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

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

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 get a head start on my applied anatomy final because the professor released the study guide two weeks in advance. I’m just not used to that, not when I was able to get weeks ahead of everything in all of my prerequisites.

Grad school is so difficult because you are learning far more information than you ever did in your undergrad, and it’s exceedingly so when you are working on a doctorate or a PhD. But I imagine things would be so much worse if I didn’t have my cohort; I know with a lot of other grad programs, you are very much working in isolation. We are all taking the same classes, doing the same assignments, striving for the same thing with no competition between us. We all chat on GroupMe, and we all feel the same things. It was never just me that felt like a test was too hard. It was never just me that was freaking out about a practical, not knowing if I’d pass or not.

Somehow I managed to come away with 4 A’s and a B+. How? I have no clue. I got a 70 on a midterm in soft tissue and didn’t think three A’s would be enough to pull that up to an A, but somehow it was enough. With gross anatomy, the second exam was tough as was the final–and I don’t guess well. But still, an A. Somehow. And I found the midterm and final for evidence informed practice to be a little challenging, so getting an A in that class was surprising. I also found the final for physical therapy practice to be a little challenging as well, even moreso because I threw luck to the wind and studied only quizlets I found online. But I wound up with an A in that class too. And applied anatomy? I think I got a B+ because all of my assignments were B’s. My very first practical I scraped by with an 84, and at the point of my testing, I had the highest score (don’t know if anyone who came after beat it, but I’m sure others did).

Despite these great grades, I am still very nervous for next term because I now know what’s in store. We were told our first term would be the hardest since it is a period of adjustment. You have to essentially learn how to study again. You have to get used to absorbing a great deal of information. You have to develop the mental stamina to be able to study all the time. My ocular muscles are so strong now that my eyes don’t jump around from studying anymore like they used to. And you have to make great sacrifices, sacrifices so great I had to center myself and figure out how to make my marriage work among all this as well as being able to keep my small part-time job because I just like making money.

It is so hard, and I’m just a flex student! I took five classes while the residential students took seven.

There were many times where I felt like I was crashing and burning out. There were many times where it was my anxiety keeping me going, even during the moments where my light had burned out. There were many times where I mulled over therapy, mulled over seeking a diagnosis for ADHD because my study habits are honestly crap despite my grades. It’s very possible I would not have needed to study all that time if I could just keep my butt down and study for two hours straight instead of being distracted by whatever flew into my mind. And I’m going to be honest and say I rarely did my readings.

Yet, somehow I did it.

We are told to not worry about grades, to learn the material. But the mindset that grades matter is frankly impossible to break when you’ve grown up being told that they are. After all, the only students who ever received actual awards during school were students with great grades. There were only ever A and A and B honor rolls, never B honor rolls or even a most improved honor roll or anything like that. And we all know that perfect attendance awards are classist/ableist jokes. So I want to keep the momentum going while ensuring I do learn the material so that I am the best physical therapist possible.

It’s so hard to separate proficient learning from that letter grade. Getting a C would make me feel like I haven’t learned the material at all. Getting a C would have me sailing into the arms of my success advisor. If I get a C next term, then I could fail the following term. Or so the thought process believes.

I know this sounds super bleak, but this is raw, this is honest. PT school is not for the faint of heart. You have to be truly passionate about this discipline to get through it despite the struggle. You have to understand that even when you’re being brought to your knees, you have to get back up and keep going. You also have to understand that PT school is hard. It is supposed to be. Even the smartest, even those who might have graduated valedictorian, are going to find it hard.

Despite being terrified of next term, I have hope that somehow I will cope better. Somehow I will manage my mind better. I will be used to it all.

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