I am here reporting from the front lines of the lives of 3rd year DPT students with good news to share. Things are well. The leaves have changed from green to red and yellow, the hot heat in the Carolinas has dissipated, and activities within the realm of physical therapy are streamlined. We continue to enter the doors of hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, outpatient clinics, and more. We motivate our patients, we motivate our clinical instructors to continue teaching us at the 5th month, and we motivate ourselves to continue to work without a paycheck. Only 4 weeks to go! The end is in serious sight.
With the end in sight we start setting our eyes on employment. Resumes are being perfected and edited by Elon upon request. Before starting the 6-month clinical we gained advice about resume building, job searching and interviewing. We reflected upon what we would look for in a company from continuing education benefits to productivity expectations. The goal is to find that team that you fit well into and that fits well with you. The market for new grad PTs is different across the nation. I’ve heard stories of many offers and stories of few. It depends how open or closed minded you are and what your expectations are from the beginning. This program is a lot of work and I plan on finding the land of milk and honey at the end of this graduate journey. That reward looks different for every one of my classmates. It may come in the form of a paycheck, the satisfying fulfillment of independence, a geographic location of choice or a setting of choice, and perhaps even the freedom from assignments or freedom from the student label.
November will be our last month on this 6-month clinical journey. Hurrah!se
That feeling of overwhelming excitement is starting to fill the air. It is almost as magical as the feeling of a child when the trip to Disney World lies right around the corner. But instead of preparing myself to stand at the base of Magic Kingdom, be donned with princess tiaras, and bombarded with enthusiastic smiles….I’m preparing myself for the second half of my clinical rotation. That second half means half way closer to reuniting with my classmates back in North Carolina for graduation. That second half means I’m feeling good to hit the working world. That second half means moving out of my parent’s house in Michigan in roughly 3 months (insert slow clap).
We still have loads to learn and assignments to wrap up over the next few months as well. Elon likes to keep tabs on our progress and help remind us we are still in school. This is a welcomed reminder because the date of the licensure board creeps closer and closer. For some classmates this date is soon. For others, it isn’t until January 2016. Why the discrepancy? During the final year of PT school you have the option of taking the board exam in October 2015 or wait until after graduation and take it in January 2016. There are valid reasons for arguing both dates. Take it early and you will spend much time outside of the clinical rotation studying for the boards instead of taking time studying information directly pertinent to the rotation. You may be quite stressed during this clinical rotation if you are not good at time management. Yet, you will be stress free at the time of graduation and you can start working as a licensed PT quite quickly after December 13 (date of graduation). Or, you can take it later and find yourself with a good 6 weeks after graduation to dedicate to studying. You may find more time to focus on researching patients during your clinical and more time to catch up with family if your rotation was back home. This may sound a little less stressful. However, come graduation you won’t be able to practice as a licensed PT until after January 28. There is good and bad to both but I believe that one option could be good for one student and bad for another. It really depends.
Although there are future events to look forward to, an attitude and mindset to not take these next months for granted is necessary. It is easy to let the hours at the clinic escape you and hope for the weekend. Each weekend brings us closer to graduation but each weekend also means one less week in this season of life. There are many positives to being a student; it is only in our favor to take in as much close mentoring, guided studying, and open questioning while we can.
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.
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.
2015 has arrived. The year of graduation. It is hard to believe we have made it to this point in our physical therapy education. It is hard to believe we will be entering the working world within the next year. The excitement within us is undeniable and uncontainable. This module filled with Wound Care, Electrotherapy, Prosthetics/Orthotics, Cardiopulmonary, and Exercise Physiology keeps us running and our heads spinning. Senioritis has set in or has been sneaking up on a lot of us. The professors have acknowledged our anticipation to become clinicians and have accommodated the lesson plans to be filled with clinical applications. There have been group projects, hands-on experiences with patients, and journal readings in this module which have been advantageous for our intellect and for keeping us engaged.
2015 has much to hold. With one last module and then on to a 6-week selective followed by a 6-month clinical, it doesn’t leave a lot of time left in the Francis Center or with each other. It is the year that the family of 53 moves on from Elon. But, with the time left, we are making the most of this final year. The HOPE pro bono clinic is serving many in the community and many of us are taking part in practicing our clinical skills with oversight. It is a great opportunity for reviewing and applying what we have learned in past modules and clinicals. Extracurriculars like Dancing above the Barre, ALS walk, MS bike ride, and of course intramurals, do not go unnoticed. Many are training for races stretched from 5K to Marathon, Half Marathon, and even a 24-hour run. If you are looking for motivation or encouragement to fulfill a New Years Resolution for becoming more active, look to the class of 2015.
The next week will wrap up our last week of finals. For many, if not all of us, this will be the last “finals week” of our lives. We cannot dismiss the fact that the Boards will be the final of all finals but considering that we have been in school for most of our lives, the thought of the last “finals week” is thrilling. It causes me to reflect on the past years and think how blessed I am to be in the Elon DPT program and surrounded by 52 other amazing soon to be physical therapists.
How thine buttocks detest the contours of the desk chair. How thine body fights the necessary entrapment in a single room for hours. How thine mind struggles to find focus and drive to listen and learn in a static setting. After returning from 4 months of clinical rotations being on our feet, using our hands, recalling material learned, experiencing life with patients, being educated in the midst of doing, we have returned to Elon. Professors warned us of the challenges Module IX will bring. The classes are fairly dissociated from one another and holiday breaks make it nearly impossible to develop a rhythm of being back in the classroom. After 2 weeks into the module, I’m finding this to be true.
But, I am also finding a strong sense of ownership of the new material learned. Confusion, misconception and the downright lack of knowledge I experienced while in clinicals are being addressed through the current courses. I have tangible images and experiences of patients I met while working in the hospital and ICU that come to mind during lecture. I have mental snapshots of patient charts with acronyms, diagnoses, surgical procedures and impairments that never, until now, reached the gyri of my brain. An educated understanding is being formulated through Module IX with classes in Exercise Physiology, Cardiopulmonary, Prosthetics/Orthotics and Wound Care. As a treat, we do meet with a patient once a week to decipher a plan of care in conjunction with best evidence and reason to explain that plan. This edifies our application of newly learned material. Our “PT toolbox” continues to grow.
It is truly a neat feeling to watch and to hear how classmates have developed in this profession over the past 4 months. We each bring our own flavor of physical therapy to the classroom now. There has been a progression of knowledge, an increased confidence with our PT skills, and a strong sense of community and support from one another even when not in the same geographic location. Just around the corner is Christmas break, which leads up to year 3. The final year. The good year.
“Ugh therapy” “Not you again” “This is going to kill me” “I’m too tired for therapy today” “You told me two more two times ago” “What more do you got?” “Thank you” “I’m getting stronger” “I’m going home” “I’m going to miss you.” From one spectrum to another we experience the emotional pendulum of a life in its most vulnerable state. We give hope, we give strength, we provide skilled intervention to move that pendulum towards health and life that once was. Not to say every patient is a success story, but many of them are. As a Physical Therapy student you absorb each experience fully because each novel experience is shaping us and will shape how we interact, reason, and fundamentally function as a Physical Therapist post-December 2015.
The 53 students of DPT 2015 are scattered over the nation applying the textbook material and applying our individual lives into the lives of others. Since July 2014 a majority have tackled an 8-week clinical rotation in either a Skilled Nursing Facility or Inpatient setting. Now some classmates have taken an alternative route; some have chosen to have a clinical in Italy. Why one would ever want to travel and live there for 8 weeks is unknown to me…#jealous. In September we transitioned to an 8-week clinical in an Acute setting. Once again some classmates split the country for Belize or have selected a rotation in a different setting such as the ICU.
Each rotation has its own challenges, joys, road bumps, confidence builders, and educational opportunities. I’ve felt on top of the world and in over my head in the past weeks. As a DPT student you learn to take it day by day, hour by hour even at times. The clinical rotations make you that much more alert to how you are developing your own set of clinical skills. I am sure all of us are enjoying life outside of the classroom but truth be told I do miss all 52 faces that I’m used to seeing all day…every day. I wait impatiently to be reunited with friends at Elon in the beginning of November. From there we will proceed with further lecture, projects, and adventures in the vast city of Burlington.