Reflections from an Elon DPT graduate

Hi everyone! My name is Ashley and I graduated from Elon University with my Doctor of Physical Therapy degree in 2015.  I would like to tell you about why I am grateful to be a physical therapist and why I am very proud that I chose Elon, or rather, that Elon chose me.

After attending a large University for my undergraduate studies in Exercise and Sport Science and Psychology, I was looking for a smaller, tight-knit community to explore my passion for movement science.  While I thoroughly enjoyed my undergraduate experience, in a graduate program I sought an environment where I could make personal connections with faculty and peers while pursuing my intellectual passions.  For me, Elon was that place.  From the moment I set foot on Elon’s campus for a tour of their physical therapy facilities and program I knew that Elon was where I wanted to be. There are numerous reasons why I love Elon, but two that are most important and impressive to me are the people and their commitment to the community.

At Elon I found myself surrounded by professors who would go out of their way to see their students succeed.  And not just to succeed, but to truly understand.  I never felt myself to be “just another student”.  Quite the contrary, I was treated with respect, as if I were a colleague or a friend.  With professors’ doors always open to ask for, quite literally, a last minute question before an exam or just to stop by and say hello, Elon quickly fell into place as a home away from home.

Reflecting back on my three years at Elon, I’d be hard pressed to recall a professor or student who was not involved in community outreach in some capacity.  Elon is a place that continually gives back to the community.  During my time at Elon I was very involved with the H.O.P.E. Clinic which is a student run pro bono physical therapy clinic that serves those in Alamance County who are uninsured or underinsured. As students, this was an excellent way to apply our classroom knowledge in a clinical setting while serving those in our community.  Local elementary school students spend time with Elon physical therapy students during Elon’s Bone and Backpacks program.  The Bones and Backpacks program is an interactive way to teach children about their muscles and bones and the implications of carrying a backpack that is too heavy.  We were also fortunate enough to host the Special Olympics Spring Games where we set up and manned activity stations with the goal of providing a healthy and fun environment in community with one another.  Each of these programs has a common theme: using our knowledge and skills as students of physical therapy to give back to the community.

Here I am, over two years following my graduation from Elon.  I am fortunate that I find myself surrounded by a very supportive work family who is passionate about putting the patient first. What I love about the physical therapy profession is that every day you are given the opportunity to touch someone’s life in a meaningful way.  It is not uncommon to find yourself helping someone walk for the first time after a life-changing trauma or relieving someone of the pain they have experienced for the past five years.  There will be days where you will spend time outside of your one on one treatment time to find the perfect community resource for that patient.   These are the experiences that make physical therapy more than just a job.  When you enter this profession, especially after your graduate experience at Elon, you quickly realize that you are not simply a physical therapist but you are a patient advocate, a motivator, and a friend.  As a physical therapist you are often the healthcare provider that spends the greatest amount of uninterrupted one on one time with your patient.  What an opportunity!

Quite often I hear from other practicing physical therapists that Elon physical therapy students are one step above. I may be a little biased, but reflecting upon my experiences at Elon, and for many more reasons than are listed above, I understand this comment. When it is your time to decide which physical therapy school to apply to, I hope you choose Elon.  You will not regret it!

















Hey All,

So this past week was the dreaded midterms. Here’s the lowdown on what to expect.

Monday: PT Science 1 Practical
Tuesday: Anatomy Written Exam and Lab Exam
Wednesday: Research and Design Written Exam
Thursday: PT Science 1 Written Exam
Friday: PT Science 2 Written Exam

So as you can clearly see it was a jam-packed week. It was nice to not have our Physiology exam this week as well. That professor does things a bit different and has a different testing schedule. So it was like a mini physiology spring break. I think when I looked at what the week looked like it gave me this small dose of panic because it just seemed very overwhelming. I definitely sat there on the Saturday before and had to figure out my game plan. That included a lot of me opening and closing various notebooks and textbooks trying to study everything all at one time. After I realized how absolutely futile that plan was I started to prioritize my studying by when the exam would appear. So what I did was, I would try to study two items ahead. So on Sunday I was studying mostly PT Science 1 practical information, but also Anatomy. This helped to make the material more manageable and didn’t make me feel as though I was cramming.

I don’t know about you guys, but when I was in undergrad or in high school I rarely ever studied in groups. I hated them. I found that to be one of the most epic wastes of time ever!! Ever since grad school has started, I have changed my view on group studying drastically. Everyone in the program is so smart and comes from such a variety of backgrounds that they bring different perspectives to what is being taught. For example there are a lot of people who worked in outpatient physical therapy clinics and a handful who have worked in hospital settings. These two settings are very different and so each student brings a different outlook on how to do stuff and why things are done in that way. I have really benefitted from group studying. I did a lot of this to prepare for the midterms. It also makes you feel better to be around others who are doing nothing but studying for as many hours as you are. Misery likes company, not that I was truly miserable, but you get what I’m saying.

Everybody studies in different ways. I am the kind of person who has to rewrite everything at least twice for the information to really click in my brain. I know someone who writes all important information on colored pieces of paper. Some of my classmates have to write things down on whiteboards to digest the information. I have difficulty with the whole whiteboard thing because I get marker all over myself every time! Anyways, I also study in the morning. Like early in the morning. Like six or five in the morning depending on if I feel that I need extra time. I go to sleep about the same time as most grandparents: 9-9:30 P.M. One of my best friends in the program stays awake until about 2 every night, but wakes up at around 7 every morning. So you can see how everyone’s style of when and how to study varies so much in the program. I know one guy who only studies at the Francis Center and once he leaves he doesn’t do anymore work. I am really impressed by everyone’s work/life balance. I think most of us understand that we still have to keep doing the other things in our life that brings us happiness or else we are going to get burned out.

On all the days of testing it was really nice to talk to my fellow classmates. They were super encouraging about everything and helped to not make me feel dumb for some of the questions I had. I felt that most people did a really good job in reducing the nerves that built up for the practical and lab exams. Something about those kinds of tests really get me super jittery and nervous. I don’t know why I just end up building them up in my head. They were fine. The professors were super nice, reasonable, and reassuring. They encouraged us to come by and talk to them and review stuff with them before and after the exams. I really appreciate how they are always so accommodating and friendly.

All in all midterms weren’t that bad. Did I feel stressed out at some points? Yes. Did I question if I actually belonged in PT school? Yes. Did I eat 3 boxes of Girl Scout cookies because of said stress? YES. But I feel like all that is to be expected and I’m glad it’s behind me. Now I feel more prepared for what to expect for finals and for all the other major exam weeks to come. I survived them completely unscathed! I am just happy that I have such great classmates to be going through all of this with.

Oh and as treat to ourselves for handling midterms like a bunch of champs me and a few classmates went to a local Vineyard. That was a neat experience and I am glad these little outings exist. It was like the exclamation point at the end of one heck of a week.

Rediscovering the Passion – Clinical Rotations

Hey guys! Wow, time flies when you’re having fun. It feels like just yesterday I was writing my first blog post and beginning the journey of PT school. On Monday, my class began their neuro module and successfully completed our first clinical rotation! So if you’ve done some research into the curriculum of PT school, you may be asking: what is a clinical rotation?

clinical rotation is an opportunity for physical therapy students to apply their knowledge to real patients under the supervision of a certified physical therapist. At Elon, we complete three 8-week clinical rotations in our 2nd year and finish our 3rd year with a final 6-month rotation. The first clinical rotation is completed in an outpatient orthopedic clinic to follow our heavy orthopedic semester. I was lucky enough to return to my alma mater and work in the greatest university health care system in the area (Go Heels!).

So now you may be asking: what do you get out of a clinical rotation?

After a year of intense, didactic studies where we spend hours absorbing lectures, digging through textbooks and deciphering research it can be difficult to maintain the passion the existed at the time of PT school application. It is challenging to see the light at the end of the tunnel when you’re staring at names of neurotransmitters found in the nervous system. But there is nothing more thrilling than your first opportunity to step into the driver seat and feel what it’s like to really be a physical therapist. You have the ability to see first hand the necessity of physical therapy and the direct results that patients experience. It gives you a window into the “why” that is often missing from the pages of a textbook.

If you ask any of my classmates their level of confidence on the first day of their clinical, the resounding response would probably be quite limited. But in a matter of 8 weeks, we began to trust our knowledge and our ability to apply what we know to our patients. We learned how to problem solve, adapt when things change, and discover unknown answers on our own. Now, that’s not to say this was an easy process. The struggles and the mistakes we made in the clinic only made us better future physical therapists. But the best part about the clinical rotations is that they are the perfect place to make mistakes and learn from them. One of my favorite quotes I discovered online, “Mistakes have the power to turn you into something better than you were before” and I couldn’t agree more.

Getting into the clinic gives you the opportunity to foster relationships with patients, physical therapists, and staff members that only strengthens your professional presence. I had the opportunity to work with the same patients over the course of the entire clinical who ended up feeling like family to me. Although it was difficult to leave, I know that I had a small part in their recovery process by building trust and respect. I also had the opportunity to develop friendships with everyone on staff and have resources within the physical therapy community that extends far past the end date of the rotation.

It’s expected that you will learn tons of new information in the classroom during PT school, but the new skills and techniques that you learn from your clinical instructor (supervising physical therapist) and other therapists on staff is just as valuable. I had the opportunity to learn tons of new exercises, manual techniques and types of interventions that are used in the clinic. It would be nice if I could learn every single thing in the classroom, but one of the coolest parts about physical therapists is their creativity when it comes to treatment. Each therapist offered a unique perspective and gave me new tools to use for my future patients.

While there are many more valuable lessons learned in the clinic, I like to keep these blog posts brief enough to digest. On Monday my class had the first day of our neuro module! The next 4 months will be dedicated to understanding the neuroanatomy, neurological disease processes and the implications for physical therapy. But the best part is I get to spend the spring and summer with my classmates. After 3 months apart from one another, we are so excited to be back and spending time together. Physical therapy school may only be for a few years, but these friendships are for a lifetime.

Until next time!


Hey Everyone!

Right now I am in my second module here at Elon. There are a total of thirteen modules. So basically I’m right at the beginning. I don’t want to overload you with too much information, but to instead give you a light taste of what has been going on. These are just three topics that have really been on my mind lately. Each post will focus on something different to give you an idea of all that is the Elon DPT program.


When I was in undergrad I loved my Anatomy classes. I thought they were so fascinating and I remember other students complaining about how hard and boring they found it, but I couldn’t get enough. I found the human body so intriguing. My undergrad program didn’t use human donors, instead it was all done on models and pictures. That has been the biggest delight with Elon’s Anatomy course. I love that we get to actually work on a human donor. It really brings all these concepts to life and helps to solidify my understanding of the human body. The first day of dissections I wasn’t sure how I was going to react because I’ve got a pretty severe fear of sharp objects and I don’t like seeing people get hurt. However, it was one of the most exciting and interesting things I have ever done! I loved every minute of it!

We have completed our first Anatomy written exam and lab practical and I have to say I just adore this class. I feel as though I am absorbing the material in a way I never did in undergrad! Dr. Cope is a fantastic professor who makes the concepts stick.


PT Sciences:

So we take these classes called PT Science 1 and 2 this module. I have found these classes to be the most challenging because they are very hands on. This is really the start of taking the information that we are taught and applying it in a realistic way. We work with different lab partners and practice bed mobility, range of motion, modalities, etc.. Having the chance to actually do stuff that can be applied in a clinical setting is a little intimidating, but overall it is exciting. I love learning techniques that are applicable to my future.


Outside of school:

The students in my cohort have done an excellent job at finding activities to do outside of the classroom. We have had events where we hang out as a cohort and others where we socialize with the 3rd years. This has been a great chance to get to pick their brains and find out what to expect. I really enjoy when the class will do impromptu wiffle ball games on sunny days when we get out of class early. Or when we get people together to go watch a free movie at the Turner Theater. Also some of the girls have created a workout group where we go to the group exercise classes offered at Elon and exercise together. These small outings are huge morale boosters because PT school is challenging and sometimes you just need a break.


All in all things are going great!

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Surviving ortho 2K17

We are in the home stretch of our ortho module. So you may be asking what is ortho?

Ortho is the nickname for our courses titled “Biomechanics and Musculoskeletal Dysfunction.” At Elon, we spend the first three modules solidifying the basics. Before we can diagnose and treat our patients, we have to be confident in our understanding of sciences, such as anatomy and physiology, as well as the basics of patient care in physical therapy. We learned the skills of documentation and interviewing, and focused on easing ourselves in to hands-on treatment style. After we learned new skills and perfected old ones, we were ready to become clinical investigators and enter the timeline of rehab.

Now, the ortho module is unlike any schedule we have experienced before. The semester is separated into three, six-week sections focused on one region at a time: spine, lower extremity and upper extremity. The majority of our day alternates between lecture and lab where we learn the techniques and practice on our classmates. When we aren’t learning about ortho, we are supplementing our knowledge with skills in clinical imaging and pharmacology. These classes give us the ability to apply another element of critical thinking to our patients and cases.

Let me tell you, I am out of breath just typing all of that out! Ortho is absolutely a marathon, not a sprint. My classmates have adopted the phrase “Surviving Ortho 2K17” because each day is a grind. But the best part is that we love every minute of what we do. It’s incredible how my classmates and I can transform as clinicians in just a few short weeks. Every day we get another step closer to becoming skilled and knowledgeable professionals who will one day help treat thousands of patients. That statement becomes a little closer to reality every day.

In a month, my classmates and I will be stepping into our first clinical rotation. These ortho courses are the bread and butter of physical therapy that lay the foundation for the rest of our professional lives. At times it can be tough and exhausting, but the motivation to continue refuels every time a concept clicks. And those moments happen. They happen so often. It feels like our passion for this field will never fade. (That might just be the thought of a first-year.)

I had the opportunity to attend the North Carolina Physical Therapy Association annual conference in October with my fellow classmates and professors. There were many representatives from various clinics and companies who employ physical therapists all over the country. When they would ask where we attended school, our responses were met with overwhelming excitement. The combination of our growing confidence in our ortho courses and the positive reputation of our program only confirms how prepared we will be for our first clinical rotation. Let the countdown to January begin!

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.

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!