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.

Why I Have Chosen Physical Therapy

Why I Have Chosen Physical Therapy

I have decided to change the direction of this blog a little bit to match more with how my life currently is. I haven’t had much time to write the third book of The Stars Trilogy¬†because I always find I’m having to prioritize studying–and I perceive my life being this way for quite some time. (I knowing I’m pulling a George R.R. Martin with the last book in the trilogy.) So I’d like to start documenting my experiences as a pre-PT, non-traditional student who has a Bachelor’s in English and just needs to complete pre-requisites in order to apply. I was thinking of documenting things after being accepted but figured it’d be much more beneficial for future pre-PT students to understand just what they’re going to have to do to make their dreams work for them.

I plan to start applying the fall of 2019 so that way I can hopefully start either the summer or fall of 2020 at University of St. Augustine. My plan is to take the GRE this summer, so I’ll definitely be able to write about that and document what I’m doing to prepare for it–and hopefully my preparation gives me a decent score.

Currently I’m taking anatomy and physiology II and medical terminology, and I foresee A’s in both of them when the semester is through…which is soon. I’m not taking a full course load, mostly because I’m able to pay for school out of pocket with my job as a personal trainer–and trying to do a full course load would not be at all friendly with the type of schedule I’d like to keep to train my current set of clients. I don’t want to take out a loan until PT school, as I know that’s when the debt will start building up.

***

I’ve thought for quite some time about why I’d like to do physical therapy. It’s likely a question that’s going to pop up in a PT school interview. Hopefully by then I’ll have the reason down to three concise sentences, but I’d like to use this post to really put out there why I’m pursuing PT.

Back when I was a trainer at the Y and in desperate need of a second income, I applied for a PT rehab aide position, got the interview, and had to get an immediate answer about whether or not I’d gotten the job, or else I would have been stuck working Walmart (the hiring manager was going to hire me the same day since he saw my customer service skills at the Y). So thank goodness I received a reply and got the job as a rehab aide, or else thing would likely be very different right now, and probably not in a good way. Not to put down Walmart workers, but a lifelong career there is not an aspiration of mine.

I worked there for about three months until I had to go where the money was, but it was being a rehab aide that launched me on this journey of self-discovery. As a rehab aide, I was toying with the idea of PT school but was terrified of having to take chemistry as a prerequisite. But I loved the rehab side of the human body more than the personal training side. I knew I wanted to rehab people. I fell in love with the way patients would express a deep sense of gratitude because the PTs either rid them of their pain or greatly decreased it. It’s not the gratitude that I’m after, of course. It’s the knowledge that I would be part of a profession that aims to improve someone’s quality of life.

As a personal trainer who trains many clients going through rehab, I love how physical therapy has improved many of their conditions that otherwise make my job a little bit harder; I have to rack my brain for a way to work around the pain. Oftentimes that is not easy. In reality, I want to be the person who one day treats that pain. I want to be a part of that since pain can severely decrease a person’s quality of life. I would know, having dealt with fibromylagia, a bone spur in my left ankle, and a jammed hip.

Pain can be an all-consuming force, the only thing your mind can fixate on throughout the day. It can prevent you from doing the things you want to do, from doing the things you need to do. It causes disability world wide.

Physical therapists aren’t magicians, but they are on the front line in pain management since they take a holistic approach that involves neither surgery nor medication. Surgery can be costly, and while there is no shame in needing to take medications, physical therapy provides a long-term solution to pain management. Medication for pain simply masks the symptoms–they generally don’t target the cause.

My local community college was supposed to get a PTA program, and I was absolutely set on this, had already signed up for it, only to be told that they, in fact, failed in getting the program. I was then going to settle for either OT or OTA. I’ll admit to feeling a little bit lackluster about having to settle for this. After all, the biomechanics of the human body is what draws me toward physical therapy. The only draw toward OT is the idea that it’s still rehab and it still helps people, but I don’t have a true, concrete reason for wanting to do OT the way I do with PT.

Frustrated with my CC’s inability to get the PTA program, I began to look in to other PTA programs. There’s one about an hour from where I live, so it’d be an hour commute to and back, possibly either 4 or 5 days a week. My dad didn’t think it was such a good idea considering the wear and tear I’d put on my car. He told me to just stick with OT. At the time I agreed.

What ultimately pushed me toward PT was a stroller workout instructor who casually dropped she was in PT school. I was taken aback by this information considering it was roughly 10 AM on a weekday when I was speaking to her, and so I was wondering why she wasn’t in class. Most DPT programs are full time, Monday through Friday. Later she explained to me she was doing a flex program through the University of St. Augustine. As you can guess, I immediately began doing my research.

As I looked into the program, I settled on switching from OT to PT. The program would still allow me to work until clinicals, as it’s a 4 year instead of a 3 year program, meaning you’re usually not taking more than 12 credit hours a semester. It’s flex in that most of the material is online, and you go on campus twice a month on the weekends for about 16 hours at a time. The university is 5 hours from where I live, so I can drive there on a Friday afternoon and spend the weekend there.

Things are very different when you’re married. My husband makes decent money, but I don’t want him to feel financially burdened while I’m in school. This flex program will keep the burden off him, at least until clinicals. I also know he strongly disapproves of me going away for college and living in a dormitory. When you’re married, that marriage does have to take some sort of priority in your life. College can’t override it, or else the marriage won’t survive.

Maybe you’re wondering why I don’t look into a local program. It’d be much cheaper, for sure. For one, the university doesn’t take anatomy from a CC, so I’d have to take out a loan to take their anatomy class–it is much pricier! Another reason is that their program is 3 years, and I’d have to quit my job to survive. A final reason is they highly suggest the rest of the prerequisites be taken at a 4-year university, so I have a strong suspicion they look more favorably upon people who have taken those classes there. This doesn’t mean I’m ruling them out as an option, but they are going to be my last option when I’ve exhausted all others.

I’m at the point where I refuse to settle for less. It’s PT or, as a final option, PTA. I’ll suffer through the hour commute, but only after I’ve applied to my program of choice 2 or 3 times and still can’t get in. Yet, if I can’t get into that program, then I’d likely stand no chance at getting into the local program here. US of A is known as the school of second chances for those who have been kicked out of their university’s previous programs. I’ve heard great things about this program, and I truly believe online learning is where things are going to be headed, especially as more working adults return to school and do not have the luxury of quitting their jobs. But that’s a post for another time.

I’ve had a chance to see what OT is like since I’ve been doing observation hours at the VA. I am absolutely certain I don’t want to have to settle. Perhaps I’d enjoy it. I don’t know. What I do know is that because I can’t find my ‘why’ behind wanting to do that instead of PT, then OT certainly isn’t for me.

You need a ‘why.’ You can’t go lightly into the medical field with a vague reason for why you want to do whatever it is you want to do. Money isn’t a good reason. You’ll burn out fast, grow bitter, and probably end up treating your patients poorly. Ideally you’ll be in the medical field for most of your working life, so you need to make sure it’s a career you absolutely want to do. Not to mention you’ll have loans to pay back if you’ve had to take some out. So make sure you’re taking out those loans for a career you’ll know you’ll stick with for a while.

I decided all of this back in October, so I’ve had some time to chew on it. My feelings for this haven’t lessened any. If anything, they’ve only strengthened my resolve as the days have passed. I want to get into DPT school more than anything else right now. I can’t see myself wanting to do anything else now that my mind is much more open to possibilities beyond what I was searching for within my English major.

I’m a dreamer. I’ll do whatever I have to do to make my dreams work. I’ve made most of the dreams I’ve ever had come true, so I know I’ll make this one happen.