This is why we make the big bucks

The last part of the journey through physical therapy school is winding down for the third year DPT students that make up Elon’s graduating class of 2014. Those of us who did not use the five days provided for excused absences have just completed their last week of final internship and those (like myself) that chose to use these five days throughout our six month experience, will be wrapping up our final days at the clinic at some point this week (as late as Friday).

These last few weeks have been a challenge as we have been busier than ever! We have revised our drafts/completed our patient case report, reflected on our experiences and written them out in our contemplations assignment, began to prepare for graduation, and mailed off necessary forms in conjunction to our application to sit for the NPTE (National Physical Therapy Exam), all while trying to balance a full patient caseload.

For some of my classmates, who chose to take the NPTE in other states that offer the exam prior to graduation, I say “CONGRATULATIONS!” You are one more step closer than the rest of us to becoming practicing (and of course PAID clinicians instead of PAYING) clinicians!

That brings me to the two things I have experienced patient’s say to/ask me over the last six months that make me almost laugh inside, as they are just too ironic and opposite of our reality. The first statement I frequently hear from patients is, “That’s why you make the big bucks!” To respond to this statement, I remind them that, as a student, I am actually paying my usual tuition for this experience.  I explain that an internship is like an apprenticeship where I am able to learn through my CI and through hands-on experiences with my patients.

The second inquiry/comment, that requires self-control to keep me from bursting out laughing, has been presented to me in the form of either a question or a statement. When presented as a question, it is usually asked something like this, “So, what do you need to become a PT, a certificate from taking a course, a special weekend training, or something like that?” To this I explain that there’s a little more that’s involved with becoming a PT than that. I then continue by sharing with them the fact that I am actually finishing up my doctorate, which is currently the typical degree requirement. The statement (similar to the question form above) referring to the schooling involved with becoming a physical therapist usually occurs after someone has read my Elon nametag, which lists the title “Doctor of Physical Therapy Student” above my first name. The general response of my patients is usually one of surprise, and the patient will usually state something to the effect of, “Oh wow, so you’re getting your doctorate in physical therapy.” I again reply with the explanation that the majority of students pursuing physical therapy are currently enrolled in doctoral programs, adding that the vision for 2020 is that all physical therapist will be doctors of physical therapy.

I find it interesting that the level of education involved in what we do is so surprising to many people. My hope is that this will change in the future, as I feel a graduate level degree tends to be accompanied by the perception of credibility in the eyes of the patient.

In the meantime, getting back to the final weeks of the long journey through PT school, life resumes along its busy route. Emails continue to arrive in my Elon inbox pertaining to the last week of classes, reminding me that the end of this internship is by no means the end of our PT school experience. We will have a week of school consisting of electives courses, a licensure review course, an exit interview, and a variety of other courses, obligations, and of course festivities. It is an exhausting time, but as the light at the end of the tunnel draws near, I can feel a small spark of excitement ignite as I think of graduation day just a few weeks away. The day we have worked so hard for over the last three years! To think this chapter of our lives is coming to an end seems almost impossible!

We will soon begin the next chapter, the chapter where we become all that we have been striving to be these last three years: the chapter where we become doctors of physical therapy!

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