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As a brand new graduate of a doctorate of physical therapy (DPT) program, I wanted to take the time to share some experiences from school and what you should expect for those who are currently in PT school and for those who are thinking of applying to a PT school in the near future. Getting into PT school is no easy task and here are a few pieces of advice that I can give you. Work hard during undergrad and get the best GPA that you can. This is important as PT schools are becoming more and more competitive as the PT career becomes more established. The next piece of advice that I would give is to have more than just the minimum required PT observation hours. The last piece of advice would be to get involved in your school and community. Schools want to see that you are engaged in multiple activities and are able to prioritize your time. Any individual can get good grades by studying all day, but it is more impressive to be involved in sports, clubs, and volunteer/outreach programs while maintaining your GPA.
As PT school begins with human anatomy, students quickly learn to become comfortable with each other. You will start off too nervous to talk to each other and by the next quarter you’re not sure what a shirt is and spend your time identifying structures on your classmate’s bodies. You quickly learn that there is no personal space in physical therapy. The first year is full of basic sciences and the classes that you believe at the time are boring and useless: Histology and Pathology. By the second year, you enjoy classes more as they are more clinical and you actually feel like a physical therapist. You spend late nights studying notes and looking up the newest research while trying to make time to go to the gym. Some people may even begin to question why they wanted to become a physical therapist at this point, but the good stuff is soon to come. The best advice that I could give while in school is to study and learn to become the best therapist you can and not for just a grade. No one will ask you what your grades were in school when applying for jobs. The other advice that I would give is to have fun while in school, enjoy time with friends, and make time for activities outside of school. I would partake in rock climbing, hiking, going to the beach, intramurals, going to the gym, and hanging out with friends.
The first big challenge comes when you enter into the clinic for the first time and treat real patients. This is a big change from the classroom and working on our classmates where they know what you are asking and typically do not have any real impairments. This is also the main reason why you entered into PT school; to help others. You will start off nervous while treating your first patient, but you have been well prepared up to this point. The best advice that I could give to those who are in their clinical rotations is to be confident when treating/communicating with patients and with all interactions with your mentors, come each day prepared, practice safely, adapt to your mentor and ask questions to learn all that you can. I struggled initially in one of my rotations because I was always wondering in the back of my head “What would my mentor do?” or “Is this right?” This caused me to not look confident and lose rapport with my patients. It is important to treat how you feel is correct and be confident, your mentor will correct you if need be and you’re not going to kill anybody. I would also say that it is important to choose a site that you will enjoy, but also one that will help you grow as a clinician. Do not go to a site because you heard it was easy, go to a site that will challenge you every day and help you become the best therapist that you can when coming out of school. Once out of school and in the real world, you may or may not have another therapist to mentor you and bounce ideas off of.
When the day finally arrives for graduation, it will be one of the most exciting days of your program. You will come together with all your friends and celebrate as you walk across the stage and accept the piece of paper that you worked 3 years to achieve. Although this is a great accomplishment, it will not be the end of your studies. Along with being a lifelong learner through new research and the ever changing medical field, you have to begin studying for the biggest test of your life. The national licensing exam is the test that will allow you to use your newly earned degree. This five hour long test is said to be the hardest test that you will experience throughout PT school. With hours and hours of studying along with multiple practice tests, you will surely pass. I have asked many people how they feel after the test and the majority of individuals say “That was the hardest test I have taken”, but they still all passed. The most important part of studying is to take practice tests as you need to build up your test endurance and learn how the questions are worded. For the exam; there is typically more than one correct answer, but there is one answer that is better than the rest. This can make the test tricky and it is important to pay close attention to key words within the question. I would also recommend buying the PEAT practice exams because they are old versions of the exam and will give you the closest experience to the real thing. I am currently studying using the Scorebuilders book as my primary study tool, but am taking practice tests from the O’sullivan text as well. If you have any questions regarding PT school, clinical rotations or studying for boards; feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.