Podcast: A Nontraditional Student Perspective
Listening Time — 32:40
At age 39, Kelly Clarke became a physical therapist. Despite knowing she wanted to become a physical therapist at the age of 17, Kelly’s life and career took her down a different path. But what Kelly knew the entire time was that the profession of physical therapy was her calling.
By the time she entered physical therapy school, she was what we’re going to call in this episode a “nontraditional student”—older than most of her student peers, having explored other careers before pursuing the physical therapy profession.
In this episode, Kelly talks openly about some of the challenges of that nontraditional student experience. She also advises current and future students that they should never let a lack of encouragement be mistaken for discouragement, believing that if someone puts forward the effort that they too can enter this wonderful profession.
Here’s our conversation with Kelly.
Read Kelly's original blog post, “5 Things I Wish I'd Known Before Starting Physical Therapy School: A Nontraditional Student Perspective,” or visit APTA’s Pulse blog for more articles like this.
APTA Podcasts like this one are available on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, and Spotify, or by visiting APTA.org/Podcasts.
A Struggle I Would Not Change
4 minute read
I am in my 40s. I had a job for 15 years when I decided that I wanted a career change.
I looked around at the people I knew or had met.
I had a 4-year degree, but my degree was not specific enough to use as a tool for gainful employment elsewhere. I knew that I needed more education, either a master's degree or an associate's degree in a trade.
My friend and others, all physical therapists (PTs), impressed me with their skill sets in caring for my daughter with disabilities and teaching me through their work.
We talked about physical therapy, and I researched the time and cost involved for the education. The price tag was too high. I then heard about the physical therapist assistant (PTA) option. I realized that I could get similar professional enjoyment as a PT, but with a smaller price tag on the education. I also felt that I could make the same or more money than I was without the overtime at my current job.
I have a family. My wife and I had been married for 15 years when I started physical therapy school. We have 3 daughters, 1 of who is disabled.
We had a life that we were settled into, struggles and all. Now, I wanted to change things. I needed her support or it wasn't going to work. I had to have a conversation with my wife to see if this was something that we could handle. She said yes.
The prerequisites and the program course load—once accepted—would mean time away from home and money. We understood that I would go from working full-time to working part-time with extra shifts to pay tuition. It was a tall order, but she supported my dream and so did my daughters. Everyone understood that things at home might change while I worked toward becoming a PTA.
Once I began attending classes, I found myself looking at the pictures of past graduates on the walls. I needed to see if there was someone my age or close in the age group. I saw what looked like at least 1 in each class. I was happy to know that, at least historically, I was not alone as far as age was concerned.
I worked hard to maintain a presence at home. I was home with my family, but busy studying. Someone told me that it was good for my kids to see me study because it reinforced the notion when it came to their own schoolwork.
My wife had to pick up the ball on many occasions—getting the kids to school, homework, dinner, and parent–teacher conferences—due to my early class times, studying, and when it came time, clinical shifts. I did my best to help and maintain most of my duties as a parent and a spouse. I guess the good part was that I was actually home more than usual. Normally, I would be at work most days of the week. I would not see my family for days at a time except in the morning before they left for school and work. They actually had to get used to me being home while they were awake. Still, I was gone weekends when I worked my part-time shifts. And I worked holidays for extra money.
My classmates were young and smart and full of energy and plans. I had previously experienced some of their plans, but it was exciting to see the looks on their faces when talking about engagements, planning for a house, moving in with partners, and starting new relationships. All the while, my wife and I were talking about retirement plans and had done estate planning.
I was not the oldest person in my class. It was nice to not be alone in the age department. We had a few conversations about the perception of us in relation to our younger classmates. We talked about future employment and the reasons we went back to school.
I remember when I was a younger student, seeing older adults in my classes and wondering if their life took a wrong turn and now they needed to go back to school. For me, my life was actually okay before I started. I just wanted a change and felt I needed a formal education to do so.
Balancing school, work, and home can be challenging. Everything seems to be at stake. If I fail my classes, it means money wasted.
If my wife handled everything at home without any help, in addition to working full-time, she would be wiped out, and I would feel like I failed home.
If I fell asleep at work from being tired, I'd get fired and be unemployed.
I enjoyed the learning process. And my instructors and classmates were great; however, I felt like I was walking a tightrope the entire time.
It was a struggle from the beginning to the end; something that I would not change.
Waco Porter III, PTA, graduated from MO Western PTA program and now works at PRN for Life Care Centers, Encore, and Reliant Rehabilitation in the Kansas City area. He works with adults with developmental disabilities.