the above. However, since that time, I've found an easier way for you to find the highly sought-after inpatient experience:
1. Value your time when searching for observation experiences. Don't commit to volunteering for a hospital for 100+ hours performing floater duties before having an opportunity to shadow in your desired clinical setting (and definitely DO NO PAY to have an opportunity to volunteer--remember that you're giving your time freely).
2. Find the low hanging fruit of clinical experiences--don't only search for acute care hospital settings. Hospitals can be very bureaucratic with lengthy requirements (physicals, vaccinations, volunteer training, 1+ year commitments).
3. Search for skilled nursing facility (SNF) experiences. These facilities are classified as inpatient experiences and they can be easier and more flexible for volunteers. When I was a student, I found a SNF near my university that only required me to watch a 20 minute video about elder abuse and then I was given my badge. A quick Google search showed the SNF locations in the screenshot below, which are all a 5-10 minute commutes from my former university. I would likely bet that most of these facilities have 0 volunteers or aides (because applicants hardly ever think to search for these places!).
I currently work as a PT for a SNF and just this week we were talking about how much we would LOVE to have some volunteers around to help up transport patients, assist with exercises and perform other duties for us in the gym. These facilities would love to have YOU there because you would be helping to improve the productivity of the clinicians in the facility, which allows the clinicians to focus more time on the patient care and also helps the facility's bottom line.
Do you have any inpatient experience? Have you had any trouble or success with finding these experiences? Let me know in the comments below!