To Our Donors, We Say Thank You

Imagine, if you will, spending 2 days a week (and sometimes more) with someone for 7 months. What do you think you’d be able to learn in that amount of time??  Hopefully, if you got along well with said person, you might become good friends and/or you might learn some really impactful things from them. Now imagine that this person is actually a human cadaver who has donated their body so that you could learn from them……totally different right?? Maybe not as different as you might think.

Allow me to explain. In the 7 months spent in anatomy lab, our donors imparted invaluable knowledge upon us, just as you would expect would happen when getting to know a living, breathing human being. They taught us about life and death. They taught us about what makes up the portal triad of the liver. They taught us about the popliteal and cubital fossas. Perhaps most importantly, they taught us what a mind-bogglingly intricate and amazing machine we’ll be trying to fix and mend for the rest of our careers as physical therapists.

One thing you might argue is that the metaphor certainly must break down when you introduce the idea of friendship. Indeed, while friendship is a term that can’t fully be applied here, I for one felt a bond with my donor, a bond built from a sense of thankfulness and the same kind of bond that a student might feel with a teacher. In addition, friendships were certainly formed with my lab partners, and I credit this largely to our donor bringing us together to implement teamwork and strategy in ways that are completely unique to this experience.

At the end of our last day in lab, I had the sense that a great relationship was coming to an end. I think that the gift that our donors gave us is often underappreciated, and I found myself realizing that I had at times taken our donor for granted. However, as I reflect on the experience, I can say that I am incredibly thankful for this one of a kind experience, and I can definitively say that I will carry the lessons learned in the anatomy lab with me for the rest of my career. So here’s to our donor as we thank them for their wonderful gift.

Turning my frown upside down

The only words to describe my reaction when I learned that my DPT 805 clinical rotation had cancelled was extreme disappoint and fear. This was the last rotation of my career as a doctor of physical therapy student! I vividly can remember back to when we submitted our request for placement and within just two short days my first choice responded with a “yes.” Yes, they would be willing to take me as a student for six months; I was ecstatic! I was the first student to get a reply, and while many other students soon received replies many of the responses they were getting were an answer of “no.” Then just a few months before I was to start at my first choice private practice outpatient clinic, I received the e-mail that everyone dreads, the e-mail I was all too familiar with (as three clinical rotation facilities had cancelled on me for previous rotations).  The e-mail read: “Stop by my office at your next earliest convenience as I need to discuss your 805 clinical rotation with you.”  While this e-mail stated nothing that would lead one to believe this meant that the clinic had cancelled, I recognized the familiar words from the past and immediately got a sinking feeling in my stomach.  Of course, I checked this e-mail late on Friday afternoon and all the professors were gone for the weekend, which left me two and a half days to mull over what this meant and I what my options might be.

Early Monday morning I knocked on my professor’s door only to receive confirmation of what I, in my heart, already knew: my clinical rotation site had cancelled. My only option now was to make my selection from a list of sites that agreed to take a student, but that none of my classmates had taken the offer on. This, from my perspective, was like getting to choose from the left-overs, the rejected sites, those sites that nobody else deemed worthy to accept. So, I did what I thought was best; I began to closely investigate each of the sites by looking at their website, but more importantly looking at comments left on the Moodle site from students that had done a clinical rotation there in the past. Randolph Hospital stuck out like a sore thumb, but in a good way! Every review and comment about this facility and its staff was positive. It seemed as though the students that had been there had nothing but great things to say about their experience. The only problem was, this site was roughly an hour away from where I live. Would the commute be worth it?

Currently, now three weeks into my clinical, I can answer that question with an astounding “yes!” Not only is this clinical rotation as good as I had imagined my first choice to be, I can honestly say that I think it is much better! Despite the commute and the long hours, that often make for a 12+ hour workday, I can’t imagine that any placement could possibly be better than Randolph Hospital. My clinical instructor is more than just an outstanding physical therapist; he truly is a clinical instructor. What I mean by that, is that he is my instructor, my teacher, and my mentor. He shares information with me that is very useful to my clinical practice, he quizzes me and asks me thought provoking questions throughout the day, and he asks me things like: “what do you think went well with the patient” and “what do you think you could have done better or improved on with the patient.” He takes personal time each day to do these things and it is evident that he cares about the experience he creates for his student. In addition to having one of the best clinical instructors possible, the other rehabilitation staff members at the hospital are also amazing. They made me feel at home from the very first day and three of the physical therapists at the hospital are even Elon graduates! Another component of this experience that I am grateful for is the fact that I am blessed to have the experience to work with some really exceptional patients; I am seeing a variety of patients and my patients have been such a pleasure to work with.

It’s only been 3 weeks, but I feel confident to say this is going to be a life changing experience. To think back to how devastated I was when my original site cancelled to where I am now, I want to leave you with this thought: If you find your travel plans on the road of life to change on you unwillingly, take a deep breath, keep your head up, and remember it may be more of a blessing than a curse!

As Long As I’ve Got My Suit and Tie….

It’s been a busy yet exciting June and at the beginning of the month, we got the chance to go to the NEXT conference in Charlotte (one of the many great things about Elon DPT is that our program helps provide the means to give us these awesome opportunities)! NEXT is a yearly Physical Therapy conference where PT’s, PTA’s, and PT students can come together and network, discuss current issues facing our profession, and learn about exciting new research. Even though some of the information presented was a little over our heads as first years, it was still an awesome opportunity to learn some new things and realize that a lot of the groundwork courses that we’re in right now are preparing us to be able to synthesize the kind of information we encountered at NEXT.

One of my personal favorite moments, other than hearing one of my own first year classmates give one of the most rousing Oxford debate audience-contributed speeches of all time (#freedomisntfree), was getting to hear the Maley lecture. Dr. Andrea Behrman gave an awesome presentation regarding some advances in the treatment of spinal cord injuries in children, and it was amazing to be reminded of the incredible works of healing that we will be able to contribute to during our careers as PT’s.

Hopefully NEXT was the first of many conferences that I’ll be able to attend during my time as a PT student, and thanks to Elon DPT for making it happen! Happy summer!

The end is in sight

After a wonderful week off, I hit the ground running this morning! Today started the first day of last clinical rotation for the class of 2014! This clinical is unlike any of the previous for several reasons. To begin, our past clinical experiences have been 2 months in duration and this final one is 6 months. This is the only clinical rotation in which we are also taking another course: DPT 809 Directed Research II.  During this rotation, for the first time, we are expected to be at 100% caseload for a new graduate.  We may also choose to begin studying for the national physical therapy board exam during this experience. So, while this is an exciting time, it is also a very busy time for us!

In preparation to begin our studies for the board exam, we took a practice exam the week before last. This gave us all an idea of the content that we knew well and other areas in which we would need to focus our attention on. After completing this practice exam, I can confidently say that Elon does a phenomenal job of preparing us for this important component of our education. After answering just over 150 test questions, I was relieved to discover that there were only about 2 questions that I was unfamiliar with. This does not mean that I knew all of the answers, as we were told not to study or prepare for this practice exam in advance, but what it does mean is that I had been taught the information and had been exposed to this content at some point in my career as a student at Elon. I am not sure that students from other programs can boast the same of their experience.

In the weeks and months to come my biggest challenge will be to juggle a full time career as a student physical therapist, finding time to take care of myself through adequate rest and an appropriate amount of exercise, and setting aside time for course work and preparatory studies. It will be a challenge, but there’s no doubt that if we’ve made it this far, we will reach the finish line!

Having neuro on the brain…

The brain has the reigns right now for the DPT class of 2015. We are scandalously flying through this Neurology Module gaining an understanding of what is occurring behind that hard skull of our patient. Neuro is a land that leaves me dazed, confused, and baffled in wonder. What preponderance of information we are obtaining. Astrocytes and their feet, myelin and its sheath, the hippocampus and its memory, the frontal lobe and its behavior. We are certainly intricately and wonderfully made. We are also fragile. It amazes me the degree of symptoms that can occur due to minute damage of brain tissue.

It is fun to listen to classmates really excel and be energized by the field of Neurology and on the other end of the spectrum, to share in the tolerance for it. I love the range of likes and dislikes of specific areas of Physical Therapy within our class. Some are finding their niche within Orthopedic outpatient, some in inpatient Neuro based, some in pediatrics, and some still searching. What is great about this occupation is that there are so many directions you can take this career. As we continue on in the program my eyes are continuously opened to the options available once I graduate. We have two 2-month clinicals ahead in inpatient and acute care settings. These will hold much weight in helping us decide which direction suites us best.

It is to be expected that we keep busy with lecture and studies within the classroom, but I can’t forget to mention the life of all us birds who escape that cage for professional development and fun.  We have discovered more of what North Carolina has to offer such as a long Memorial Weekend on the eastern shores of NC, hand-picked fresh strawberries from a local farm, a long bike ride through the country north of Elon to fundraise for Multiple Sclerosis, and a fun sunny day on Elon’s campus full of physical activity with athletes of the Special Olympics.  The student-based organizations such as the HOPE pro-bono clinic and the newly formed DPT SERVE are keeping us active to promote our profession and to serve the community.

It’s like college….but not really

The halfway mark of our first year as PT students is fast approaching, and that’s honestly pretty hard to believe. Even though it’s flown by, I think we’ve all learned some valuable lessons. One of the things I’ve come to realize is that it’s pretty hard to draw a lot of comparisons between graduate school and undergrad. They both have the word grad in them, but the similarities pretty much stop there. For me personally, I spent two years in the “real” world, and I’ve found that my “real” world routines are a lot more commonplace here in grad school than are my undergrad routines. For instance, undergrad was all about the late night study sessions in the library. Now, I don’t think I could stay up past ten if I tried. So maybe I am a bit of an old man, but hey some routines are just hard to shake. Another big difference?? No more late-night Subway runs in grad school.

All kidding aside (although I do miss that fresh baked bread), another pretty crucial difference is that everything we’re learning now is part of one big picture. Whereas in undergrad, info from my Classic Greek Literature class went in one ear and out the other, the things we’re learning now are all important pieces of information that will be crucial to our being able to successfully treat our future patients. And honestly, it’s a great feeling to learn one more piece of the puzzle and realize that I’m that much closer to being able to get out and help some people heal. Our program here at Elon does a phenomenal job of tying it all together, and we’re starting to see that big picture taking form! Two and a half more years 2016….we’re practically there!!

Independent Study on Geriatric PT

Observations, on-line courses, on-line course exams, research, reflections, resumé writing, mock interviews, creating brochures… the list goes on. These items comprise the components of this module as I forge ahead through my independent study on Geriatric Care in Physical Therapy.

There are three of us studying geriatric physical therapy during this module known to 3rd year physical therapy students as Selectives. As mentioned in previous blogs, this is the time in our schooling in which we select what we want to pursue studying, with options ranging from orthopedics and neuro which are held on site at the Francis Center, to learning about PT in foreign countries.  Within this independent study there are three of us that have decided to remain local, yet venture off to create our own study in geriatrics.  This trio we’ve created allows us to participate in some things together and also do several things independently and different from one another. For example, while we all are participating in geriatric physical therapy observations, we sometimes participate in observations together at the same clinic and with the same PT, while at other times, we may be at the same location, but shadowing different  PTs; still other times we may observe on completely different days and not be together at all.

The three of us, that are currently studying geriatrics in depth,  are also taking some of the same on-line courses, but also taking some on-line courses more specific to our personal interests. Much in the same way that we are taking these courses, our research is on the general topic of geriatric studies, yet we may be individually researching vastly different aspects of physical therapy in the geriatric population.  I personally have been exploring Parkinson’s Disease to gain understanding of this disease and how PT fits into rehabilitation with such patients, while one of the another two classmates has focused her research on the physical therapy outcome measures for individuals over age 65.

Regardless of whether together or separate on this journey through our independent study, it has been a great learning experience and I am thankful it’s only half over. In fact, I wish it were even longer, as there is so much more I want to learn and explore about geriatric care. Fortunately, we can all continue to be life long learners beyond this Selective Module; in fact, we should remain life long learners throughout our entire careers as physical therapists so that we can grow in our knowledge and pass that knowledge onto our patients by educating them and providing them with the best evidenced based care possible!