Doctor of Physical Therapy Clinical Education

One outstanding feature of the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at Samuel Merritt University is our clinical education. SMU DPT graduates benefit from the number of clinical placements, practice settings available, and length of clinical experiences. The sequence of our clinical education experiences are closely integrated with your academic coursework, meaning you will have exposure to patients in a clinical setting while you are learning about that content in the classroom. There are a total of 41 weeks of full-time clinical experiences at Samuel Merritt compared with the national average of 35 weeks. 

Samuel Merritt University places students in clinical settings including, but not limited to, academic teaching hospitals, community hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, acute rehabilitation facilities, California Children’s Services, home health agencies, private practice and hospital-based outpatient clinics, Veteran’s Affairs medical centers and clinics, adult day centers or programs, and school-based pediatric settings.  All students will graduate with at least 8 weeks of full-time experience in an inpatient setting and an outpatient musculoskeletal setting. In the remaining weeks, students practice in clinical sites that allow them to have more exposure to the broad array of physical therapist practice settings.

The clinical education team at Samuel Merritt University is committed to student learning and works closely with students and clinical instructors to promote successful learning in the clinic.  Students are prepared to be proactive learners. After every clinical, students meet in small groups with a faculty supervisor to debrief and reflect on their clinical experiences. This allows students to gain more insight regarding their experiences and adds depth to their clinical experiences. 

The clinical education curriculum at Samuel Merritt University prepares future clinicians for different types of clinical settings. Our placements include practice settings in the Greater San Francisco Bay Area, with some placements throughout California and the United States. International placements are not offered for clinical experiences; however, students may participate in volunteer opportunities organized through SMU’s International Healthcare Club.

Integrated Clinical Experiences (ICE):  The integrated clinical experiences offer hands-on learning to students throughout the curriculum as a means to immediately apply the knowledge and skills they are learning concurrently in the classroom beginning the first week of Term 2. During these full-time one-week experiences, students work directly with patients who have conditions they just studied. The three ICEs include: inpatient/hospital setting, outpatient musculoskeletal, neurological, and/or pediatrics.

Full-time Clinical Experiences:  There are two, full-time, eight-week experiences interspersed in the curriculum, one following the majority of the musculoskeletal content and the other following the majority of the neuromuscular and pediatric content. The first full-time clinical experience occurs in outpatient settings or a combination of outpatient and inpatient settings where students spend most of their time managing patients with orthopedic conditions. The second full-time clinical experience may occur in rehabilitation centers, acute care hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, or outpatient centers in which at least 50% of the caseload includes adults and/or children with neuromuscular dysfunction (e.g., stroke, Parkinson’s disease, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injury). Students who would like pediatric experience are placed in pediatric medical centers, school-based physical therapy programs, or outpatient pediatric clinics.

Final Clinical Experience: The final 22-week clinical experience occurs after students complete their academic coursework. This full-time clinical experience may be split into two 11-week placements in different settings or may remain in one setting for the entire 22 weeks. The final clinical experience may include all of the settings listed above, with the addition of complex or other specialized settings, such as wound care or pelvic health.  The Director of Clinical Education works with each student to help guide them towards the clinical experience that best meets their goals and learning needs prior to graduation and the transition to clinical practice.

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