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.
I’m proud to announce that the family is back together. All 53 of us prodigal children fled from the campus of Elon University in January 2014 for our first clinical rotation and returned just a few weeks ago with stories to tell and more to learn. With our spirited minds from working in the clinic we were excited to share with each other the highs and the lows of the clinical experience. Many positive remarks were voiced in regards to the actual physical therapist one worked under; aka the clinical instructor. The clinical instructors were of all ages and many had different backgrounds of PT practice in regards to specialization, level of degree, and years of experience as a clinician. Being exposed to actual patients and practicing what we have stored in our head over the past year was definitely a high for all of us. The cookies, wine, cake, and other goodies brought in by our patients was just another plus as well. 🙂
Today we are back in the classroom until July when we head off to our next clinical rotation either in the hospital or skilled nursing facility. What a different experience that will be. In order to prepare, we will spend the next 14 weeks inside the brain. The Neuro Module will expose us to how to help patients post-CVA, TBI, etc. or those diagnosed with Parkinsons, MS, etc. I personally have had limited exposure to patients with neurological deficits so I have many unanswered questions that this module, I know, will address. The weekly schedule resembles those in the past with class typically 9-4pm daily. We have the joy of returning to the anatomy lab to capture the tiny details of the human brain while dissecting and exploring. It is exciting to be back at the familiar Gerald L Francis Center learning new information but at the same time it is a hard transition from “working” at the clinic and having free weekends to having deadlines on the mind. The weeks ahead will build in us character, a better PT, and the ability to enrich a patient’s life through rehab.
Being back on Elon’s campus also means the buildup of extracurricular activities. Intramurals began for soccer and softball beginnings are just around the corner. We look forward to hosting the Spring Special Olympics and being involved in fundraiser walks/bikes for ALS and MS. The Elon DPT H.O.P.E pro bono clinic is well underway. I’m amazed at my classmates’ ability to initiate, progress, and run a pro bono clinic for the community. This is a dynamic program with more and more doors opening for education, challenges, opportunities to volunteer and opportunities to share your skills and knowledge of PT and life.
I woke to the New Year of 2014 a little differently than 2013. Instead of waking and wondering how the first day of the Elon DPT program would go, who my classmates would be, and what the landscape of North Carolina would be like, I woke wondering how my first day of working in the clinic would go, who my first patient to evaluate would be, and what the mountains of South Carolina would be like. It’s a different world come the second year of DPT. It brings new challenges to tackle and new stressors; but in the end it is just another step to becoming a physical therapist. The second year starts with 2-months working and learning at an outpatient clinic. Personally I am stationed down in South Carolina near the Sassafras Mountains along with three other classmates. We found a mountain cabin to rent and are counting our blessings in having each other to bounce ideas and questions about physical therapy off of. Of course we are also taking advantage of the beautiful geographic location that surrounds us. Overall our class has exploded over the nation and we are spreading our cooped up enthusiasm and passion for life and physical therapy everywhere.
The day in the life of a physical therapy student at the clinic changes by the hour. We are assigned a clinical instructor at the clinic who is to guide and share their gems of knowledge to us. They are to stretch us mentally; at times it feels as if you are being fed to the wolves, but by the end of the day character is built and the spectrum of PT knowledge is that much bigger and broader. Each week a little more independence at the clinic is given and by the end of the two months we should be able to handle a good portion of patients on our own. Currently we are three weeks into this clinical rotation. I am starting to feel more comfortable and confident with my evaluation and treatment skills. I’m building a good foundation of what to do for simple orthopedic cases and am developing more of a tolerance to handling complicated ones. The 8-hour state of shock and panic has faded into a hint of “deer in the headlights” look when presented with a case that I initially am unaware of how to treat. It is at this point I fall back to what we were taught last year and manage to make it through. I have confidence in knowing that I have a good knowledge base from Elon and have a clinical instructor with years of experience to confirm my thinking process. I’m excited to see what another five weeks of working in the clinic will bring.
Overall I’ve heard good reports of our class’ experience with their clinics. Some have been absolutely loving it and some have had to turn lemons into lemonade. I look forward to reconvening in March to discuss the knowledge gained, the challenges, and the fun of living in the “real world” for a few months. It sure does feel good to escape the life of 8-hr flat butt, thoracic kyphosis, and forward head for a bit. As for myself out in the Sassafras Mountains with my other three classmates, we are having a grand time hiking, meeting the locals, finding deer in our driveway, and enjoying the perks of our mountain cabin which just may include a hot tub. We have been truly blessed. We can only hope that the patients we come into contact at the clinic are being blessed as well. Through our old and new knowledge, our motivation to learn, our willingness to listen, and our desire for them to get back to the life they want to live, I hope to both gain and give more and more throughout the next month at the clinic.
Low back pain? Hip or knee pain? How about your ankle or foot? We can help with that. Your shoulder and elbow will have to wait a few more days. Over the past weeks we have been in intense training for examining, diagnosing and treating musculoskeletal problems in the back, neck and lower extremity. Just recently we began examining the shoulder. At the beginning of each “body part” it is a bit overwhelming. Finding the muscles and bony landmarks in your lab partner can get frustrating, getting the “feel” for joint movement can be extremely foreign, and staying focused after seven hours of lab can be quite the challenge. But with the patience of the instructors and classmates, I find that over time the foreign quickly becomes the norm. It is a great feeling of accomplishment to look back at all the material learned. At times it seems like baby steps but when looking back over the months, huge gains have been made in becoming a well-rounded physical therapist.
This month the focus is on the upper extremity (shoulder, elbow, wrist and hand). On the side we continue to dapple in pharmacology and spend time on our research projects. Three classmates and I created a research project that we thought interesting and applicable to physical therapy (Kinesiotape & Plantar Fasciitis). Other classmates joined professors in their on-going research. It has been a great opportunity to explore personal interests, meet people from the community who are willing to participate, and become aware of the need for research in effective physical therapy practice. To avoid sugar-coating the truth, there is a side of research that ages us all. Some projects can take a large amount of time out of each week. The process of developing a project, getting the project passed by the board, and then following through can be time-consuming and mentally exhausting. But I would expect nothing less being at a doctoral level. Once again, it is a step forward in becoming a DPT.
Giving back to the community is placed in high regards to myself and to many of my classmates. On the weeknights and weekends, we have found ways to apply what we have learned. Some classmates are assisting individuals within the community in following exercise programs at home, helping individuals with their daily/nightly needs, and volunteering for the Special Olympics Funfitness. We continue to support each other in marathons, half-marathons, triathlon training, going out to eat at our favorite Mexican restaurant (I think our waiters cringe when 32 of us enter regularly), coffee addictions, retail therapy and of course with our studies. An escape to the North Carolina outdoors has continued to be an amazing benefit to this geographic location. Hikes to Hanging Rock and Pilot Mountain are typical weekend adventures. Even Asheville, NC isn’t too far away for more mountainous scenery. The fall colors are beautiful. As fall continues we get closer to the end of being in the classroom, closer to Thanksgiving break, closer to Christmas, and closer to beginningour second year in the program!
What happened to July and August of 2013? You may be asking yourself the same question. Months are going by very quickly! During those summer months we wrapped up anatomy and pathophysiology; it is hard to believe that aspect of physical therapy school is finished. I’m definitely planning on revisiting and brushing up on that information throughout the next years. As much as I would love to say that my brain is a steel trap…it isn’t. It’s a bit more free; which I’m finding to have its advantages when needing to think outside the box. Not one of my classmates is exactly like the other; we all have our strong suits and areas where help is needed. I like this fact.
Before entering into the next module that signals a completely different schedule and thinking process, we basked in the glory of a two-week break at the end of July. That break was needed to visit with family and friends, refocus, and of course relax. By the end of the weeks I looked forward to heading back south to North Carolina in order to start honing in on the knowledge of PT orthopedic skills. Although, I wouldn’t mind being back home right now raiding the fridge…
So here we are currently in a new module, new professors, new daily schedule, and new mindset. We spend the majority of our time in the skills lab working with one another and are typically led with instruction and then given time to practice what we just learned. I find this type of learning efficient and helpful. Much of course content is focused on biomechanics and musculoskeletal dysfunction. By the end of this module we should be able to tackle any case within the musculoskeletal system. All in all it is preparing us for our next big step into the clinical world come January 2014. I cannot wait! Even our daily schedule from 9-5pm is preparing us for long, tough on the mind, days at the clinic. Not only is this module mentally demanding, it is physically demanding as well. At the beginning of the program we practiced modalities such as hot packs/massage/etc. Sounds nice and relaxing right? Well, tables have turned. We have moved on to bigger and better interventions such as spinal mobilizations. The first time a classmate pushes on your spine, all is fine…by the 20th time, your back has had enough. Practice makes perfect so we press on and share in each others pain and glory. As always, research projects continue to progress and classes such as Imaging and Pharmacology fit their way into our weekly schedule.
Good times to look back on are abundant throughout the months. Although Burlington, NC may not be one of the top cities in the US to live, we are slowly finding the hidden gems like good Greek food, wine tasting and running trails. We never have trouble finding something to keep us busy outside of the classroom. A group of us tackled a Triathlon in the nearby city of Charlotte; others are hitting the pavement for a marathon in a few months; and a few are jumping in the Atlantic Ocean for an open water swim race in a few weeks. During the weekdays time is set aside for ‘taco Tuesdays’, Bible study, pick-up basketball and tennis, group runs, group study sessions, favorite TV shows, and of course for Starbucks. We have a vibrant bunch.
We are on the high-speed rail into the depths of physical therapy. Somehow between the beginning of May until now it seems each minute shortened, the number of days per week reduced, and the amount of material to memorize heightened. Not going to lie, I’m finding it tough. While anatomy and physiology are still in progress, we welcomed goniometry, human motor development, more practice at developing our professionalism and a taste of orthopedics into our lives. Although difficult and demanding, this is great material. I’m a big fan of orthopedics. Time will tell if that’s the direction I will take my skill upon graduating but if feelings don’t change, I think I’ll be just fine with that.
Throughout this past month, we were exposed to different aspects of physical therapy. One morning was spent with babies observing their motor behavior (the 6-week old my group had was adorable!). We also had experiences visiting a physical therapy session whether at the school, in the home, or at an outpatient clinic. I found this experience really fun. To be honest, this is just a fun profession. There are not many careers that you get to be one-on-one with someone listening, conversing, sharing your knowledge and benefiting their life directly. How cool is that. But we are not quite at the end yet…or for awhile.
In regards to the books, we finished midterms just last week and for the first time in a while I gave myself a full two days off from looking at any sort of DPT material. As classmates we go through highs and lows together and it is sure a treat when we can just kick back and enjoy being together relaxing by a pool in the hot NC sun, picnicking at Lake Mackintosh, exploring the ocean, or hitting the city life in downtown Raleigh. All in all life has been great. Stressful at times but there is always someone to snap you out of it and remind you of the purpose behind those long days.
Coming this week our placements for our first clinical will be established. The clinical sites are all throughout North Carolina and some sporadically throughout the nation. Most of them are places I’ve never been or even heard of. Being placed at a clinical site has proven to be a task in which trust is demanded. My strategy has been to just throw up my hands and realize that everything will be OK no matter where I end up. Past life experiences have proven so; why not just trust that this time around it will be too. The first clinical isn’t until January 2014 so until then, I will be in the books trying to stretch out the minutes, slow down the days and just enjoy the ride.
Our first break from the books finally arrived. Many of us were itching to head home, to the beach, to a vacation retreat or simply to escape to a silent mind. I arrived at the Chicago O’Hare International airport to await my connecting flight to Michigan. While scanning the gate numbers to locate mine, I finally arrived at gate C7.
C7…this is but a letter and a number right? Not at all. For a physical therapy student this combination has so many meanings it can make your head spin. C7: sensation for your middle finger. C7: muscle action for elbow extension and wrist flexion. C7: third starting point for the nerves known as your brachial plexus. Multiple meanings for what seems to be simple combinations continue to be an ongoing occurrence throughout the past months. It’s homonyms gone wild. Our eyes are being open to a new world of vocabulary and greater appreciation for the interconnections of the human body.
To my family and friends I give my apologies. When I look at you I no longer see you…I see your muscles, your bones, your veins moving your blood…AND… your bad posture, awkward gait, high sodium based diet, and arteries clogging up from eating your favorite breakfast burrito. Of course I pass no judgment as I sip on a famous milkshake from Cookout (best place in town, folks).
This is the beautiful result after four months of PT school. The material we learn isn’t just taught to pack in our brains and regurgitate at a test. It is to use in the real world. And as a professor proclaimed, a patient is a cumulative exam. The material learned months ago will continuously be tested. This keeps us sharp and motivates us not to fall into the trap of what many of us did in undergrad…just learn it for the test and move forward without really learning.
As we regrouped from around the nation over the past days our minds were awoken. We began a new module with a few new courses as well as continuation of others. Our research projects are being tweaked, new material is going to come as quick as our time here is flying, and clinical sites for next January, July, and September are being planned. I have a feeling it is going to be a busy summer but with amazing North Carolina blue skies and sun, I know I must take advantage of getting outdoors. It sure is a beautiful place to be!