Looking Back and Thinking Ahead

Currently I am sitting lakeside at a cottage in Michigan eating a fresh-baked cookie and a big ol’ glass of lemonade. Life couldn’t be better. The first-year PT students just finished up Module III and are now on a well-deserved two-week break. The classes during Module III were challenging, yet they were very enjoyable and hands-on. We are feeling more and more like physical therapists everyday!

Here are some brief highlights of what we learned in a couple of classes this past module:

ANATOMY: We just finished up seven months of anatomy lecture and lab. I looked forward to most every day spent with Dr. Cope, Dr. Little and Dr. Zimmerman. Since memorizing muscles origins, insertions, innervations, and attachments can be somewhat boring, we spent time during lecture having a competition of painting muscles onto each other. For being “movement scientists” we have a pretty artistic bunch! At the end of the module, we said goodbye to our donors and honored them in a memorial service at the Sacred Space on Elon’s Campus. It is amazing how much I learned from someone I never met. At first I was a little skeptical about human dissection, but it was a unique and fulfilling experience that I will never forget. When I am in the clinic and have a patient who has had a rotator cuff repair, I will envision my donor’s shoulder and all of its intricacies in order to help my patient recover better and faster.

HUMAN MOTOR DEVELOPMENT: We were able to get out of the classroom for much of the part of Human Motor Development this semester by taking part in a Baby Lab, Big Kids Lab and getting outside to teach middle school children about physical activity. Cute little babies came to our classrooms and we were able to analyze their reflexes and motor development. During Big Kids Lab children ages 3-6 came and we played games, and ran and jumped around with them, all the while analyzing their strength, gait and physical abilities. Getting kids entertained and doing what you want them to do can be pretty difficult, so it taught us that we have to be creative and innovative when working with children.

PT SCIENCE III: In PT Science III, we learned all there is to know about goniometry (measuring joint range of motion) and manual muscle testing (MMT which is testing and grading strength of isolated muscle/muscle groups). Who knew there was so much to know about measuring joint angles?! For the final part of the course we had to perform a full body manual muscle test. When it came to learning MMT, I really noticed how our class comes together and supports one another. Some of the hands-on stuff is a lot for the mind to grasp during two hours in the lab, but when 46 minds come together – magic happens!

While it is nice to relaxing back home, I have been having the time of my life back in North Carolina. Our class still finds time to have fun on the weekends. We hang out and celebrate birthdays poolside. Two of our classmates are phenomenal and bring treats for every birthday (let me tell you, that’s A LOT of treats). Going to movies and getting burritos the size of your arm at a local burrito joint is always a good time too. To work off those extra calories, people run 5Ks and go kayaking together. If you want to be a little lazier down a river, you can just go tubing down the river. The possibilities are endless when you have free time in PT school… and there is never a dull moment with the 46 of us together!

Classroom? What Classroom?

The campus of Elon seems like a distant memory. Streams of new PowerPoints to download are no longer a daily task. Eating a snack every 50 minutes due to a break from class no longer exists (I’m now hungry ALL the TIME). Some days I yearn to be back in the classroom surrounded by good friends and new knowledge. But, on the majority of days I am quite content being in the clinic. As the next month proceeds, we 3rd years will be moving deeper and deeper into our fourth and final clinical rotation. Hurrah! We all ventured to new clinical sites during the month of June. We now cross the nation from Michigan, Florida, Maryland, Texas and more! Being our last clinical, independence with patients comes quicker and with more confidence. The cases that once seemed complex are not as intimidating this time around. We know the language, we know the abbreviations, we know the diagnosis, we know the progression. There is always a learning curve with every new Electronic Medical Record but even that is learned more efficiently. The time to graduate is coming and I can speak for not only myself by saying “we are ready!!”

Before this final clinical came about we wrapped up courses in Geriatrics, Resume/Interview skills, Pediatrics, and Business Management. Although these courses were informative, the excitement of the 6-week selective on the horizon made many of us ready for classes to conclude. Once the final exam was taken we said goodbye to the chairs that formed to our bodies over the past 3 years and we said hello to Australia, Belgium, Alaska; we said hello to Pediatric and Orthopedic outpatient clinics in Alamance County; and hello to independent studies in cardiac rehab, Olympic training and rehab, and more.  The 6-week selective that the DPT program installs into our PT life schedule allows us to review, train, explore, and learn new perspectives within this field. For me personally, I went to Wasilla, Alaska and was stationed at 2 different Physical Therapy Outpatient clinics specialized in Manual Therapy. Myself and another classmate ventured out to this last frontier and picked up on PT tricks from certified manual therapists. The experience was absolutely amazing. My eyes were opened to the variety of Physical Therapy practice.

The learning never ends, though. Being in the clinic is continuously bringing new knowledge and new challenges. You quickly realize this isn’t going to be an 8-5pm career. It isn’t going to be a career in which you have time to call you doctor or plan a vacation during the day unless a patient cancels. It isn’t a career in which you can roll in at 8am and sip on coffee to get your day started. And to top it off, the headache of documentation and insurance is real. But, it is worth it. It is a line of work in which you are getting people back to their lives. You are an asset to their recovery. You get to be a doctor, a teacher, a counselor, a comedian, an encourager, and even a friend. Not a bad gig.

Being a Student

We’ve almost reached the dog days of summer, and that means that the class of 2016 is already about halfway through our second clinical rotation! For me personally, it’s been a great start to this rotation so far, and I’ve already learned a great deal in these three short weeks. At the same time though, I’ve also been reminded time and time again that there is a MAJOR difference between being a classroom student and a clinical student. For us PT students, being a classroom student means a full day of any combination of lecture and labs as well as a healthy dose of Facebook checking….errr I mean furious note taking! Being a classroom student also generally means a lot of time spent parked in a chair with breaks interspersed where one might eat a snack or leisurely toss the pigskin. So what then, does it look like to be a clinical student?? Well, for starters, the pace is about 100x faster, and there’s obviously less pigskin tossing. Also, whereas in class we have time to write down notes and think on them later, clinical learning often involves having to remember a lot of competing and varied information that has to be applied sometimes immediately. Treatment information has to be recalled quickly for note writing, mental checklists have to be run through, and good grief should I be concerned if my patient’s prothrombin time is high and she has a stat CT ordered (the answer to that question, coincidentally, is yes)??

Now, upon reading that description of clinical learning, you may be thinking “Gosh Luke, that sure does sound pretty crazy!” Well, while it can indeed be crazy at times, it’s also AWESOME. Don’t get me wrong, classroom learning is great and I truly do love book knowledge, but we all came to PT school to be PT’s after all, and our clinicals are where we’re starting to get a real taste of our passion for PT. Also, while I’d certainly have days where I came home exhausted from class, exhaustion has taken on a whole new meaning in a clinical world filled with long days of speed-walking down hospital corridors and rapid-fire learning. However, with that exhaustion comes an incredible sense of knowing that we as mere PT students probably had a bigger impact on someone’s day than we could possibly imagine. Thankful for this opportunity that we all have right now, and keep up the good work class of 2016!

Thinking PT School? Here Are Some Tips! – Part 2

A few months back you may remember me bringing you some tips about how to prepare for the PT school application process. Well, as promised, I’m back this month to share some more tips! Only difference is that this time around, I want to provide some advice for those of you that may be preparing to start school in just a few short months. And for those of you that are getting ready to apply, come back and read these tips once you’re getting ready to start school!

  1. This first tip is something I’ve thought about often and I can’t stress it enough; stick to the study/work method that has gotten you this far, and don’t let the methods of others make you think you’re doing it wrong. Chances are, there will be someone that studies or works more than you do. When you experience this, you may find yourself thinking “Man they must know something about an assignment that I don’t!!” I urge you, don’t worry yourself by thinking these thoughts!! Everyone has different study habits and tactics and if you’ve made it to the point of getting accepted in to a very competitive graduate field, chances are your habits and tactics are just fine! Don’t doubt yourself!!
  2. Second tip – engage in physical activity as often as you can. Here’s the irony about PT school; you’re going to learn about a lot of physical impairments that can be brought on by the one thing you’ll do probably more than any other, aka siting in a chair. Therefore, getting up and moving around and engaging in sports or workouts will make your body and your mind a lot happier! Also, an added benefit of working out that I discovered is the fact that it helps you come up with exercises and activities that you can use with your patients!
  3. Get to know your faculty members. While the faculty members that you’ll be spending a lot of time with over the next few years are no doubt your teachers, they’ll very shortly be your PT colleagues. In addition, your professors will be one of your best resources in terms of job recommendations. And last but not least, as I’ve discovered, you may just find out that your professors are more than willing to do things like play basketball with you and your classmates on a Friday afternoon!

Well I hope you’ll find these tips useful, and I encourage you to also come up with some of your own strategies for making the most out your PT school experience. For those of you about to take the plunge in August, enjoy the start of what I’m sure will be a fantastic ride!

Spring in North Carolina

Happy spring y’all. The Class of 2017 has the afternoon off today and everyone is enjoying it thoroughly. Some are going kayaking while others are going on a hike, but I thought I would update you on what our class has been up to before I go enjoy the North Carolina sun at the pool.

Before PT school, it seemed like everyone was competing with each other to attain the highest GPA, the most extracurricular activities, and to become buddy-buddy with their elders so they could get good recommendation letters. I’m not going to lie – I was part of that cohort. Now that I am in PT school, students still want to maintain a good GPA, get involved, and communicate with faculty, but with very different intentions from undergrad. We all want to do well because we all want to be successful and knowledgeable physical therapists.

It is crazy to think about all we have learned in a 3-month module. During Module 2, we dove right into Anatomy and Physiology. Although those classes took up most of our time, we took other classes to learn about bed mobility, assistive devices, cryotherapy, thermotherapy, and my personal favorite – soft tissue mobilization (a.k.a. massage). At the end of April, nine exams (including written exams and lab practicals) sounded very overwhelming. However, the exams were spaced out and once I started taking the exam or went into the room for the practical – I was shocked with how much I knew and how much had already become second nature.

Learning is much more fun when you have other PT students to collaborate with. One of my favorite memories at the Francis Center during Module 2 was when most of our class came in on a Sunday night before our PT Science I practical to practice how to use assistive devices. Everyone was walking around with canes, walkers, and rolling in wheelchairs and all laughing and helping each other out. It was very cool to see everyone helping a brother or sister out, while still having a great time learning.

But hold the phone.

PT school isn’t all about studying – the Class of 2017 definitely knows how to have fun outside of class. Raleigh, Durham, and Greensboro are close enough to enjoy country concerts, cool coffee shops and minor league baseball games – all of which our class have thoroughly enjoyed. Last weekend, I enjoyed my first Carolina Que Dog at a Durham Bulls baseball game. Who knew barbecue and slaw on top of a hot dog could be so good?! The night concluded perfectly with many of us PT friends watching fireworks together at the ballpark.

Since much of our day is spent sitting in the classroom, we also like to get outside and stay active. The bikers in our class have made a couple trips to the ice cream shop a bit south of here and I’ve already made two trips to hike at Hanging Rock State Park (which is absolutely beautiful). Some of the best memories I have so far are playing tennis with my classmates. We aren’t very good at tennis, but we are pretty good at laughing at ourselves playing tennis. Lastly, many of Elon’s PT students, their families, and the surrounding community came together in April to run a 5K to support the H.O.P.E. Clinic, a student-run pro-bono physical therapy clinic for those who are uninsured or under-insured in Alamance County and surrounding areas. Learn more.

Module 3 is now in full-force and we are all really starting to feel like physical therapists. We strut our stuff with confidence in our clinical attire while carrying our handy-dandy PT kits (which contain our fancy goniometers, tape measures, stethoscopes, and the like). We are already learning how to correctly diagnose a musculoskeletal problem and the art of manual muscle testing, and are having a blast doing it. We know a lot more about physical therapy than what we did 5 months ago, but know that there is much more to be learned. It is pretty difficult, but together we are up to the challenge. Just one step closer to becoming a PT!

Now off to the pool. See ya!

DPT at the Durham Bulls game Outside of the Francis Center DPT at Hanging Rock DPT after the 5K

A Truly Blessed Opportunity

Confession time….I have broken a promise. Well sort of. While I know I said that I would be back with more tips this month, I got to volunteer with the Special Olympics this past week, and I absolutely had to share the experience with you all. But never fear! Next month, I will be back with more tips (maybe I shouldn’t promise this time though =). So without further ado, here is a reflection paper, about the Special Olympics, that I wrote for class. Enjoy!

What a truly awesome opportunity it was to be able to volunteer and help with this past Friday’s Special Olympics. Coming in to the day, I had expectations that it would be a lot of fun and that it would be a unique opportunity; however, these expectations were blown wide open on the actual day. Not only was it a ton of fun to just play with the athletes, but it was also an incredible insight into the lives of these people. Given that I was manning the basketball station, I was thankful to be able to obverse three things during the day: relationships being made, the movement capabilities of this population, and the different forms of communication used throughout the day.

Probably the best part of the whole day was the fact that I felt like, in a few short hours, I was able to form a bond with a lot of the athletes. The basketball station was very popular, and therefore I got to see a number of “regulars.” As these athletes made multiple rounds through our station, I remembered certain things about each of them and was thus able to joke around with them and talk with them about how their day was going. One of my favorite athletes was a gentleman using a power chair. Each time he came around, he would make jokes about showing us how “Jordan does it” and would make sure to point out that he would be coming back soon. Again, while it was only a few short hours, it was a true blessing to be able to share these laughs and share in the joy that these athletes experienced from doing an activity that I take for granted.

Another thing about the day that blew me away was the fact that these athletes completely destroyed my pre-conceived notions about how well they’d be able to move. I lost count of the number of athletes that made their very first shot, and a number of the younger kids were throwing down dunks that would have put Blake Griffin to shame. While there were some athletes that had more profound movement difficulties, it was really awesome to see the compensatory movement strategies that these athletes used to overcome their challenges.

Lastly, communication, both verbal and non-verbal, was another thing that I observed throughout the day. Again, while many athletes had communication difficulties, a large majority of them had adopted compensatory non-verbal communication strategies. I honestly can’t remember more than maybe one or two athletes with whom I had true communication difficulties. In addition to my communication with the athletes, seeing the athletes communicate with one another was heartwarming indeed. Given that we only had one ball, I loved seeing how willing the athletes were to share with another, and they frequently offered encouragement to whoever was shooting. Guess that just goes to show how thankful I am that this day completely got rid of some of the CLEARLY incorrect pre-conceived notions that I held about these athletes.

I know this reflection was only supposed to be 2-3 paragraphs, but the fact that I could keep writing about this day for another couple pages is a testament to how much I enjoyed the day. These athletes, despite the challenges they face, display an absolutely infectious joy for living. I think we would all do well to be mindful of their example and to remember that no challenge is big enough to take the joy out of life.

Where We Are and Where We’re Going

We are now three months into the 3rd year of the DPT program. This 3rd month brought a transition into spring weather and a transition into courses such as pediatrics, business management and clinical decision making. The course in pediatrics includes in-class lecture and clinical experience with a pediatric patient. It is an adjustment to those, like me, who have minimal exposure to pediatric patients. Having an imagination can be challenging when you are put on the spot. Adult patients don’t necessarily desire to act like a flamingo during a single leg stance test nor hop like a bunny during a triple hop test; but the pediatric population demands this of you as a physical therapist. Through this course we will be a bit more confident when up against an intimidating 5-year-old.

To deviate from the traditional courses in patient care, the course in business management brings a different way of thinking. There are some of us that see a future in owning our own private practice, which makes this course very applicable. But for those without that interest, the course is expanding our minds to the factors of a successful company, to the up-to-date insurance facts, to the fundamentals of a well-built resume, and to the skills for a successful interview. When discussing future employment, the realization that graduation is rounding the corner continues to bring smiles.

Although much of our time is looking to the future of our 6-week selectives, 6-month clinical, graduation, and the board exam, we also gain time to reflect. The clinical decision making course offers an opportunity to share with classmates an experience with one specific patient that was treated during a previous clinical. It was a chance to share clinical decisions made, interventions performed, and how this experience may have influenced you as a physical therapist. It was inspiring to listen to classmate’s stories and an edifying experience to share one close to heart with friends.

As we step outside the Francis Center, we dwell in the beauty of budding trees, freshly cut grass and warm sunshine. To take advantage of this North Carolina spring weather we have escaped to nearby Pilot Mountain and Hanging Rock for hiking, become competitive with our March Madness Brackets, focused time on planning a 5K run for the Elon HOPE pro-bono clinic, and kept traditions through an annual St. Patty’s Day get together with the entire DPT program. With only a few weeks left for all 53 of the DPT 2015 family to be together, time in the classroom is dwindling but that time will be well spent making memories and making the best of time.