When physical therapy students enter their first class with Matt Grubb, they’re nervous, perhaps even scared.
Not of him. It’s the material he’s teaching.
“They’re overwhelmed, uncertain, but they’re all academically prepared,” said Grubb, assistant professor of practice at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Overwhelmed or not, having Grubb as an instructor is a great start.
Two weeks ago, he was selected for Tennessee’s Outstanding Physical Therapy Educator Award by the American Physical Therapy Association.
The award is given to an instructor who shows “exceptional ability to impact the lives of the student with whom in they come in touch, and demonstrate the ability to go above and beyond what is expected as an academic educator and a commitment to classroom education of future physical therapists,” according to the organization.
A faculty member in the Doctor of Physical Therapy program, Grubb described his teaching style as “very practical, very approachable.”
“It’s one that really tries to emphasize clarity of communication and thought and tries to encourage students to become independent thinkers and not just do what I tell you because I’m the guy writing your exams.”
Each fall semester, between 200 to 250 students apply for the graduate-level physical therapy program, but only 36 are selected, he said. The three-year, eight-semester program is no easy ride.
A full course load for most graduate programs is nine credit hours per semester, Grubb said, but it’s 18 credit hours for physical therapy students.
“And they take 18 hours every semester they’re in the program,” he explained.
Naturally, the students are going to make mistakes, he said, but that’s part of the learning process. It’s better to make mistakes in class rather than out in the real world, where they could do serious damage to a patient, he said.
“Obviously, we spend a lot of time on safety and things of that nature, but they have to be able to know that there are a few things in physical therapy that you can’t get wrong,” he said.
Information comes so fast at first-year physical therapy students, it’s like drinking from a firehose, so they must be taught in a way that makes it easier for them to absorb the material, Grubb said.
“They’re brand-new with this and really have to be able to have the information broken down and synthesized in a way that’s approachable but also relevant for them,” he said. “Because once they finish their first year, we dump ’em in the clinic for six weeks.”