Becoming an Orthopedic Clinical Specialist: Eight Key Questions
My name is Alexandra Rimmer and I graduated from Hamilton in 2013. I graduated as an arts major and math minor with a pre-med track. For me, art was the study of form and movement, which related to physical therapy in the sense that it is the study of analyzing patient’s movements and discovering why/how they were injured in the first place.
After Hamilton, I worked for a year as a PT aide and applied to physical therapy school. I received my Doctorate of Physical Therapy in May of 2017 and graduated with the academic performance award and alpha eta honor society.
In July of 2017, I began a physical therapy residency program at USC to become an orthopedic clinical specialist. I worked in the USC physical therapy faculty clinic for a year and I graduated from the residency in September 2018. Currently, I am studying for my next board licensing exam as an OCS. For the past month, I have been working in an outpatient physical therapy office in El Segundo, Calif.
How did you get started in this field?
As a child I had many injuries, between knee and ankle injuries. At the age of 16, one of my physical therapists mentioned that he could see me as a physical therapist and recommended that I started looking for schools. My primary interest was playing soccer as well as going to a school with great academics, so I ended up at Hamilton.
Physical therapy had always been on the back of my mind. Over my sophomore year winter break I had seen a chiropractor and he asked what my plan was for a summer internship. I had told him I hadn’t quite figured out what I wanted to do yet, and he recommended working as a physical therapy aide, and that the neighboring office was looking for an aide. I applied for the job and started working as an aide and absolutely loved it.
I switched from a math major to an art major and planned my schedule the next couple of years so I could take the required prerequisites. Over the course of the next three summers, I completed my prerequisites including anatomy and physiology, chemistry, and physics, while working at the same PT office that sparked my interest in the career.
What do you find the most rewarding about your role?
The thing that I enjoy the most about physical therapy is that I get to spend one on one time with my patients on a weekly or biweekly basis. Typically when people have an injury they are in a rut because they can no longer do what they want to do, whether is they are a soccer player with an ACL tear or someone with low back pain who is having trouble bending down to play with their child.
This field is so interesting because that physical therapy does not just involve the physical aspect of helping someone heal, but also the mental aspect, and sometimes I feel like more than a physical therapist because I offer therapeutic services just by listening. My life goals revolve around my patients.
I completed a residency because I wanted to start to become the best that I could be. I didn’t want to be a generalist and wanted to specialize in orthopedics. Completing a residency gave me the opportunity to reach clinical decisions faster and put me in a place where I would have been if I had been practicing for 5 years.
What are the greatest challenges you must deal with?
The greatest challenges are difficult patients who either are not improving or have difficult personalities. The best thing that I have found that helps is to be able to adjust your personality to connect with people from all backgrounds of life.
Describe what you do during a typical day or week.
My typical week includes 5-8 hour shifts, although it does change among different offices. I am seeing approximately 12-14 patients a day. I treat a range of injuries to neurologic pathologies, orthopedic injuries, and rheumatologic diseases to name a few.
What obligations does your workplace upon you outside of the ordinary work week?
Outside of the ordinary work week, I have to keep up with documentation, which is probably the worst part of the job. Especially when you start a job, you gain all these new patients and initial evaluations take the longest to write up. Also outside of an ordinary work week, I have to maintain my license by taking continuing education courses, which are typically on the weekends. Thankfully it’s only a weekend here and there and the courses are whatever you want. I will also be studying for my OCS over the next couple of weeks to prep for my exam in February
What skills or talents are most essential to be effective in this job?
The most essentials skills are that you are good at communicating, are a good listener, are practical and put others first.
Is there anything you wish you had done to prepare?
I wish I had known earlier exactly what I wanted to do and applied out of school. But in hindsight, I suppose having a year of working in between was a good way of resetting from the school mindset.
Any advice? What kinds of experiences would you most strongly recommend?
Get out there and shadow doctors, physical therapists and see as many different settings as you can. Schools will require experience and it is best to get them in a variety of places. I would also recommend volunteering in your community and building up your extracurricular activities because schools want students who are well rounded.
At Hamilton, Alexandra Rimmer '13 was an art major art and math minor with pre-med track. Shortly after receiving her doctorate of physical therapy, she entered a physical therapy residency program at USC to become an orthopedic clinical specialist. Alex is currently studying for her orthopedic clinical specialist licensing exam while working in an outpatient physical therapy office in El Segundo, Calif.