12 Tips That Helped Me Succeed During My First Year In PT School
Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes
Acclimating to the first year of physical therapy (PT) school can be quite a daunting task that seems like a roller coaster of highs and lows.
During my first year, there were days when I came home from school fired up and in love with the career path I had chosen; whereas other days, I came home stressed and overwhelmed with the rigor and caseload.
Everyday, though, I was determined to maximize my experience and to find a way to make the journey fun and productive.
I wanted to maintain a big picture focus instead of allowing myself to get caught up in the day-to-day stressors. So now that I'm a second year, I want to share 12 tips that helped me succeed during my first year in PT school:
- LOVE WHAT YOU DO! Nerd out! Find aspects of physical therapy and patient care that you truly enjoy and allow yourself to be driven by them. This will lead to more dedicated and enjoyable studying.
- Get involved. Don't just think about it, do it! I found a couple of volunteer outlets and attended them with the mindset of giving my time to help others. I ended up gaining so much more in the form of experience and insight from these avenues. I worked with Special Olympics, Samaritan's Purse, and The Arthritis Foundation and had a blast helping others while networking and obtaining real world experiences. Second, I became active in the North Carolina chapter of the APTA and I became a member of the Student Special Interest Group. By doing so, I have made countless connections, found my #PTfam, and even secured clinicals through recruiters and clinic managers I've met along the way!
- Utilize your immediate network. I never realized how beneficial other people's experiences and knowledge could be. I am a very independent person and prefer to navigate my own path while creating my own learning environment. However, I gained some of my most important information and advice through side conversations with professors and other students as they shared clinical pearls.
- Don't be afraid to work hard. Really hard. I underestimated my own potential and how many hours I could study. But you'll find that a minute spent studying is never a minute wasted and will 100% pay off on test day.
- "All you can do is all you can do, but all you can do is enough." This was a quote from my father who I have watched work days, nights, and weekends on his own job. I told him I didn't know if I could survive PT school and this was his response.
- Reach out to aspiring students and remember how fortunate you are to be in the position that you are! Remember why you chose the field of physical therapy for a reason and how hard you worked to get there.
- Balance social/study life. I went through a phase where I did nothing except study. I neglected my personal workout time and time with my family and friends. Fortunately, I quickly learned that was a mistake. As a student, it is important to dedicate yourself to your studying and learning. However, it is crucial to maintain your relationships, social time, and personal time.
- Find your tribe. My roommate is in the same program and is just as nerdy as I am. Every afternoon on our way home from school, we would discuss something new that we each learned that day. This solidified the concept and allowed us to maintain our passion and motivation for learning.
- Write a letter to your future patients. One night I was stressed and overworked, so I closed every open tab on my computer, opened up a new word doc, and typed a letter to my future patients. This helped me remember my empathy and passion for my future patients. Also, it motivated me to keep working hard so I can be the best DPT for my patient.
- Work in a pro bono clinic. Fortunately, my school has an established Neurowellness Clinic that brings in around 10 patients twice a week. I learned exponentially by working with these patients. As a kinesthetic learner, the hands-on experience taught me more than any textbook I picked up all year long. Also, in the year of working with my patient, I assisted him as he took his first steps of jogging after he was diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy and told that he would never run again. My patient was one of the most single-handed motivations that I had all year.
- Strive to know the material, not make the grade. This is HUGE! I had to break myself from the bad habit of judging myself based off my grades. One of my midterms came back as a C, and I had an all but convulsion. I am so driven off the fact that I had to make As, that I would stress myself out while studying. I had to learn that I really just need to know the material and then review my exams so I can see and learn from my mistakes. Now, as I know the material more extensively, the grade has become secondary success.
- On a final note, my best advice is perseverance. Never give up on your dream and know that every second of hard work will pay off.
Jennifer Baity, SPT, is a second year DPT student at Wingate University and is the APTA Liaison and NCPTA SSIG Director of Student Involvement. You can connect with Jennifer via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.