When Should You Take the National Physical Therapy Exam?

Name: Lindsay Mayors, PT, DPT, Graduated Class of 2017
Current Employment: Physical Therapist at KidSPOT Pediatric Therapies
Professional Goals:
to empower every child that I encounter to discover their vast abilities and reach their greatest potential, become a clinical instructor, and become a Pediatric Certified Specialist

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So, you’re a third year DPT student ready to graduate this upcoming May. The question is looming: when should you take the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE): April or July? Lindsay Mayors, recent graduate, is here to give you a guide to deciding on when to take the NPTE.

Deciding when to take the NPTE is no easy task. If you are a third year student reading this and if you’re anything like I was at this time last year, your mind has felt like a teeter-totter repeatedly bouncing between April and July ever since you took the NPTE prep course at Regis. If your mind is on that teeter-totter at this point, take a deep breath and know that you do not have to make a decision right now. Now is the time to recognize all that you have accomplished in the classroom over the past two years, enjoy your last few days with your amazing classmates, embrace the uncertainties that undoubtedly come with the start of your final clinical rotations, and go out and enjoy those golden aspen leaves! Once you settle into your clinical (which, I promise, you ARE ready for), you can jump on that teeter-totter again with a clearer mindset.  The good news is that there is no right or wrong answer. It just takes a little bit of what Regis instills in us best…you guessed it…self-reflection!

There are 4 dates every year to take the NPTE; they are in January, April, July, and October.

I was one of the few in my class who chose to test in July. My fourth clinical was finally in the setting of my dreams: pediatrics! It’s a niche field of PT that is not heavily emphasized in the curriculum. For me, the thought of going home after clinic and studying for the NPTE did not stand a chance against going home and studying up on all things peds! My ultimate goal was to work in pediatrics, so I wanted to absorb all of the information I could during that rotation without spreading myself too thin between additional obligations. This decision allowed me to be fully prepared and present every day to each child; this is now something I highly attribute to the reason I was offered a position at that clinic.

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I traveled to Belize after graduation without allowing any NPTE thoughts to enter my mind.  When I returned, the 6-week journey of studying several hours/day began. Were there times over the summer that I was tired of studying and wished I had gotten it over with in April?  Of course. But were there times that I was thankful that I had un-interrupted time to study while maintaining a balanced lifestyle? Absolutely. Channeling my energy to be thankful for the process and reminding myself that it would be over in 6 weeks brought be back to my center. And those 6 weeks flew! A few days after receiving the results, I saw my very first pediatric patient independently. My mentoring PT signed off on all of my notes until my license number came through 5 weeks later. And here I am now, writing a blog post (instead of documenting on today’s PT sessions), still in disbelief that I have been a practicing PT for two months already!

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Here are some questions to consider during your decision-making process:

1. In what setting is your final clinical rotation?

 

Is it a setting in which you already have a high level of confidence, or is it a setting in which you have had minimal experience and may require additional preparation and study time?

2. What is your ideal study set-up?

Group study or individual study? Shorter bouts dispersed over a long period of time, or longer bouts concentrated in a shorter period of time? If the latter sounds better, maybe waiting until after graduation to settle into the rhythm of studying is for you.

3. What other tasks/activities/obligations do you have outside of clinical?

Research presentations, working on completing your capstone, finishing you clinical in-service presentation, family events, hobbies, weekend trips, etc. all will impact your ability to study–make sure to consider your time available from all angles.

4. Considering #2 and #3, what will set you up best to maintain a healthy life balance during your NPTE preparation?

Think about what’s realistic for you to accomplish.

5. Additional factors you may consider: travel and finances!

If you are planning on traveling after graduation, will you be able to relax and enjoy yourself if you still have to take the exam in July?

You should also consider:

  • If you want to take the exam in July, but feel it is financially necessary to begin working as soon as possible…
  • Does the state in which you plan to work allow you to practice under a provisional license while you study?
  • Does the setting in which you hope to work allow you to begin working in the time period between passing the exam and obtaining your license number? (~4-6 weeks is typical).

TIP: In general, it is more likely that a larger healthcare system will require a license number than a private practice.

The bottom line is, no matter what decision you make, there may be “the grass is greener on the other side” thoughts that arise. There may be doubts. There may be teeter-totters and remaining questions even after you decide on your test date. This is why I encourage you to consider what would be best for your own well-being. When answering the 5 questions above, consider your personal pros and cons. Reach out to your advisors, mentors, and classmates to assist you in the decision. Most importantly, make sure to have fun and create positive energies around your studies, no matter if they are for the April or July exam.

 

 

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