Being Neurodivergent In PT School

I have bipolar disorder, ADHD, and anxiety. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder back in 2012. I’ve had anxiety since I was a child. And I received an ADHD diagnosis in January, with the idea that I’ve most likely had ADHD since childhood. I am in my second term of physical therapy school, and luckily my bipolar disorder only reared its ugly head once and it was a mild depressive episode that was very easy to power through until I cycled back to baseline. But undiagnosed ADHD coupled with untreated anxiety (because my anxiety is more of a thing that is triggered) made my first term a horrendous ordeal.

I developed the shakes, something I never had before. I even had the shakes during my first soft tissue practical, which thankfully did not affect my ability to do soft tissue interventions. I have had anxiety attacks. I even shut down several times throughout the term due to my brain no longer being able to tolerate the amount of anxiety assaulting it. I was overall numb.

I hated my first term. I found very few enjoyable moments. They say your first term is the hardest because it is a big adjustment period in terms of work load, but I knew there was something more going on. I knew that what I was experiencing couldn’t just be anxiety. I constantly felt beat up by the end of the day. I would go to bed thinking the next day would be easier in terms of getting my work/studying done in a decent amount of time, only to wake up and struggle trying to keep my focus without being pulled in fifty million directions by distracting things. If the internet didn’t exist, I would likely be distracted by something else, so the internet wasn’t the issue. Plus, I needed the internet to do all of my assignments. I then thought about how if I were placed in an empty room with nothing, how would my mind be? I then realized I’d start screaming from abject boredom. It’s known those with ADHD have a low tolerance for boredom because our dopamine levels are low to begin with. We’re constantly seeking out things that raise dopamine levels, which is why we always have to be doing something.

I started considering the possibility of ADHD. My brother has it, so it’d make sense to consider it. But I didn’t tell my psychiatrist about it right away. Even I was falling prey to the stigma attached to ADHD. I just kept thinking I needed more willpower. But it got to the point where I realized willpower was not the issue. No amount of my feeling determined to get through the day without issue made it so. I started relying on coffee to give me some focus. It worked. I was actually able to get through five finals without feeling numb and burnt out. Of course, I knew medication would likely be a lot better than coffee, but I just didn’t know how to bring it up. So I sat on this possible diagnosis and used some of my Christmas break to take every screen I could find on the internet. They all pointed to me having combined ADHD (inattentive and hyperactive).

Fast forward to today, and I have been on a non-stimulant medication called Strattera for five weeks.

I feel like focus is a superpower that I am finally privy to. I can wake up, tell myself I’m going to answer ten questions for gross anatomy or whatever, then have a break, and actually be able to do it without taking three hours to do ten questions because I spend so much time messing around. I’ve even been able to write this blog post without going to Facebook, then Twitter, and going to Google to search something unrelated that I’m curious about.

My executive functioning also seems to be improving. I picked up all the trash in my room and bagged it. All I have left to do is organize the stuff on my floor–but at least it’s not trash! And because my focus is better, my memory seems to be improving, which I found so problematic last term. I had to do so much repetition because it took an absurd amount of time for things to stick. Prior to my medication working, I almost felt the creeping fingers of burnout while studying for midterms and sucking down caffeine. Then I started to notice my medication dusting off the cobwebs of my mind. I let go of the caffeine, and I was pleasantly surprised by my ability to power through the rest of my midterms–even though I still couldn’t wait for them to be over with. I didn’t have as much time to study for my second patho exam as I did my first, but I did not freak out like I normally would. Instead, I used the power of focus. Even though I studied less, I felt it was more quality thanks to a clearer mind.

Unfortunately, I think my anxiety is still largely a separate thing, though it is better now because Strattera is doing a good job at dusting. I lost my mind during a midterm when I started having problems with Respondus (there’s a whole story behind why I flipped out that is connected to the fact that we originally used ProctorU). Of course, it was me jumping to conclusions; everyone had the exact same problem I did. Even so, I think parts of my anxiety are more under control now that the ADHD is settling down.

I am now enjoying this term more and feeling more confident that this is something I can manage, that I am capable of doing this, that I will not fail or drop any classes. I am looking more toward the future now instead of feeling trapped in the present, taking things one day at a time. You’d think that’d be a good thing, taking everything a day at a time, but sometimes being too present can feel stifling. Sometimes not looking toward the future means you are uncertain about whether or not you’re even going to have a future. Now I am doing research into a specialty that I would ultimately like to obtain within the decade after graduating PT school, one I’m very much excited about because I didn’t know of its existence. I have TMD, and physical therapists can help with that, and so I want to specialize in that area. I still want to specialize in the low back, but I’ll probably go after the McKenzie specialty first since it may count toward being able to be certified in the craniofacial and cervical spine through PTBCCT.

Overall, my passion for PT has been renewed thanks to finally being treated for ADHD.

My Thoughts On My First Term of Physical Therapy School As a Flex Student

I actually meant to put this post on this blog.

This term was tumultuous, not because of COVID (although that played a part in it), but because life loves getting in the way so much that sometimes you wonder how you’re going to make it through four full years. It seems absolutely nothing can go wrong in your personal life. Nothing, lest you wind up slipping and failing a test or two or three.

You’re constantly studying for something once you reach a certain point–and it’s not just a little studying that you can get away with. It’s a lot of studying that you must do. And oftentimes you are studying for a test at what seems the last minute because you were too busy preparing for a practical or a previous test that you had to put off that test. All of my finals I only had about two to three days each to study for, although I did…

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How to Study in PT School

Midterms are over with (at least until next semester and finals, of course), and I did fairly well, so I feel confident enough to provide advice on how to study for grad school. I’m sure this is a worry many, many pre-PT students have, as your usual study habits in undergrad don’t necessarily translate well to a grad program. Take it seriously when PT students and even faculty tell you that if you were a straight-A student in undergrad, you’re most likely not going to be one in grad school. From what I’ve gathered talking to non-health science grad students, three classes is considered full-time. This is not the case in a health science program.

I’ve made my fair share of A’s and B’s, and as a perfectionist, it’s just something I’ve had to accept. Students during my observation hours warned me to not chase A’s. After all, on average, you’ll be taking anywhere from 5-7 classes a semester (depending on flex or residential), and I have accepted that it’s just not possible to get ahead like I could in undergrad. There are always assignments due. Once you finish one test, you have to study for another. And after that, there’s midterms. And then another test you have to study for. More assignments due. Let’s not forget readings. Maybe a project here and there. And lab practicals. And if you’re a flex student like me, you’ll have a job.

So here are some starter tips:

  1. When Monday rolls around, prioritize less-intense classes first. Someone in my cohort said his advisor recommended this. In your first semester, gross anatomy I is an inevitably and it is THE heaviest class you’ll take. At my school, the residential students also take pathophysiology along with it, so that’s a double whammy. That’ll be me next semester. You’ll want to get the less intense classes out of the way so that you have plenty of time to devote to the more-intense ones.
  2. There are various ways to stay organized. My cohort uses the GroupMe app to stay in touch, and we all use Google Docs. The more organized among us have created documents listening assignments due for the entire semester (I am not that organized, so thank goodness). I also use a whiteboard to list out my assignments for that week and check them off as they’re completed. If we’re given a study guide, we all work on it together through Google Docs. So I absolutely recommend gathering your entire cohort together and taking advantage of Google Docs and GroupMe. It’s wonderful because you don’t have to run to a professor for everything if you have a question. Someone in your cohort will likely have the answer. It’s also a great way to plan study groups.
  3. If you have quizzes in any of your classes, take those seriously. Sometimes questions from the quizzes will be on your tests.
  4. If your professors hold review sessions, attend them. Take notes. Gather these notes on a Google Doc and treat them like a study guide.
  5. Study AT LEAST one week before any exam. You will not get away with studying the night before or even two days before. Every class is a lot of material, even your “easier” ones. And keep in mind, you will most likely be studying full-time for your more difficult exams. You’ll definitely be studying full-time around midterms and finals. So realize this is a lifestyle you have chosen and take it very seriously.
  6. Attend tutoring. Make it mandatory to attend at least one session (particularly gross anatomy), even if you feel like you don’t need it. Your tutor might be an upper term and can provide you with tips and tricks. I went at the advice of my success advisor, and we went over ligaments and their attachments to bones. My tutor simplified it enormously when I was complicating it…enormously.
  7. Meet with your advisor to obtain all the advice you can on proper study habits.
  8. Do not pull an all-nighter. I am religious about my sleep habits. The only reason I’d ever pull one is if an assignment were due and I just procrastinated. Maybe you got away with it in undergrad, but you are going to need all your brain power in grad school, and it’s just not possible to pull that off with a sleepless mind. You’ll be too distracted by how tired you are, and recalling information is a slower process when sleep-deprived.

Now how do you study? For gross anatomy, I studied my quizzes (since I’m flex, the questions are available through Blackboard). My professor also told us exactly what would be on the exam (you may or may not get this lucky), so there was my study guide. I read through the study guide, read it out loud, and wrote down processes and things I couldn’t get right away. No magic to it. My professor likes to say that time in equals time out. For my GA lab practical, I studied how I pretty much did in undergrad. We were given a lot of resources, and I looked through all of those. Repetition. Repetition. Repetition. There is no magic formula. We also do muscle card tests instead of listing origin/insertion and innervation, ect. on the practical. Note cards weren’t cutting it for me, and writing it out over and over wasn’t cutting it for me either. I purchased a textbook with pictures of individual muscles and would look at the muscle and try to guess everything before looking at the sheet. Then I would type it up. I know writing is better, but it takes too long, and your time is minimal. I typed it and read it out loud. And I’d just keep typing it. I got a perfect score on that test, so it worked. I might have had an easier time had I been forced to learn this information in undergrad, but we were only required to know the actions of the muscles.

In my soft tissues intervention class, I practiced on my mom for 1.5 weeks leading up to the practical. I will be doing the same for applied anatomy, except it will be 2.5 weeks.

All my other classes only have midterms/finals, and they all had review sessions and study guides. My cohort worked on those guides together. I then went through and would do an initial read through, then read out loud material I couldn’t get right away, and then would write things and come up with mnemonics. I also used Quizlets. I studied the week before for three of my midterms and the week before for my physical therapy practice midterm (because my success advisor said students seem to have difficulties with this class, so I took that to heart).

If you are not lucky enough to be provided with study guides and your professors believe you must know everything, you absolutely need to form a study group. What one person may not know, another will. Your cohort is your lifeline; you absolutely will not make it alone. I can promise you it is impossible.

I knew coming into this program that I would have to change things. I couldn’t study for gross anatomy the way I studied for A&P in undergrad because the way I studied then was just too time-consuming. At least for me, note cards weren’t going to work, which is the method I used in A&P. So while I have tried to provide an exhaustive list of how I went about studying, you might need other methods or might even discover your own methods that worked.

If you have any questions or need further advice, don’t hesitate to email me!

My Apprehensions About Starting PT School

I know I am not alone when I say I am very nervous about officially starting PT school tomorrow. With 5 classes looming ahead, which is probably two less than full-time programs (even though technically I’m still full-time), I am creating a schedule within my planner that will keep me on track with studying and keeping me on top of assignments.

This trimester I am taking gross anatomy I, applied anatomy I, physical therapy practice I, evidence informed practice I, and soft tissue manipulation I. I think I’ve purchased a total of 14 textbooks for these classes, which is mind-boggling. That in itself is a little intimidating because I can’t even imagine the amount of reading I’ll be doing. My English degree was absolutely nothing compared to this upcoming challenge.

I am most apprehensive about starting gross anatomy, as I’m sure many of my classmates are. With only 3 lecture tests for the whole trimester, there’s much more material to know and much more material that needs to be remembered. Not to mention during virtual orientation, the professors emphasized that gross anatomy would be hard. And all I could think about was, ‘What am I getting myself into?’

And we actually have midterms, which some of you might laugh at me for, but in undergrad and even during my prerequisites, I didn’t really have many midterms. It was just tests and a final. Some of my English classes had a midterm, but it wasn’t really a big deal.

It’s also tough because I have bipolar disorder type I, and I developed this thing in undergrad. It caused me to drop an entire semester, take a break, and then switch to a college that offered an online degree. It also caused me to be hospitalized during post-grad while getting my prerequisites done. And it’s not necessarily easier because I’ve been having issues with cyclical depression thanks to possible thyroid issues. I feel great now, and I’m hoping I’ll be on an even keel for quite some time.

In any case, during the orientation, we talked about a thing called grit, which is basically the amount of determination you have to get something done. What was a little discouraging to hear is that people with a mental illness, such as myself, statistically have lower levels of grit. I know there are outliers, and perhaps I am one. After all, even when I was hospitalized, I was determined to get out and finish chemistry and biology–and I did get A’s in both.

But four years is a long time in the world of mental illness since ANYTHING can happen. Academically, it might go fast. Getting my prerequisites done certainly flew by, but I can’t help but to be apprehensive about having some mental health crisis. After all, I found stability for three beautiful years and didn’t think I’d have an incident ever again. That incident then taught me that I can no longer be complacent. I cannot take stability for granted.

I am terrified. Almost a month ago I came out of a depressive episode that was threatening to take a turn for the worst (it usually does that when I’m rapid cycling, that I’ll get really bad and then come out of it). During that depressive episode, I didn’t care about anything. I didn’t get much done other than what I needed to get done, which I suppose one could argue is a feat in itself. Even so, my author life was almost nonexistent, and I didn’t workout much. I couldn’t even enjoy my husband’s month-long stay until he started his new job at another trucking company. I also didn’t care that I was starting PT school soon and whether I’d start or not based on the ten million things that still needed to be done.

So I suppose I’m primarily nervous because I know my health isn’t steady right now. My psychiatrist took my thyroid levels at the beginning of the year, and they were high, which made a lot of sense and explained many issues I’d be having, from weight gain that I cannot lose to bloat to excessively dry/frizzy hair to the cyclical depression and so on. I don’t want the depression to come back because I am such a naturally energic/driven person who enjoys school and looks forward to learning how to be the best physical therapist possible. I can’t truly enjoy all that depressed.

But I guess all I can do is take it one day at a time, right?

What You’re Not Told About Prepping for PT School

Depending on when you decide to start, the summer or the winter before you officially start PT school is stressful. It doesn’t matter how prepared you are to get everything done. It is just stressful.

I’ll start by saying that I am incredibly privileged. Ever since my husband became a truck driver, I thought the best thing for both of us would be to move back in with my parents so that he wouldn’t be paying rent plus all the other bills associated with living in a townhome. He could concentrate on paying off his debt, and I could concentrate on saving what I could for school. So I pay for what I can, and my parents help me out when I need it.

But going through the process of prepping for grad school has made me realize that it really is for the privileged. People who can’t pay out of pocket are going to have to borrow close to the max amount every trimester for the next four years until they graduate. It’s going to be even worse if they don’t live at home.

So that’s one thing you’ll need to keep in mind–you’ll be spending more money than you think.

Let’s begin!

  1. You’ll be spending money on the background check. That much is a given. But not only are you spending money on your urine test and to get a piece of paper to give to a company that will take your fingerprints, but oftentimes you’ll have to pay again to get your fingerprints done, incurring another expense on top of what you already paid for the background check.
  2. You’ll have to buy all the equipment needed for your program. This ranges from the stethoscope to goniometers to scrubs and whatever else your programs demand of you. I spent roughly 280 dollars out of pocket–and I haven’t even purchased my scrubs or my APTA membership yet. Because of this, I’m likely going to be renting all of my textbooks since I only want to take out enough loans to pay for tuition and fees. And I’ll likely be using my Kindle for it.
  3. Your school will require health insurance from you. I know some graduate programs offer insurance, but mine doesn’t, so I have my own. Thus, if you have insurance, it should pay for all the shots you have to make sure you’re up-to-date on as well as a physical, TB test, and anything else your school might ask of you. In the US, it’s a privilege to have health insurance, and unfortunately, it’s usually a requirements to start a graduate health science program. Thus far, I’ve spent 100 dollars out-of-pocket for all the medical-based stuff.
  4. The paperwork seems like it’s never-ending. What you filled out just to apply for the program is just the beginning. Once you’re accepted, you’re bombarded with things you have to fill out, like verification forms for your insurance, promissory notes for loans, and so on and so forth. At one point I received an email telling me that after my advisor audited me, it’d been determined that I missed signing six forms. SIX FORMS! Do better than me and thoroughly read everything that comes in your inbox.
  5. I had to do a lot of required modules in preparation for PT school. I don’t know if the modules were a requirement because much of my classes are online or because of COVID, but I feel like it was giving me an idea of what I can expect from a typical day as I go about my academic studies. And let me tell you, those modules took me hours upon hours to do. Now I know some of the modules are likely requirements in general, like elderly abuse and the like, but there are other ones about how to use various online tools necessary for the program.
  6. Let’s go back to the APTA membership. I’m not sure if all schools require it, but mine does, and I think it’s 92 dollars for the state my school is in, which is Florida; thus, it varies by state. And apparently that’s great considering that’s the student discount. If you don’t have a job, I’d probably try to get a small part-time job–and I say small because I know some people will be attending 3-year or even 2-year programs. You’ll only accumulate more debt otherwise.
  7. Now this is a positive, and I imagine more schools than mine do this, but there are so many resources available and so many people reaching out to you prior to starting your first semester. There have been many opportunities to attend virtual sessions, but I only chose one because it’s the only one I was interested in–a session on the day in the life of a grad student. However, there were plenty more, like how to navigate financial aid and learning about virtual simulations. It makes me feel confident that once I start my semester, my program is not going to let me fall behind. It seems like it will be a very different experience from undergrad.

Overall, the takeaway from this is that the process is time-consuming and expensive, so don’t expect to breathe easy before you start.

Personal Training As Preventative Health

So from what I understand, physical therapy is entering the realm of preventative health, doing its best to market itself as a profession that can help you out before you injure yourself; however, a conversation I had today with another personal trainer makes me want to discuss personal training as another form of preventative health.

But first, we must understand the differences between personal trainers and physical therapists. Personal trainers do not treat injuries while physical therapists do. They can also help with aesthetics in a way that physical therapists do not. Even so, oftentimes I get the impression the general public thinks personal trainers are only around to help with weight loss and eating better and building muscle.

That’s not true, and that’s not what I specialize in. I specialize in helping out those with orthopedic issues. Keep in mind I do not treat them because I do not diagnose and do not do assessments in an attempt to diagnose. Much of my knowledge comes from continuing education and the myriad of observation hours I had to do in order to understand that these types of orthopedic conditions work best with these exercises. For example, someone with bulging discs will do well with press-ups. However, you wouldn’t want to give someone with compressed discs press-ups.

I like working with these individuals because obviously I want to be a physical therapist, but also because they’re all unique and you can’t get away with doing the same exercises with every one. Not every person with arthritis is going to have trouble with their knees. Not every person with SI pain is going to be limited in the types of exercises they can do. Some clients with arthritis in their knees are getting special treatments and can do squats while others absolutely will not squat, even if you offered them all the money in the world.

Personal trainers are more than just weight-loss experts or aesthetics people. We can prevent people from getting injured so that physical therapists are not tasked with the burden of having to heal a knee messed up because of a poorly educated trainer or poorly educated individual. Personal trainers can help with muscle imbalances so that way you’re not raking your lawn one day and you develop tennis elbow because of weak/tight muscles.

Really, we can just prevent you from getting hurt to begin with and keep you from entirely breaking down in old age.

How to Draw on Leadership Traits to Boost Your Application

When you begin the process of filling out your application through PTCAS, you’ll notice that in the supporting information section, it’ll ask for all of your experiences, achievements, and licenses and certifications. Some of the schools themselves will even require a resume.

For some people, especially non-traditional students, this section can make one a little nervous. If you’re working a full-time job, for example, you don’t have time to do any extracurricular activities for school. I certainly didn’t, and it had been too long for me to be able to write down that I was a president for a creative writing club or even that I had my own magazine at one point.

The only thing you might be doing is that job. Or you might be a traditional student working part-time, but you feel your job in, say, fast food, isn’t relevant at all to your application or even to your resume, if the school requires one.

I know I struggled with the experiences and achievements part, because I don’t have much of neither. As it turns out, everything that you’ve done recently matters. For the experiences, I put down that I am a personal trainer at such and such place, and I also did a little bit of volunteering (it really wasn’t much, but it still looks good). For the achievements, the only thing I had were Dean’s List awards. Whatever you have, put it down. When it came to licenses and certifications, I put down every personal training-related one that I had, even the specialty ones that don’t take much effort to earn. I encourage you, if you haven’t already, to get certified in CPR/First Aid/AED because that’s one certification you can put down, and you’ll need it anyway once you start clinicals.

If you have not done anything of note and you have time (you should because how else will you fit in PT school?) go out and find ways to volunteer, as any and all volunteering opportunities can be added to the application. All this section shows is that you’re well-rounded and are more than just physical therapy. You don’t want to be only that. You want to show you have a life outside of school, outside of work even, and that you can balance. It’s not a section I would ignore just because you don’t have anything. All it takes is a weekend or two at a soup kitchen.

But let’s get to the difficult part. You’ve been working in retail for five years. For the most part, it’s just another job to earn a little bit of money and maybe pay a few bills. All you’ve been doing is stocking shelves. How can that demonstrate leadership traits when you feel like all you primarily do is what you’re told? Well, don’t entirely disregard this job just because it has nothing to do with physical therapy and you feel like it’s the easiest job on Earth you could teach a 3-year-old in less than five minutes.

Demonstrating leadership isn’t always about telling people what to do or putting yourself so out there that all attention is on you. Being a stocker is in the field of customer service, and what do you have to do? Sometimes you have to serve the customer. You can highlight that in your resume or somewhere in the application. Highlight times where you went above and beyond serving a customer (you better have at least one experience of this in your job).

For example, even though I’m a personal trainer, when times are slow, I sometimes go up to the welcome desk and help them out, especially when they are busy. Sometimes this involves helping them out with tasks they’re having issues juggling because of customers, or dealing with customers themselves. For example, I recently learned how to do a guest pass, and that’s not part of my description as a personal trainer. Do I remember it? Not exactly, as I learned it right before COVID-19 hit. But I learned it in an attempt to help them out more as they are always in need of it.

So if you haven’t yet, find out ways you can go above and beyond at your job. Do not do this only to put this on your application; it is a useful skill to have as a physical therapist. It’s a great habit to have, one that will allow you to deliver excellent care to your patients instead of being just a therapist who treats and kicks the patient out the door when everything is said and done.

If you work a job as a stocker and see someone who looks confused, take the initiative and ask what you can do to help them. Put some out-of-reach items in the basket for that person using a motorized scooter.

Always be looking for opportunities to take the initiative, no matter what job you have.

You’ve done a lot more than you know that you can add to your resume. And last, make sure that when writing down what you did, whether it be for the application itself or a resume, that you write down your experiences in such a way that leadership traits are conveyed. So brainstorm everything that you did, write it down, and spice it up.

Next post will discuss why I applied to only one school and how you should approach this process.

PT School Observation Hours and Letters of Recommendation

Every school requires a different amount of observation hours. I received a little over 400, even though my school, I think, required just 80. In my opinion, you’d want to get more than the minimum if there’s a part of your application that’s a little weak. For me, I’m an over-achiever and so wanted to be beyond average in every part of my application so that way the only question there’d be is when can I expect the interview. But in reality, you really only need to do the minimum hours unless you only have one setting. I’d recommend getting a minimum of 2 settings, and ideally a minimum of 3.

I did in-patient and out-patient. I actually did do an assisted living facility as well, but I could never get my hours confirmed because the only PT who was there that I observed no longer worked at that clinic; it was rather difficult getting a hold of him.

Observation hours aren’t difficult to land, but the best ones to get are through referral because it ensures you’re being sent to a place you’ll most likely enjoy. I knew people who once considered being physical therapists but changed their minds because of the settings they observed in and the dispassionate physical therapists who occupied them. I could only pity them because if they had had the right experience, they likely would have been in PT school by now.

My outpatient hours came from my being a PT aide. A few years prior, I had actually applied to be an aide since I was in desperate need of a job; however, I never heard back most likely because nothing in my resume indicated my inclination toward the field–I only had a mere fascination with it at the time. This time around, however, I was a personal trainer, which most likely indicated I’d take the job seriously. It also indicated that I could be molded for the field of physical therapy.

I had an interview at Walmart that same day after the PT aide interview. The interviewer told me he wanted to hire me on the spot since he saw how I interacted with members when I worked at the Y. I told him I needed to think about it because I really wanted to work as an aide, even though it paid less. I immediately went home and sent an email saying I needed to know about the job because otherwise I’d have to accept the job at Walmart. I received the offer a few hours later.

This is another way you can get hours and get paid for it. Being an aide doesn’t look any better than doing observation hours, however. The job responsibilities are very different, and as an aide, you don’t have as much time to ask questions to assist with your learning. Yet, I loved that job and credit it for being the reason I’m pursuing this field.

My in-patient hours came from a friend who had extensive physical therapy on his knees at the VA. He got me the information for the head PT and even let the head PT know about me. Then the assisted living facility came from a physical therapist within the VA. So I never needed to do any cold calling or approaching or even emailing. I also had other connections from being a personal trainer, but I didn’t need to use any of them.

Now some colleges require an internship, which makes getting hours all the more easy, especially if you live in a big city where it’s competitive to observe. Just don’t waste that internship on something else, because I do know pre-PT students who ended up observing elsewhere and had to scramble hours together at the last minute with no connections to go off. It’s great to see what other professions there are, but if you’re heavily set on PT, choose PT as a setting to observe.

Now when I was researching letters of recommendation, one of the biggest concerns students seemed to have was how to conduct themselves in a manner that allowed them to get said letters. As an observer, there isn’t a whole lot that you can do other than wipe down mats and fetch equipment. If you’re at a hospital, especially the VA, you could be sent to prosthetics to fetch equipment and could even learn how to put some of the equipment together.

In any case, you first and foremost need to be alert to what is going on around you. Sometimes it can be overwhelming being in a clinic, especially if there are a lot of therapists. My advice is to choose two therapists and latch on to them. (If you’re in a small clinic with only two or three therapists, latch on to all of them.) Be willing to do everything they tell you to do, and ask as many questions as you can about what they’re doing, when appropriate. Show a keen interest in the profession.

I always made it a goal to ask at least one question during any session of observation hours. And I say one because I only got my letters of recommendation from the in-patient setting. By the time I began to observe in this setting, I knew a lot more than I did when I was an aide as far as why certain exercises were being used. But, of course, there was still so much more to learn. Yet, some days were very slow and it was hard to find a question to ask. But the question is there, which is why it is important to pay attention. This can be accomplished by knowing what your attention span is for these kinds of things, so if you can only do three hours at a time, only do three hours. Not all days are going to be exciting.

Ultimately, you want to make yourself an asset, and then asking for letters will not be difficult.

I actually wanted to plan out how I was going to ask for the letters because I was nervous. Who wouldn’t be? Despite knowing they’d say yes, I still didn’t feel ready. I still felt like I had more to offer that way my letters would blow the decision committee out of the water. But one physical therapist, who I had a more casual relationship with because I just started to get to know him and he had a smaller patient load, just told me to do it. In fact, he said he was going to do it if I didn’t. So I turned on my personality, joked with both of the therapists that I was temporarily imprisoning them (no lie), and asked. And of course they said yes. No biggie. Do whatever you have to do to psyche yourself up to ask. Also, don’t be discouraged if they say no. This is why you should do more than one setting, so that way you have a handful of therapists or more that you can ask.

In summary, try to observe in settings that were either recommended to you or you received referrals for. If you have neither, simply start visiting or calling places. Build relationships once you start, and I would ask for the letters once you begin to apply for peace of mind. It’s not that I thought the PT’s would lose them, but it’s much easier to get everything gathered when it’s fresh. You also have a good reason to stay on top of the letters since you will need them soon. Otherwise, you could end up in my situation where the physical therapist in that assisted living facility couldn’t even recall who I was despite the assistant rehab director knowing me personally.

Next post will discuss how to draw on leadership traits that will give your application an extra boost.

The PT School Interview Day

This is a day every pre-PT student looks forward to. Yet, it is also a day filled with much trepidation over the unknown. How will the interviewers be? What sorts of questions will be asked? Will you be interviewed one-on-one or in a group? What are the rest of the interviewees going to be like and will they outshine you? This may be one of the most nerve-racking days of your life because it determines such a large chunk of your future. I work as a personal trainer, and I never prepared as much for an interview for that job as I did for PT school.

First off, I would say it’s absolutely essential to download this guide by Gaurav Khanal and Karin Cathers. It’s never too early to start reading it, especially because this book contains a myriad of questions that were asked in PT school interviews along with common answers given. The authors then suggest better answers to make you stand out as a candidate. I used these questions to practice and would often do so in the bathtub, asking them out loud and then crafting my answers over time. I read it more than once too, which I suggest doing.

Now on to the interview itself.

You have gotten the interview, and one of the first things you might be thinking about is what exactly you should wear. Most PT school interviews require business formal. For men, that is a suit and tie. Avoid overly flashy colors and patterns. For women, the is a suit with a blouse underneath.

I was troubled myself because I am a colorful person, quite figuratively and literally, and my dad recommended tan or white or black or navy blue, all dull colors, in my opinion. My psychiatrist, on the other hand, encouraged me to go with pink because she rebelled in her own way. She did wear business formal, but during her day, forgoing tights was like going naked (she simply hated tights!). She also wore a full-blown dress instead of a two piece suit. Is that business formal? I don’t know, but it worked for her.

I met myself in the middle by getting a tan suit with a bright orange blouse. I also wore a gold butterfly clip in my hair to really stand out. I got some fake pearl earrings and a pretty flower necklace, both from Claire’s. I have a bad nail biting habit, so I glued on some French nails. I wore tights and black pumps. However, wearing the pumps was a massive mistake for me because my feet screamed at me in less than thirty minutes of being led around campus. So for women, I recommend wearing dress shoes you are already familiar with. I also had a slight wardrobe malfunction because one of the threads came undone at the back of my skirt. I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who noticed, but make sure you inspect your outfit before purchasing it.

I didn’t wear make-up, so ladies, this is not something you have to do. If you choose to, keep it simple. I would forego eyeliner and eyeshadow, keep the blush and foundation light, and use a minimal amount of mascara to avoid flaking or clumping. You want your make-up to be low maintenance so you don’t really have to touch it up during interview day. I kept lip balm on me, and that was it. I would also remove any facial piercings, except for earrings, obviously. Stay conservative for this day. This tip applies to men as well.

Gentlemen, just keep your face clean shaven, keep your facial hair neat and orderly.

When you are being led around campus, be alert. Sometimes the student PT’s leading you will be asked if anyone stood out to them, and you want to be that person. This means it is absolutely vital you ask questions. I had a small notebook with questions already prepared that I wanted to ask about the program itself. I was curious about their imaging class, about the fellowships and residencies they offered, and if there were any research opportunities or community involvement projects. Do not ask questions whose answers you can find online. I can tell you in all honesty that it was mostly me asking questions outside of our scheduled interviews. Did that make a difference? I can’t really be sure, but I’m certain it made me stand out.

Make sure you also interact with the other students. Do not see them as competition but potential classmates. Really, don’t be afraid to talk to them; they are just as nervous as you are. They’ll likely welcome the potential distraction, and getting to know the other interviewees will bring down nerves. We mostly talked about where we came from because we were all interviewing for the flex program.

And speaking of the flex program, our group was incredibly small, only five people. It seems to me that the University of St. Augustine heavily vets ahead of time because they do schedule calls with you prior to actually submitting the application for consideration. Nothing was recommended to me, so my app was sent right away, but some people do receive recommendations to re-take a certain class or re-do the GRE or something like that to improve their chances. They don’t necessarily have to take the advice and can still submit, but there are others who applied to other campuses whose applications were outright rejected for submission based on many factors. Your university may do this. It may not. Regardless, don’t expect your interviewing group to be as small as mine was–and I was grateful for this because that actually eliminated my nerves immediately.

Our group of 5 was broken up to two–3 for spring and 2 for fall. Obviously I am with the fall group. Now a group interview can go one of three ways:

1. A question can be asked, and it's a free-for-all. You'll have to jump in and answer when you can, obviously not cutting someone else off. Thus, if you know your university is going to be doing a group interview, prepare for this possibility by practicing interviewing enough that you are confident you can answer any question thrown at you, even if it's one you've never practiced before. 

2. A question is asked, but the interviewer chooses who interviews first. This style of interviewing is most people's preferred because it gives them time to come up with an answer (save for the one who was asked first) without feeling pressured. You don't have to worry about whether or not you're going to have time to answer a question because you might be drowned out. Once the answer is given, the interviewee moves on to the next person. 

3. A question is asked, an answer is provided, and a conversation ensues. This is how my interview went. I would answer the question, and the interviewee would provide some insight. The other interviewer would then answer, and some more insight would be provided. In an interview style like this, you can still say something yourself within the same question as long as the other interviewer is done speaking. Of course, you don't want to say something that contradicts the other interviewer or steps on toes, so to speak. 

One-on-one interviews aren’t too much different. With both group and one-on-one, you could actually be interviewed by multiple people be it staff or staff and a student or two.

The best way to prepare for interviewing is just to practice it. Whether you practice on your own or practice in front of someone, it’s necessary that you have a working knowledge of the kinds of questions you could be asked. I’d write down the questions and wrote the answers to them. I then typed up everything in a word document and printed it out. As I practiced, sometimes I crossed through and wrote a better way of saying something.

The ultimate question you need to be prepared to answer is why do you want to be a physical therapist. I believe this is answered in the book I linked above, but I can tell you one thing you should never say is that you want to help people. You can help people in any profession, but why physical therapy?

I can’t remember all of the questions I was asked. I do know that all of the questions but one were questions I had already been practicing on my own. If you’re this lucky, do your best to make it not seem rehearsed. As for the question I never practiced, it was my thoughts on group studying. I had done group studying before, so this one wasn’t too hard to answer. However, the interviewer did throw a curve ball when they asked what would I do if a student came to our group with a problem and no matter how many times I tried to help them out, they just couldn’t get it.

For questions that keep you on your toes, there is no right or wrong answer. I said I’d see if I could get someone else to help. The interviewer then pointed out that sometimes as a student you just have to consider yourself. After all, if there’s a student who just can’t get it and said student is thus slowing your entire studying session down, the best thing you can do is to get someone else whose job it is to help to take over.

You also need to have an understanding of the physical therapy profession as a whole because you might be asked about it. I wasn’t, so I arguably got off easy. You need to know what vision 2020 is and what beyond vision 2020 is for sure. Basically, keep up-to-date on the profession through APTA. I’d recommend having discussions about the profession with physical therapists you’ve shadowed. And I can’t say it enough, but the book above also provides a lot of things you should consider when it comes to learning about this profession.

It’s especially crucial to have an understanding because you might have an essay question you have to do during your interview. I didn’t, so I’m not going to pretend to be an expert. Just treat it like you’re writing an essay for the GRE.

Now I know some of you who are reading this might be the nervous type and are wondering what to do about managing your nerves so that way you don’t start stumbling over your words. Again, it’s all about being prepared. The more you practice interview questions, the better at interviewing you will be in general, even if you’re given a question you are entirely unfamiliar with. In fact, if you can’t answer right away, just be honest and say you would like a moment to formulate your thoughts. This will not count against you since it shows you care to put thought into what you wish to say.

Don’t bite your nails or touch your face or tap your foot or jiggle your leg or play with your hair or engage in any other fidgeting kinds of behaviors. Do speak clearly, maintain eye contact, keep your hands folded in your lap during interview time, sit up straight, smile, relax your shoulders, and take notes, if necessary.

A final piece of advice I have is to understand where you are at as far as your interpersonal skills are concerned. You can look excellent on paper, but if you do not communicate well, the person who is average on paper but excellent in speech sitting next to you is going to get your seat. Interpersonal skills matter a great deal in this profession, as you should know.

This is your day. I was told it numerous times, and now I’m going to pass it on, but be yourself. You may not be able to fully be yourself (my morbid sense of humor had to be kept under lock and key), but don’t mute yourself to the point where people can’t get a grasp of who you might be. When I went to my interview, I assumed I had already been chosen for the school. Such a thought gave me the confidence needed to blow through the interview and come away feeling certain I had landed an offer.

You landed this for a reason. They are interested in you. Don’t be afraid to show them why.

Next post will be all about observation hours and letters of recommendation.

Should You Re-Take That Prerequisite?

You’re likely reading this post because you have a C or two or, if you’re unlucky, maybe more. Or you might have all B’s in your prerequisites and are thus unhappy with your prerequisite GPA. But there is no easy answer as to whether or not you should re-take a prerequisite. Even listening to the sage advice of your advisor could still leave you feeling unsure because it’s costly re-taking a class and it delays your getting into PT school. Well, I’ll spend time discussing what you should do if you find yourself in one or a few of the scenarios I am about to list.

Now keep in mind the best thing to do if you still can’t come to your own conclusion is to contact the school(s) you are applying to for an opinion. Students have, after all, gotten into schools with a GPA of less than a 3.0 because they stood out in some other way. These are mostly students whose GPA wouldn’t have been much improved by retaking classes or students who have retaken these courses before but still struggle getting that grade.

  1. That niggling C. If you’re like me, a C may be absolutely unacceptable. You want everything in your application to look flawless, and that includes your prerequisite grades. At one point, I had to consider the what-if scenario of getting a C in physics. At the same time, it was a massive stomachache of a thought thinking about having to retake that nightmare. So I decided to ask some pre-PT and PT students. I asked if my cGPA and pGPA were already fine and a C in physics didn’t affect it much, would I need to re-take it? The answer was a resounding no. Now, they told me, if it had been any of my biology classes, especially anatomy, I probably should, but because it was physics I needn’t worry. If you have multiple C’s though and haven’t re-taken yet, you’ll probably have to re-take a few. If you’ve already re-taken and still can’t quite get there, just go on ahead and submit your application. Just make sure you are very strong in all other areas of your application. For example, you’ll absolutely have to have a high GRE, something I only had to worry about receiving the minimum of.
  2. All the B’s. I was doing just fine with my prerequisites, but out of curiosity, I asked what would happen if a student were to get all B’s in their prerequisites. Should they consider re-taking any? The answer was also a resounding no, especially if you had to really fight for those B’s. You don’t want to risk re-taking a prerequisite and doing worse. Some schools take the better grade, but some will average the two. If you need to bring up your GPA, just take some easy classes where the risk of doing poorly in them is low. Another bit of advice is just taking more upper level science courses.
  3. cGPA meets the mark but pGPA doesn’t. You have a 3.4 GPA, but a mix of B’s and C’s in your prerequisites. You meet the minimum for all the schools you want to apply to, but regardless, it’s understood your pGPA needs to be there as well. Everything else in your application looks great, but it’s your dang prerequisite grades. You should re-take classes you didn’t do so well in. You should also be very selective about what schools you’re applying to, applying only to ones who take your best grades.
  4. pGPA meets the mark but cGPA doesn’t. Obviously you don’t need to re-take any prerequisite courses unless doing so will up your cGPA. What you’ll need to do instead is take more classes. I’ve read it’s beneficial to tack on another minor or, as stated above, do more upper level science courses.
  5. Community college. Some wonder if they should re-take their courses at a community college. I would do it only because it’s cheaper. I took most of my prerequisites at two of them for that very reason. However, taking them because you think they might be easier isn’t a good reason because that isn’t necessarily true. Plenty of students where I first went still failed anatomy, after all. It’s true class sizes are smaller so teachers can sometimes devote individualized attention to each student. But for me, that was only true in my physics and chemistry courses. All my other classes were about the size of a high school class, if not larger, and apparently one anatomy class had a single lecture with over 200 students.

Now I want to end this post with more hope for those who still feel a little hopeless. I ended last fall 2019 with an A in physics. When I told my psychiatrist this during one of my appointments, she admitted to me she received a B in the first one and a C in the second. Like me, she said, she hated physics and only put in enough effort to get the grades she needed.

When she went to her interview for medical school she told the interviewer that if she needed to re-take physics, they better let her know so she can turn right around and leave because she wasn’t going to do it. The interviewer told her she had nothing to worry about.

You might have to explain any C’s you didn’t fix, but my psychiatrist clearly conveyed that the reason she even got that C is because she didn’t feel anything for that class and recognized it was unnecessary to be a doctor. If you’re not afraid to be bold, go for it. Otherwise, you’ll need to weave a convincing story.

Next post will detail the interview for PT school.