To My Fellow Students
7 minute read
A little under three years ago, I was a first-year physical therapy student, and I held a human brain in my hands for the first time in gross anatomy lab. It was, by far, one of the coolest days I'd ever had. I didn't think any feeling would ever top that feeling — until I helped a college student return to her group exercise classes after a broken ankle, until I helped a retired woman learn how to walk through Target aisles after she had a brain tumor removed, and until I helped a little boy with developmental delays learn how to jump up to pop bubbles with his brothers. The only feeling that I thought that might top those feelings? The feeling that I was going to get walking across the stage to get my doctor of physical therapy degree — that is, until COVID-19 showed up and changed everyone's plans.
What a way to end our time in physical therapy school. Clinicals halted early. Abrupt or virtual goodbyes to clinical instructors, and goodbyes passed along on our behalf to patients. Graduations delayed, postponed, or cancelled altogether. No last class party, no last get-together with the professors. This one hurts more than the C we got on a neuroanatomy exam, or more than the experience of failing a practical. For those set to graduate in August or September, I'm sure the thought of potentially waiting even longer for your hard-earned degree feels nothing short of robbery. For those in programs like mine who are set to graduate this May, this is not what any of us imagined when we pictured our final clinical rotation, last semester, or graduation.
If I had to put my finger on how most of us are feeling right now, it'd be a combination of worried, lost, and defeated. We're worried about our friends and families, our grandparents, anyone we know who is considered high risk, and our friends in other disciplines who are deemed essential personnel who've been called in to work every day. We feel lost because we no longer have clinic time to fill up our days, and we've pretty much finished all our work. We feel defeated because we were pulled from clinical rotations prematurely, but mostly because this accomplishment that we've worked so hard for will no longer be celebrated as expected with our loved ones. If there's anything we need right now, it's encouragement and positivity.
Given the current state of this global pandemic it feels strange to even type this out, but congratulations are in order to all of us. We essentially have just finished seven years of higher education. We made it through all of the long days in lecture, the late nights agonizing over origins and insertions and capsular patterns, through countless labs, through drafting and sharing study guides, reading articles, presenting projects and research, and practicing and critiquing manual skills. We said hello to patients who changed our lives forever, and we also had to say goodbye as our rotations went by faster than we imagined they would. We formed friendships that will last a lifetime with our classmates, our professors, and our clinical instructors. Even though that feels overshadowed, we did it. Take a pause and hold onto that.
We're understandably devastated that a lot of us won't get the opportunity to walk across that stage and receive our diploma in front of our friends and families when we expected to. A lot of us are worried about the NPTE too. We've done everything in our control at this point to take the exam as early as possible so that we can start working right away, but that might be later than anticipated. Find something, anything, that motivates you to keep studying — we'll take the exam when we can, and when we do we'll pass it. Take a pause and hold onto that.
The field of physical therapy is more diverse now in terms of both setting and practitioner than ever before. There are so many opportunities for us out in the world — seriously, I get at least 30 LinkedIn and Indeed notifications to my email every day. There is so much more information we have to learn so that we can translate it for our patients. Each of us has the knowledge and skills to find our place in the profession. Is it scary that we'll likely be starting the job hunt in a recession? Absolutely. I don't mean to downplay that at all, we all have loans to pay off. But we'll get there. We'll get hired. And then, FINALLY, not too long from now, we'll be full-fledged physical therapists. Take a pause and hold onto that.
To the classes of 2021 and 2022: I know you're probably frustrated that your rotations and education have been affected by this too. Know that your choice to join this profession will be worth it. Don't take this time in school for granted; get the most out of it that you possibly can. Go to every review, class party, information session, APTA meeting, or conference that you can once social distancing isn't necessary anymore. School will be finished before you know it, but your profession needs you.
To the class of 2020: It may not be what we thought it would be, but it's here. Allow yourself to feel the disappointment, but also use this unforeseen free time to your advantage. Take a breath, and take a study break (be honest, you need one at this point). Do a home workout, call a friend, take a walk outside — take care of yourself, and especially now, please stay safe! Be proud of what you have accomplished and keep thinking positively, even though it's hard. Know that you deserve this moment of pause, no matter how you choose to use it. We'll get there together.
Last, but not least, to my own graduating class, Virginia Commonwealth University DPT 2020: You all have challenged me, inspired me, and helped me become the person and therapist that I am today. From our days of being stuck in Sanger's elevators, to our white coat ceremony, to our endless days and late nights spent in West Hospital basement, to all the fun we had both in and out of the classroom, to now, it's been quite a journey, and it wouldn't have been the same without any of you (and especially themed Fridays). The last three years have been unforgettable, and I cannot wait to see what we do.
Samantha "Sam" Puller is a student at Virginia Commonwealth University. She is passionate about pediatrics and physical therapy education. You can connect with her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.