Apr 2, 2024

Meet Emily: Recent grad turned clinical instructor

photo of Emily Brewer
Emily Brewer

When Emily Brewer was a physical therapy student, she was fortunate to work with some incredible clinical instructors who welcomed her to the profession. Today, Emily offers the same guidance and support to our physical therapy students during their clinical internships.

We asked her about her experience taking on the role of clinical instructor and how it has helped her to gain confidence in her own practice.

What clinical area of physiotherapy do you practice? 

I recently changed clinical areas – for nearly four years I worked at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center in acute care, general internal medicine and stroke. In January, I started working at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital with the Get Up and Go program, which is a persistent paediatric pain service. It's a unique program where the kids are with us for two weeks as inpatients and two weeks as day patients to take part in a multidisciplinary persistent pain program. 

I recently signed up to work with the other physiotherapist on the team to host a physical therapy student for a clinical internship, so I’m looking forward to teaching them about our work here. 

How did you get involved with clinical teaching? 

As a physiotherapy student, I had always been interested in taking a student once I graduated and had a little bit of experience. I was lucky to work with many great clinical instructors when I was a student. When I was working at Sunnybrook it was easy to get involved because it is a teaching hospital, and they were always asking us to take on students. A lot of my colleagues volunteered as clinical instructors and so the first time I took a student, I worked with an experienced clinician to share the teaching duties, which was a great way to learn. 

What aspects of being a clinical instructor do you find the most gratifying? Do you have a memorable moment from your experience you’d like to share? 

It's nice when I see my students put their own self-reflection into practice. Maybe we’ve done an assessment together and afterwards they identified something they would change or do next time. Watching them apply the lessons they’ve learned is really rewarding to see.  

As a clinical instructor in acute care, I sometimes have very medically complex patients. I would expect that my students might need more support from me when treating these patients, but my students often surprise me by going above and beyond what I expect them to know, and it's nice seeing them put their skills and knowledge into practice. 

Why do you think it’s important for physiotherapists to help train future PTs? 

It is important because at the end of the day, students can only learn so much in a classroom. There is so much to be gained from real-world learning, so it is important to have these opportunities to be in a clinical environment and work with a clinical instructor. 

I was nervous to take on a student for the first time when I was a new grad but working with a student helped me realize that I knew more than I thought. I was worried I didn’t have enough experience to be a clinical instructor. Doing it anyway helped me develop my confidence and skills as a clinician. I would encourage any new grad who is thinking about becoming a clinical instructor to go for it! 

In what ways do you find volunteering as a clinical instructor helps with your own professional development? 

Working with a student has been a great opportunity to learn together. It has helped me to develop my clinical reasoning skills because as I go through assessments with my students, they often ask me, “Why did you do it this way?” It has helped me to reflect on my own practice and makes me wonder if I could have done things in a different way. Sometimes we, as physiotherapists, get comfortable and start working on autopilot but having a student ask me to explain my reasoning really keeps me on my toes. 

I also find students are learning the latest evidence-based best practices and research so taking on students has been a great way to learn about the latest advancements in the field. 

Join our team of volunteers  

We are always looking for volunteers to help with clinical skills labs, small group facilitation and clinical placements! Are you a practicing physiotherapist interested in volunteering your time to support the education and development of our future colleagues? Email us at pt.reception@utoronto.ca and we will be in touch.