Will Boyd, PT, DPT
As students are flocking to campuses all over the country this weekend, I thought it would be a good time to sit down and reflect on what has stood out during my time in PT school. Winding down in my third year, I’m just a few months away from being done with graduate school (fingers crossed). I have learned a lot over the last three years and it seemed like a good idea to share that with all those about to begin their DPT and graduate school journeys.
You are Going to Freak the F#%$ out
At some point during your graduate studies, you will probably lose your cool for a minute. It will likely come during your Anatomy course or your first practical exam. If it doesn’t happen, you are awesome and you might as well replace the unicorn as the metaphor we use for something so elusive that it doesn’t exist.
The good news is, you will survive. A part of any significant challenge in life is how we deal with the pressure we put on ourselves. Remind yourself that you have made it this far and ALWAYS, ALWAYS remember that one test or practical exam has no reflection on your intelligence or capacity to be a great physical therapist.
Be Kind to Yourself
Every school is different, but for the most part, you will be seeing the same people ALL THE TIME and will naturally compare yourself to everyone else and judge yourself according to how you score on tests. YOU ARE NOT A TEST SCORE. I’ve met plenty of straight A students who struggle with interacting one-on-one with people.
Conversely, I have seen students barely float above passing who are amazing when they work one-on-one with people (you’re reading from one). When you start to feel awful that you aren’t doing as well as some of your peers (or if you’re always getting straight A’s and think you’re the most awesome PT student), take a breath and be kind to yourself. You are a person. You are doing your best. And EVERYONE, EVERYONE has things they can improve on.
Get Comfortable With Challenging Beliefs
I don’t mean just other peoples’ beliefs, I’m including your own as well. Part of being a scientist (yes, we are scientists) is constantly scrutinizing and questioning what we read and think. If we all started assuming that everything we have ever been told was fact (permanent), we would live in an ignorant and unchanging world. Or at least we wouldn’t be accepting of the changes around us! You will start to come across systematic reviews and randomized controlled trials with large sample sizes that conclude one treatment is better than another. Great! We are an evidence-based field and those types of studies are wonderful.
But don’t fall in love with them and don’t assume everything is done with the best intentions. Check the methods and see if there are flaws or holes in the research. If you are like me you will be frustrated by the amount of low level research you will come across for certain physical therapy interventions. That doesn’t mean what we do isn’t backed by science or that what we do isn’t helpful. We know it is helpful. We just often don’t truly know why or how it is. So keep challenging everything and our field will be better off because of it!
Mentorship is More Valuable than Your GPA
More than likely the first few semesters you will be very cognizant of your grades. Grades can matter depending on what school you go to. But Will, I won’t get a residency or fellowship if I don’t have a stellar GPA. I hate to break it to you, but welcome to the real world.
Your GPA doesn’t mean much if you are competing against people who have built relationships with the professors and academics who will be selecting the residency or fellowship recipients. What does this mean for you? Study. Get good grades. BUT, if you really want to move forward in the profession, network and make connections with the people in our field that you admire or hope to learn from. I promise you that they are more open to talking with you than you think. They remember that not too long ago, they were in your shoes. Seek guidance and mentorship over a 4.0 GPA. It will be the best thing you do.
Enjoy Where You Are
You are about to embark on a wonderfully stressful time in your life. You will most likely ride a roller coaster the next few years that goes from overwhelmed before a practical (I think I’m going to throw up!) to let’s get weird! (after you pass your practical) to when the f*$# is this ever going to end? Remind yourself that where you are is a place of growth. You wouldn’t be where you are if you didn’t have a desire to push yourself and become more educated than you are now. Success isn’t what you have. Success is progress. You are progressing by just being where you are. There will be days you will feel like you aren’t smart enough. I want to remind you that you are more than smart enough. You are exactly where you should be. Enjoy it.