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Elon DPT students get a different view of physical therapy during trip to Belgium

This past spring, the third-year DPT class participated in a six-week clinical practice selectives course to prepare us for our 24-week internship. About half of the class stayed in Elon and studied in more depth specialties like orthopedics, neurological disorders, or pediatrics. The other half of the class spent time learning about physical therapy all across the world in places like Alaska, Australia, Belize, Peru, Belgium, which is where I went with six other classmates.

Every fall, students from Vrije Universiteit Brussels (VUB) come to Elon to sit in on classes and go to area hospitals and clinics to work with physical therapists. This spring was our turn. Although a bed sounded great after the long flight over, in order to fight jet lag we ventured around the city to find waffles and fries. All seven of us stayed in the most perfect AirBnb in the French neighborhood of Auderghem. It was just a 20-minute metro ride to the center of Brussels.

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This would be a very long blog post if I told you everything we learned in six weeks, so I will hit the highlights:

  • The country of Belgium itself is diverse yet divided in terms of government and language. The northern half has more Dutch roots and the people speak Flemish while the southern half speaks French. The city of Brussels is in the center and is a melting pot of Dutch and French. In order to treat all patients, the physical therapists we met knew both languages and spoke English, too. Most of the research they read is in English, so it is necessary for them to learn a third language. Very impressive.
  • The first day we jumped right in to classes at the VUB and helped with human cadaver dissection in the anatomy lab. We worked with medical students who moved VERY slowly through dissection. They allowed us to help but I could tell in their faces they didn’t like my technique. As a physical therapy student at Elon we spent seven months dissecting, focusing mainly on muscles and their origin, insertion, innervation, and action. The Belgian students were graded on their precise dissection so I stopped and decided it was more enjoyable to chat with them about their lives while they dissected.
  • Back at Elon, I am dependent on my car to take me everywhere. It was nice to take a break from the, “car life,” and walk and take the metro. I would average around 20,000 steps per day. We may have gotten turned around (lost) a time or two, but it was all part of the experience.
  • The physical therapy education is different in Belgium. At the VUB, students get their Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in rehabilitation and physiotherapy. This takes four years. After that they do not have to take a final board exam and are free to work. If they would like to specialize in manual therapy, they can continue for another year to achieve their advanced master in manual therapy. I am planning on taking the board exam in just five short months. After over two and a half years of DPT school, I am ready for this day to come. But I also think how nice it would be to not have to take a national board exam. I’ll keep dreaming.
  • American health insurance is confusing; Belgian health insurance is even more confusing. Every Belgian citizen has health care and pays a flat fee of 30 euro to the therapist ($35) for a strict 30-minute appointment. The patient gets reimbursed a certain amount of that by the government. Making $70 dollars per hour sounds great as a therapist but sadly taxes are so high that nearly half of what a “physio” makes goes back to the government.
  • Outpatient therapists in Belgium work crazy hours to be accommodating to the working persons’ schedule so most work 12-hour shifts Monday through Saturday. Two of the therapists we followed had private clinics and worked out of their homes. I guess that helps with the commute. The physios we met in Belgium live, eat and sleep PT.
  • Speaking of eating, waffles, fries, chocolate and beer. What more can I say? I miss the sweet smell of 1-euro waffles around every corner. I am not use to living in a big city, so I really enjoyed venturing to the city square, the Grand Place, to soak in the culture and to enjoy walking around with my classmates before we departed for our 24-week internships.
  • In America we must document everything we do with patients to be able to get reimbursed by insurance so we can get paid. I would say probably 25 percent of my working day on my clinical rotation right now is spent documenting patient care. In Belgium, there is no need to document to get paid so therapists only document if they need to remember something to do with a patient. As a result, they can see more patients throughout the day.
  • One day we went to circus school (one of I believe five in the world) and observed a physical therapist that worked with acrobats. It was a unique experience to see these amazing, fearless athletes flipping around bars and contorting their bodies in ways they are probably not meant to be contorted.
  • We met a Belgian Olympian who went to Rio last summer. He was being tested for Overtraining Syndrome by performing multiple VO2 max tests on a bike. He performed one test in the morning and another test in the afternoon and the amount of lactate in his blood would determine if his body was able to recover or not.
  • Every therapist treats differently, but most of the manual therapists we observed treated primarily with joint mobilizations and manipulations and left exercise up to the patients to do on their own time. This is something I would have a difficult time doing.
  • We observed physiotherapists at three large rehabilitation centers around Belgium. In the U.S., insurance dictates how long people are eligible to stay for inpatient rehab post stroke, TBI or SCI. Patients are able to stay in rehab for much longer in Belgium. Some may stay for a year. Revarte, a rehab center in Antwerp, had state-of-the-art equipment with an amazing treadmill for gait training that one of our classmates got to try out.
  • Last, but certainly not least, Brussels is so central to everywhere else in Europe that we had the opportunity to explore many other countries. It’s amazing how you can take just a two-hour train ride or flight and be swept into such a different culture. One of my favorite weekends away was to Salzburg, Austria, where we rode bikes on a Sound of Music tour and were surrounded by the Swiss Alps. It was so breathtaking.

This was a long post and I could go on for hours and hours about all the memories the seven of us made while in Belgium and in cities all around Europe on weekends. If I could, I would go back in heartbeat. I am so thankful for the plethora of experiences that Elon has to offer. I was able to learn so much more about myself as a physical therapist by gaining an appreciation for another culture.

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A Day in the Life of a PT Student

Hey everyone! I can’t believe how long it has been since my last blog post. Time around here seems to be a constant contradiction– it speeds by while also creeping slowly. Before I began PT school, I always wondered what the day-to-day schedule would be like. Would I have any time to enjoy my favorite Netflix shows? Would my mom wonder if I was still functioning? Well, I thought it would be nice to give you all a play-by-play! Call it a day in the life of a first-year PT student. (Let’s say it’s one of my ultra-productive, Wonder Woman kind of days).

The alarm clock blares at 6 a.m. and I jump out of bed, resisting the urge to hit snooze. Waking up early is absolutely not a requirement for PT school, but I always loved the feeling of being accomplished before noon. My early-bird roommate has already hit the brew button and the aroma of coffee fills the living room. After chugging a glass of creamer drenched coffee, I head to the gym with the hope that my eyes are open enough to see the treadmill. Working out at 6:30 a.m. isn’t easy, but once you’re in the routine it gets pretty addictive. An hour later and drenched in sweat, I race back home to prepare for the day.

Class begins at 9 a.m. every morning allowing me plenty of time to get everything prepped for school. I pack up my backpack, make my breakfast and lunch (on a good day), make my bed and lock up the house. Living in a house with two of my classmates a short 5-minute drive away from the Francis Center is the greatest. While I like to pretend that my ducks are always in a row, it doesn’t hurt to have two friends giving me gentle reminders about school commitments when I need them (thanks Lauren and Allison!!).

I settle in to my seat in the third row and open up the PowerPoint of the day. Depending on the day our schedule can change. Sometimes we have one class for three hours and sometimes the morning is split between multiple courses. The good news is that our professors give us 10 minute breaks every 50 minutes. While that doesn’t sound like much, it feels amazing to get up and stretch your legs after sitting. I mean, would we be future PTs if we didn’t encourage that kind of behavior?

Our lunch hour arrives at noon and we each spend it differently. Occasionally, I’ll have different meetings, discussing clinicals with Dr. Herbert or my research project with Dr. Johansson. Many of my classmates use their lunch hour to study for upcoming quizzes or exams. On a beautiful day (and a day that may have started with a late morning), I may take my lunch hour to go on a run around our beautiful campus. Whatever you choose to do, our lunch break is a time to reset before our afternoon begins. The third years had a fun tradition of holding a cookout in the yard every Friday and everyone was invited.

The afternoon alternates between more lecture and lab days. Our lab days are great because we get to take the skills we learn in the classroom and apply them in a real setting. Today, we spent the first half of the afternoon in the anatomy lab working on our lower leg dissections. This week was particularly exciting because we had a teach-and-share swap with the PA students. While the PA students share the Francis Center with us, these moments of interdisciplinary work open our eyes to many different perspectives in the health care world. It helps to simulate a real-world experience of collaborating with professionals from other areas. It is always incredible to see how we can learn the same topic from a novel point of view.

After anatomy lab, we head to our practical lab for PT Science III where we learn the proper techniques for muscle testing. Today, Dr. Johansson and Dr. Murphy instructed us in evaluating strength in many motions of the arms and legs. While physical therapy can vary depending on your diagnostic methods, Manual Muscle Testing (MMT) is unique in that it is conducted the same way in every clinic. It’s pretty cool to think that every person who has learned physical therapy in the U.S. has been taught exactly what we are learning now. This is just one step of our initiation into the community of physical therapy.

Our classes wrap up by 5 p.m. and I head back home. The rest of the night can vary depending on the upcoming days. Today, I spent the afternoon analyzing some data to submit our research study for a conference. Now, that may not sound like fun to some, but I am so excited for this opportunity. Although that was the primary focus today, data analysis and research studies are not always the highlight of the afternoons. Some days I come home and binge on “Jane the Virgin” – my latest Netflix obsession – before reviewing lecture material. Some days I immediately hit the books and waste no time preparing for the school assignments to come. Every night consists of some sort of work to keep up with school, and some nights are busier than others. The reality is that while this PT program can be intense and it’s important to keep up with the work, you also need to find ways to keep your sanity. Whether that’s cooking an incredible dinner, walking around the lake on campus, or watching reruns of “Friends” on TV, the things you enjoy are still an important part of PT school.

Around 10 p.m. I hit the hay because, as my mom would say, that’s when I turn into a pumpkin. If you’re someone who enjoys late nights and late morning wake up calls – do not fret! I have classmates who make that lifestyle work as well. The most important thing to know is PT school is like a full-time job, but just like a job you have time for your personal life as well. The chance to learn the material that you’re interested in and pursue your dream career is the constant motivational force that makes the 9 to 5 more bearable. And in just two and a half short years, my classmates and I will finally earn that DPT we are so excited for. That makes everything worth it!

Alphabet Soup

It’s crazy to think that my classmates and I are already three months into the Elon DPT program. Just a few weeks ago, we walked into the Francis Center unsure of where the nearest restroom was, exchanging awkward glances with unfamiliar faces, and nervously awaiting the hard work to come. Now, deep into our second module, we are gaining confidence as we breeze through bed mobility and flow through evaluation interviews like pros. It’s been a fun experience growing and learning with a group of people who continually support one another through new and exciting challenges.

Our professors fondly refer to much of our coursework as “alphabet soup.” Whether it’s learning neurotransmitters in Physiology, documentation abbreviations in PT Science II or memorizing the route of the brachial plexus in Anatomy, it can often appear as a cryptic, secret code. When that secret code evolves into a mastered language, incredible things begin to happen in the classroom.

One of the new challenges that many of the first-year DPT students face is the anatomy cadaver lab. We are extremely fortunate that these selfless individuals have donated their bodies for the betterment of our education. It’s impossible to describe the overwhelming gratitude that my classmates and I feel each day that we step into the lab to begin our independent discoveries. Our anatomy professor, Dr. Cope, has spearheaded an anatomical gift program at Elon that has given new meaning and respect to the act of anatomical donation. Last Friday, Elon hosted a signing ceremony to honor the individuals who have made the noble decision to donate their bodies to our university. Listening to the future educators share their life stories and experiences that led them to this program helped solidify the importance of human connection within the cadaver lab. We are so grateful that Elon has allowed us to have these wonderful and impactful opportunities. You can learn more about the Anatomical Gift Program here: https://www.elon.edu/u/academics/health-sciences/anatomical-gift/

While the anatomy lab can be an obstacle, both emotionally and technically, it is the glue that binds the textbooks and the lectures together. The maze of muscles and nerves can seem undecipherable and admittedly evolves into the dreaded “alphabet soup.” But beautiful things seem to happen when our lab groups work together and formulate an anatomy language. This week, we had the unique chance to see the human brain and heart for the very first time. My classmate Kahli said it best, “Right within the palms of my hands sat decades of knowledge, memories and life. To see the complexity of our anatomy first hand, to uncover the mechanics behind each movement and learn about someone’s life beyond what their own eyes could ever see, has been an experience beyond the pages of any textbook.”

The class of 2019 has survived their first week of midterms!!! (And it only took a few comfort pizzas to get us there…or was that just me?). We have already learned an immense amount of knowledge in such a short amount of time. While the days can be long, we can see how this program has transformed the second and third year students into confident and prepared professionals. One day we will make it there, even if it means digesting a lot of alphabet soup.

Focused on the Future

Hello Again!

Here’s your Michigander, back at it again with the blog posts. Shout-out to Blake, a DPT candidate, whom I had the pleasure of meeting a few weeks back on Interview Day. He said he read the blog and that I talked about Michigan a lot, so I thought I would continue the tradition.

Many of us in the Class of 2017 have had great conversation with interviewees over the last couple of weeks. I have enjoyed how Admissions lets us DPT students’ help out on Interview Day. It benefits the candidates because they get honest answers from us about what to do at Elon, balancing life and school, ways to get involved, global learning opportunities, the curriculum, the professors, and much more! At the same time, it is great for DPT students because at one point we were in their shoes and we can see how far we have come! It’s motivating. I’m so proud of the Class of 2017; only one month in the Francis Center for some of us!

After Easter, our class is given 6 weeks to study anything we want to study. FREEDOM! About half of our class is choosing to stay at campus and delve more into the nitty gritty of either Orthopedics or Neurological Disorders. The other half of us have the opportunity to learn about physical therapy abroad in either: Australia, Belgium, Belize, Alaska, or Peru! I will be going to Belgium with six other classmates and I can’t wait to share my experience with you. It has been hard to focus in class at times because I start daydreaming of Europe.

Let me tell you what we have been up to this New Year! We finished off Module IX, which included Electrotherapeutic Modalities, Prosthetics and Orthotics, Management of Cardiopulmonary Dysfunction, and Exercise Physiology. My favorite part of this past module was when clients came to class or when we got to treat a client. After many years of sitting at a desk listening to lecture, many of us are just ready to see and do all things physical therapy. There’s only so much you can learn from words on a PowerPoint; everything just clicks when you see it put to action. For example, there are so many different parts to prostheses, but when clients with amputations come to class and walk and run all over the Biomechanics Lab, everything just makes more sense! It so much easier to learn by seeing how they move, and listening to their experiences.

Now we are in our final module of learning in the classroom! We are taking Pediatrics, Geriatrics, Clinical Decision Making, and Administration and Management. While I really enjoy having the opportunities to work with little kids in lab and going out in the community to learn from older adults, I have really enjoyed Clinical Decision Making. Over our last clinical rotation we had to choose a patient who we found to be complex. Now we are presenting the cases to the class, and teaching the class what we learned from our experiences. Students so far have presented on fascinating cases of people with traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, strokes, conversion disorders, lymphedema, and the list goes on. It’s very cool to see through pictures and videos the progress complex patients can make with the right therapeutic interventions.

While we continue to have a good time in the classroom, we are cherishing our last days of togetherness outside of the classroom. Excursions have included a weekend ski-trip to Beech Mountain, and a tour of breweries in Asheville. Whether it is cold and cloudy or warm and sunny, the class enjoys tailgating in the parking lot of the Francis Center at lunch. People brings snacks and meat for the grill and enjoy games like volleyball, corn-hole, Kan Jam, Frisbee-ing, playing giant Jenga (professors love it too), and water-balloon launching (I don’t know if that is really a game; people just enjoy launching water balloons and watching classmates get hit). Our class’ average age may be 26, but we are all kids at heart.

We all enjoy each other’s company and know that we will greatly miss each other, yet I think most of us are feeling prepared and ready to go out into the clinic. It’s different out there in the “real world,” but we are ready for the challenge and ready to be Physical Therapists.

 

 

 

 

Finally

Finally. After 15 months of anticipation, it was finally time to start the PT program at Elon. As I walked through the doors to orientation, I had no idea what to expect. Forty-six new faces filled my view as I hobbled my way to my assigned table. The strange mix of excitement, anxiety, fear and pure joy made my heart jump. While it was impossible to focus on the new introductions and informative sessions, I could tell this was the beginning of an incredible 3 years.

 Hi everyone! My name is Kailey and I just began my first year in Elon’s DPT program. I wanted to start my blog posts by giving you my first impressions as I acclimate to this new adventure. It has been an enormous amount to take in, but time is already flying by. Here are the incredible things I’ve noticed about our program in 3 short weeks:

 1.     My classmates are the BOMB (the good kind). I don’t know how we got so lucky, but each of us brings a unique perspective that transforms and builds our group dynamic. We have already begun to share learning methods and study materials because we care about each other’s success. It’s comforting to be surrounded by constant support when we are in such a new environment.

2.     It’s no wonder the class is a great group of people because our professors are outstanding! They are passionate and engaging with each passing minute, and inspire us to be the best therapists we can be. All of our professors have acquired special certifications or have conducted impactful research. We are so grateful to have the opportunity to learn from their experiences.

3.     Elon offers so many opportunities to get involved. Whether you are keen on leadership positions or you enjoy volunteering in your community, Elon encourages activities outside of the classroom. All of the first years have already gotten involved in our pro-bono physical therapy clinic called the HOPE clinic. It gives students the opportunity to utilize the skills they learn in didactic sessions and apply them in a real-life clinical setting under the supervision of a PT. These experiences allow us to expand our life skills and become well-rounded health care providers.

 While I could write an entire novel on our first impressions, I know there is still so much more to discover. One thing is absolutely certain: all of us are eager to learn and excited to join this promising profession. I hope you will enjoy following along with me on this journey! Please don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions you might have. Until next time, cheers to the next 3 years!

Many Thanks!

Well, it’s official! On December 11th, the DPT class of 2016 became Doctors! And maaaaan does that have a sweet ring to it. In the weeks since graduation, I’ve been reflecting a lot on these past three years. Some of the questions I’ve been asking myself: 1. How in the world did 2014-2016 go by so fast? 2. How did we learn SO MUCH in so short a time? 3. Most importantly, how in the heck did the guys not win an intramural championship!? As I’ve pondered all of these questions and reflected on these past three years in general, one particular theme keeps coming up over and over, i.e. thankfulness (OK maybe I’m not so thankful about the lack of intramural hardware, but I am thankful that we had so much fun trying!). I have been so incredibly blessed over these past three years in so many ways, and so this final blog post (bittersweet!!) will be focused on thanking those who have helped me reach my goal of becoming a Doctor of Physical Therapy.

  1. First and foremost, I have to thank God. He clearly and lovingly orchestrated each step along the way during this journey, and I am thankful that I will be able to love others as he has loved me, through my work.
  2. To my wife and family, thank you for believing in me always, and thank you for your never-ending and unconditional encouragement, love and patience.
  3. A huge thanks to each of my professors and the entire Department of Physical Therapy Education at Elon. You have all been and will always be mentors to me, and I can’t thank you enough for how you have invested in me and helped me grow so much over these three years. It’s abundantly clear that each of you cares tremendously about your students and the profession of physical therapy!
  4. To my classmates, thank YOU! I mean it 100 percent when I say that you have all become like family to me, and I look forward to continuing to grow with each of you and to making a big impact on the world of physical therapy. Thanks for all of the laughs, the support and the love. I miss each of tremendously already!
  5. Many, many, MANY thanks to each patient that I have treated as a student. The lessons that you have taught me, the ways you have encouraged me, and the memories that we made together are more precious to me than you will ever know. I love physical therapy because of YOU!
  6. Last but not least, a big thanks to you the reader. I hope the posts I’ve had the honor of writing over these past three years have proved helpful to you in at least some small way. If my corny jokes haven’t made you laugh at least once or twice, then I hope you have learned more about physical therapy at Elon University and the profession of PT in general!

It has truly been a great honor and pleasure writing for this blog, and I’m so thankful that I’ve been able to share how the PT program here at Elon has prepared me well to venture into the profession that I love so much.

Many thanks,

Luke Boyd

Back in the Game

The Elon Class of 2017 is back on campus and back in action! We’ve been back together since the first week of November and it has been an adjustment. From July through October we were on clinical rotations and up on our feet working with patients in acute care hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, and inpatient rehabilitation hospitals from 9 to 5. I would say most of would agree that it was so nice to be up and moving and putting the skills we have learned in the classroom and lab into action. But now it is back to the books and the Francis Center for a couple more months! The hardest part about being back so far has been the sitting; nevertheless it is great to be back with our DPT family!

So now let me tell you what we are learning! Yay.

We are currently taking five courses: Exercise Physiology, Management of Cardio-Pulmonary Dysfunction, Wound Care, Prosthetics and Orthotics, and lastly, Directed Research.

One of my favorite parts of Exercise Physiology and Cardio-Pulm is the lab experience. We combine the knowledge we are learning from both classes and work with a client who has some type of cardio-pulmonary dysfunction 1x/week for 12 weeks. We are only 3 weeks into the experience, but I’m excited to see how far my group’s client will improve. This week our patient came in with 7/10 neck pain and with a little exercise and postural education, they left with 1/10 neck pain! Pretty amazing, right?

Now I know you are probably thinking, why were you treating your patient’s neck in a cardio-pulmonary class? Well, when your patient’s number one complaint is their 9/10 neck pain that they woke up with, you can’t just ignore that. You must evaluate and treat the whole patient. As a physical therapist you can’t be narrow-minded. You must be ready for anything a patient presents with that day, and you must be skilled in all areas of physical therapy to treat a patient effectively.

That leads me to wound care!

I will be honest, when I arrived at Elon nearly two years ago I had no idea physical therapists evaluated and treated wounds. It is pretty amazing though how vast the physical therapy scope of practice really is. We must become skilled in all areas of the body, including the skin. So I guess it does make sense! Lectures and labs are spent analyzing pictures of wounds, which isn’t the most appetizing for everyone, but it has been an enriching experience that I wasn’t expecting. We also do fun things like debride fake wounds (AKA oranges). On my clinical rotations I came across A LOT more patients who had wounds than I expected I would. It is important that we know how to care for wounds so we can provide the best quality of care to our patients.

Next up is prosthetics and orthotics! This past week we all learned so much from having healthcare professionals and clients come to lab.

  • An occupational therapist told us all there is to know about upper extremity orthotics and splinting.
  • A certified prosthetist and orthotist brought in a variety of AFOs, KAFOs, HKAFOs for use to try on so we could see how it would impact a patient’s gait.
  • A physical therapist who owns a sports store in Greensboro came to teach us all about running shoes and foot orthotics.
  • A woman with MS came in to show us how her AFO helps her walk faster and more efficiently.
  • A pediatric physical therapist gave us a run down of all there is to know about pediatric dynamic ankle and foot orthoses. She brought in SO many cute and little orthotics for us to put our hands on which helped us learn more about them.
  • A man who had a recent stroke demonstrated the use of he HKAFO and how it impacts his gait and quality of life.
  • Lastly, an orthotist brought in a variety of COs, CTOs, TLSOs, LSOs, and KOs and showed how impressive some of these larger braces can be.

If you don’t know the abbreviations, please feel free to Google! This post would get really long and wordy if I typed it out. J

Last, but not least, is Directed Research. We have all been split into groups of 6-8 or so, depending on what we want to learn more about (i.e. nutrition, manual therapy, peds neuro, adult neuro, etc.). Each time the group meets, someone picks a research article to pick apart. Dr. Bailey helps the group analyze not only the content of the research, but also how it is presented to the reader. It leads to great group discussion, and helps us to understand the importance of analyzing research.

While it has been great to get back into the swing of school, it has also been wonderful being together again as a DPT family. This week we came together for a holiday party. Everyone came to school in their tacky holiday wear, with SO MANY crockpots full of deliciousness as well as a wide array of desserts that Buddy the Elf would be so excited about. Over half the class participated in a gift exchange. From seeing the gifts, it is pretty amazing how well our class knows each other. Three DPT students who live together even handed out a “family” Christmas card to everyone in the class. Holiday spirit is in the air!

Nevertheless, we have four pretty big exams that separate us from Christmas break. The end of our 2nd year is in sight! I was talking to first-year physical therapy students this afternoon who are nearing the end of their ortho module and about to leave for their first clinical rotation in January. It is hard to believe that that was the Elon Class of 2017 just one year ago! We have come so far in one year and I’m so proud of all we have accomplished together.

Here’s to (almost) being third years!