Wow Your Readers: How to Write a Case Report that Doesn’t Suck

September 30 is the final deadline for your ABPTS Oncology application.  On today’s episode of the podcast, I’m answering your burning questions about the application process, your case report, & what to do when you get writer’s block.

Listen now!

Do I need to have my case report finished by the September 30 deadline or just the application?

If you’re eyeing the 2024 oncology specialty certification exam, here’s the lowdown: mark September 30th on your calendar. That’s the big day when both your application and that case report need to be in. Unlike some other specialties at ABPTS, oncology folks can’t skip the case report – it’s a must.

Now, for those of us who didn’t do a residency (I’m in that camp too), listen up. You need at least 2000 hours of hands-on experience in oncology to back up your exam-worthy claim. And guess what? Those hours you’ve racked up need to get the thumbs up, just like your app and report.

So, remember, it’s not just about the application – it’s the report, the hours, the whole shebang. 

How do I ask a former supervisor (at my previous employer) to approve my experience hours?

First off, start the ball rolling pronto – shoot them a message now. Your supervisor(s) MUST sign off on your hours for your application to be accepted.

So head over to your ABPTS application, fill out the experience hours section, & send it off ASAP.  Check out this handy tutorial I made guiding you through the ABPTS application ⬇️

This process will send an automated email to your supervisor’s inbox, asking them to give you the thumbs up. 

But listen, don’t just leave it at that. Whether you’re still at that gig or not, don’t let this automated  email slip through the cracks. You should ALSO send them a quick email or even better, give them a call. Tell them to expect the automated email from ABPTS and to sign off by whatever deadline you set.

Even if you’ve moved on from that employer, same deal. Fire off that email request, but this time, give them a phone call first. 

After that, wait a bit & check your ABPTS application to see if they’ve signed off on your hours. If not, don’t sweat, just call them again with a gentle reminder. I would also shoot them an email too for backup – now you’ve got both bases covered. 

Remember, you might have a space on the application to explain if you can’t reach your former supervisor, but honestly, avoid that like the plague. Multiple reminders, clear deadlines, and keeping tabs on the app are your secret weapons here. Stay cool and stay on top of it!

How do I make sure my patient case is the best for my case report?  

Alright, let’s break it down. You’re aiming for a killer patient case that’ll rock your case report, right? Cool, here’s the quick rundown before I dive deeper.

First off, ask yourself, which case really puts your skills in the spotlight? It’s not just about having the fanciest diagnosis or a crazy set of problems. It’s about showing you at your best as an expert or soon-to-be expert in oncology PT. But hold up, don’t get tricked into thinking it’s gotta be the most complex case ever. Sometimes, even the most common cases can have hidden gems that let you shine.

Let’s say, for example, we’re looking at breast cancer. Now, that’s a pretty common one. But remember, it’s not about the diagnosis being a snooze-fest, it’s about how you bring your A-game. Imagine your patient’s journey – did anything interesting pop up during treatment or recovery? That’s where the magic might be hiding.

Okay, let me be straight – I’m not saying breast cancer cases are dull. They’re not. But let’s say you’ve got a run-of-the-mill scenario, like a patient in their 60s with straightforward progress. Yeah, that might not grab attention. So, what makes your take on it special? Did you face unique challenges? Did your patient respond in a way that surprised you? That’s what you want to highlight.

Let me give you an example from my own case report. I had a patient with multiple myeloma. Now, I’ve seen similar cases before, but what stood out here was that I caught them right after diagnosis, before a stem cell transplant. It wasn’t the usual prehab situation, but it had its twists. This is what I focused on – preparing them for the transplant journey.

And guess what? My patient’s case wasn’t perfect. They hit a bump with a DVT and a spinal fracture. But that’s real life – we don’t always get smooth sailing. And that’s what makes a case interesting, showing how you tackled challenges.

So, here’s the takeaway: Your case doesn’t need to be the flashiest. It needs to be a canvas where you paint your expertise. What you did, why it mattered, and what you learned – that’s the core. 

And if you’re still wondering how to pick the best patient case, don’t fret. I’m running a free webinar on September 13th at 7 p.m. Central Time. I’m gonna walk you through nailing your application and acing that case report. You can register at

So, there you have it. Don’t stress, I’ve got your back. Let’s make your case report shine!

Do I need to indicate patient consent in the body of the case report?

The short answer is yes, there is a situation where you need to mention patient consent, and here’s when:

As you craft your case report, think about the personal info you’re including. If you’re adding details that could potentially identify the patient, you’ve got to pay attention. This is covered in the ABPTS candidate guide under the oncology section (page 80 of the PDF), specifically in the case report guidelines. Trust me, it’s your go-to source for this info.

This guide spells out what kind of info needs to be masked to protect privacy. And if you’re including any of that sensitive info, you’ve got to have proper patient consent. That means a consent form signed and ready to roll when you submit your case.

Now, here’s a trick that can save you a bunch of hassle. When I was writing up my own case, I followed the de-identification method. It’s a fancy term, but basically, it means stripping away any personal info that could point to the patient. It’s a smooth process, especially compared to the alternative – trying to get in touch with a patient who might have moved on or whose details you don’t have anymore.

So, bottom line, when you’re dealing with personal info in your case report, remember the golden rule: if in doubt, get that patient’s consent. And for a deep dive into the specifics, head over to the ABPTS candidate guide under the oncology section.

Now if you’re asking about including in your case report that your patient consented to your treatment plan, then it’s probably not a bad idea to include in your case report too.  However, at this time, I did not see where this was explicitly required by ABPTS.

Do I list the rationale for every examination technique, or just choose a few? 

In your case report, you’re not just showcasing what you did – you’re showing that you’re an expert, and that includes expert decision-making. So, why you picked specific examination techniques matters. Now,I’m not saying you need a whole essay for each; just a brief explanation will do.

Readers want to see your thought process. They’re interested in knowing why you went for this questionnaire or that examination technique. They want to understand why you chose some things over others. For instance, in my case report about a patient with multiple myeloma, we used the Timed Up and Go (TUG) test.

Now, did I have a specific study saying TUG was perfect for multiple myeloma? Nope. But I did have solid reasons. TUG is well-documented and proven in assessing balance and mobility for various oncology diagnoses. So, even if there wasn’t a direct link to multiple myeloma, it made sense for my patient.

Another example: I considered the six-minute walk test, a classic in mobility tests. But guess what? My patient couldn’t handle it due to increased pain and exhaustion during the evaluation. So, I talked about this in my report, mentioning why I chose not to use it.

Now, here’s a cool thing – hindsight is okay. If you look back and think, “I should’ve done that instead,” it’s fine. You can include these reflections later in the discussion section.

The bottom line is, when you’re explaining your examination techniques, talk about why you picked each one. It’s not a marathon of paragraphs – just a quick why. And remember, if you’re looking for more resources on this, the APTA Oncology EDGE Task Force Annotated Bibliography is a goldmine.

Do I need to include each therapy session in the timeline or should that be included in the outcomes section?

When it comes to your timeline, you absolutely need one. But here’s a tip: you don’t need to cram in every single therapy session. Instead, think highlights. Make it more about the significant events in the patient’s journey. So, if we’re breaking it down by months, focus on the important stuff.

For instance, when the patient was diagnosed, started chemotherapy, had significant medical events, or began PT – those are your timeline highlights. And yes, it’s relevant to know when care was paused, changed, or resumed. But remember, brevity is key here. You’re painting a picture, not writing a novel.

And then there’s the outcome section. No need to go into microscopic detail here either. Instead, zoom out. Think big picture. What were the overall outcomes? How did the patient progress from start to finish? You don’t need to list every single session, but do touch on the major milestones. Did you see positive changes in function, mobility, or pain management? That’s what you want to focus on.

A smart move is to highlight the moments that had a real impact on the patient’s overall progress. And remember, you don’t need to overcomplicate it. Think of it as the key chapters in the story of your patient’s journey.

The provided case report in the application guide lists the therapy goals specifically. Is this necessary?

Nope, it’s not necessary. Here’s why:

In my case report, I opted not to lay out every nitty-gritty goal we had in therapy sessions. Instead, I focused on the broader objectives. You know, those big-picture targets that mattered most to my patient. For instance, my patient’s big dreams were to get back to exercising, be able to hold their grandchild, and travel comfortably.

Now, don’t get me wrong, we did have specific goals, but they changed along the way. Sometimes we were flying through them, and other times things took longer due to complications. But that’s the reality of clinical practice – it’s not all neat and predictable.

See, the case report isn’t a showcase of perfection. It’s about showing that you’re an expert in decision-making and patient care. So, when it comes to goals, think about the broader context. What were you aiming for? What were the driving motivations behind those goals? That’s what matters.

I used first person when writing some sections, like in the case rationale and my rationale for choosing testing techniques. Is that ok?

Now, keep in mind that I’m not involved in the grading process for ABPTS, but here’s my take on it:

From what I’ve checked recently, there’s no explicit rule against using first person in sections like case reflection or rationale for choosing testing techniques. As of now, the candidate guide for the oncology case report doesn’t seem to specify that you must stick to third person only.

When it comes to case reflections and explaining why you made certain decisions, using first person actually makes a lot of sense. It adds a personal touch to your reasoning and showcases your thought process. In my own experience, I included reflections on what I’d do differently next time or insights gained from the case.

Now, if I were to learn that there’s been an update or a change in the guidelines, I’d be the first to share that with you. But as it stands, based on the information currently available, using first person seems to be fair game.

So, if you discover anything contrary or new, don’t hesitate to share it. Staying informed and up to date is key in crafting the best case report possible.

Remember: you’re not on your own while writing your case report.

I’m here to support you every step of the way. If you’re looking to excel in your case report, join me for a free webinar on September 13th at 7 p.m. Central Time. We’ll dive into navigating the ABPTS application process, including your case report. 

Register now!

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