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  • Bethany Huebner

Lobsters are lovable for this very reason


clinician to educator

Do you know how lobsters grow? Lobsters are crustaceans that have a soft body encased with a hard shell. Their hard shell actually prevents them from growing as it does not grow with them. Instead a lobster has to shed its shell and grow a new one. How does it know when to do that? The signal for the lobster to molt is when they are uncomfortable in their current shell. A lobster will shed its shell and grow a new one around 25 times in the first 5-7 years of its life and then at least once a year after that. Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski explains how this relates to our human experience by saying, “The stimulus for the lobster to be able to grow is to feel uncomfortable…times of stress are signals for growth. If we use adversity properly, we can grow through adversity.”


Last week, I challenged you to write your own teaching philosophy. When I sat down to write mine, I know I felt the stress of a hard shell pressing against me. How about you? That feeling of being uncomfortable was a signal. I can’t tell you how many times I thought it would just be easier to not do it…hence the blinking cursor for hours. But, like the lobster I decided to take the signal as an opportunity to grow and expand my boundaries. Here are how the words to the page ended up:


The transition from clinician to professor has not always been an easy one. Most physical therapists go to graduate school to become a clinician, not a professor. There is a lot of overlap, however, in the two fields. For example, every single clinician is an educator to their patients, referral sources, and family members. I have been a full-time educator for the past 10 years, with the first 5 as a clinician and the last 5 as a college professor. My primary teaching philosophy when I was a full-time clinician was to create independence in daily care and recreational activities as it related to the whole person and their goals for interaction with the environment. Today, with new experiences, a new student audience, and a different level of influence, my teaching philosophy has adapted but the deep roots that ground me have remained constant. As a clinician I am motivated by my endeavor to create lifelong learners who are empathetic problem solvers for consumers of physical therapy.


Learning is a process of growth and understanding. Learning comes with failures that make us uncomfortable but push us to grow. Learning is a pathway to mastery, but mastery isn’t really the ultimate goal. I do not think there can ever be true mastery as there is always something more to learn, more to grow, and more to gain. I aspire to instill this sense of motivation and growth in my students, so our profession is filled with clinicians who continue to learn and strive to be the best they can be for their patients. I also strive to instill skills of critical thinking and problem solving into my students as they are the best tools we have as clinicians. Diagnostic strategy comes from the process of ruling in and ruling out and critically thinking about the various diagnoses that a patent could have. It is also about being the best detective you can be in finding the impairments that are driving the pain or poor movement patterns. When the subject under study is a human being, we also have to teach how to take in consideration the whole person. Each detail of their life, environment, goals, and mental status all play a role in how we decide what the diagnosis is, develop a plan of care, and the implementation of the therapeutic interventions. It is my goal to teach our students how to embrace this diagnostic process and to apply it to each patient with a patient-centered focus that every patient deserves. An ideal outcome would be that each one of our students displays the skill set of a systematic evaluation that leads to a diagnosis that can be treated with evidence-based practice and individualized to the person in front of them. So often in our profession, we try to approach a diagnosis with a recipe for success. It is my goal to teach students to resist the recipe and apply critical thinking and problem solving to each patient creating an individualized approach to care.


Strategies that I utilize for teaching critical thinking and problem solving include various case study activities, discussion groups, live simulations, lectures and written and practical exams. Providing real life cases and activities for students to apply the knowledge they have learned can solidify the material in a deeper way. This takes shape in various forms such as paper cases where a student reads a story about a patient and then is asked to create the evaluation sequence and diagnostic process on paper. They are also provided many thought-provoking questions to answer along the way with the case. Case study learning can also take the shape of an active learning situation with students acting as the physical therapist, evaluating a live patient. This provides the student with the opportunity to practice their motor skills as well as learn how to think on their feet. I also ask the question “Why?” a lot. I do not ask it in a way that causes the student to defend their answer. Instead, my goal is to hear their thought process. I can assess if they are critically thinking or just spouting off things memorized as I ask them “Why?”


I am also passionate about utilizing evidence-based lecture strategies to captivate and engage my audience. Lectures do not have to be boring nor a one-sided conversation. When lecturing, I incorporate technology through the use of Pollev and/or Kahoot to engage the audience with thought provoking questions. I also intermix discussion time during the lecture to allow the student to begin synthesizing the information with things they already know. I also apply the use of storytelling, analogies, and innovative design to lectures in order to connect with my students in a deeper way. Applying care to the aesthetics of information creates another dimension of learning and connectedness for the student. It is my goal to captivate my student audience in a way that motivates them to go and discover more and to accomplish more. I want to constantly spark curiosity because that spark ignites the process of critical thinking and problem solving. My professional growth in the teaching realm has leaps and bounds to grow. It is my goal to learn how to take the clinician educator and shape them into the academic educator needed to continue to propel our profession forward.


The lobster teaches us how to use adversity for our growth. That doesn’t negate the fact that the whole process can be very uncomfortable. Think about how a lobster feels squeezing itself between a hard shell that won’t expand. Feelings are real, but we can’t let them prevent us from learning and growing. When life gives us lemons, let’s all molt (not revolt) and build a new shell.


What do you need to face head on today that has been making you feel uncomfortable? How can you expand your shell?

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