What to Do When You Get Into PT School

 Name: Davis Ngo, Class of 2020!
Undergrad: 
University of California, San Diego
Hometown: 
San Jose, CA
Fun Fact:
My favorite animals are manatees because they’re just the chillest.11071038_10204929466588479_4501112845883243502_o.jpg

You’ve gotten into PT school! Now What?

This is it. You’ve done it. You were accepted into Regis University’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program.

It makes sense you got into a few of your other top schools as well (who knew having choices could be so stressful?!). But now you’ve done the research, toured campuses, spoke to all pertinent parties, and finally you’ve come to your decision. A bit anticlimactic, don’t you think? The countless hours of hard work, stress, and uncertainty that lead up this pivotal moment…Funny that the culmination of all this—and the decision that would shape the course of your next 3 years (not to mention the rest of your life)—could come down to just a couple of mouse clicks.

Click.

Click.

Deep breath. What next?

Step 1: Take a moment.

There is no elaborate display, no grandiose announcement, no surprise party.

Just those tiny triumphant mouse clicks (and a hefty hole in your bank account from the deposit).

Anticlimactic? Perhaps. Fitting? Definitely.

You are the reason you’ve gotten this far. You are the one who accomplished all of this. YOU did this—it only makes sense that you get to experience this minuscule moment— all on your own.

You’ve been accepted by one of the finest DPT programs in the nation, and with your click-click of intent you’ve officially committed yourself to a fulfilling and rewarding life of service and learning in the field of physical therapy. The veil of uncertainty cast over your future has been lifted and you know exactly where you’re going to be. Take a moment to think back at all you’ve accomplished: anticlimax aside, this surely was no small feat.

You are intelligent. You are well-rounded. You are hard-working. You are determined and resilient and strong. You are exceptional. You are kind.

This is your moment. You deserve this.

Step 2: TREAT. YO. SELF.

After you’re done patting yourself on the back, here comes the time we’ve all been waiting for… In the immortal words of Tom Haverford, TREAT YOSELF!

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Take yourself shopping. Buy yourself a drink. Go on your favorite adventure. Eat your favorite meal. Take yourself to a movie. Sit in and binge watch your favorite show and, when you’ve finished that, binge watch another. Spend time with your loved ones. Have them shower you with compliments. Buy that thing you’ve always wanted to buy. Do the thing you’ve always wanted to do. Have that cake, and eat it too. At this point you might be thinking: do I really NEED all that? The answer is TREAT YOSELF. YOU ARE AMAZING.

How did I treat myself? One of the first things I did was go on the Patagucci website and buy myself an overpriced, super gaudy fleece. I call it my “treat myself” sweater, and I love it.

After that, I took some time to travel the East Coast (I had never been). I ate, drank, and danced my way around the major cities there, and experienced my first “real” winter ever. It was awful, and beautiful, and just the grandest adventure.

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Brooklyn Bridge!

I came home and decided that I wanted to spend the months before school doing the things I love most: mainly climbing, adventuring, traveling, and being with my loved ones. I put in my two weeks notice at the physical therapy clinic and hit the road.

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Soaking up the sunshine in the Mammoth, CA hot springs.

In the weeks that followed, I spent much of my time climbing and soaking up the Eastern Sierra sun in my favorite place on Earth: Bishop, California. I even got to met up with fellow DPT Class of 2020 student, Annie Govig, and took her on an adventure out in the mountains!

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Met up with Annie Govig on her spring break road trip!

I was lucky to be able to save my money while living at home so that I could take this time off. I also specifically planned to work hard during the application period so I could play hard. If you don’t have this luxury of time, I still hope you find a way to treat yoself. It only takes a few seconds to buy yourself a treat yoself sweater. That cake is just a trip to the store away. Treat. Yo. Self.

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Step 3: Back to business.

Alright, alright. We knew it couldn’t all just be fun and games. You’ve got business to attend to.

By now, you should’ve received an email (or several) from Regis Compliance with detailed information on your list of compliance tasks (shots and immunizations, background check, CPR requirement, etc). These things are important and must be done or in progress before your start date, so get started early! Don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of time as long as you stay on top of it.

This is also a good time to think about your financial situation and figure out how you’ll be paying for your time at Regis. Look into applying for financial aid, research loan options, calculate your budget and cost of living, etc. It’s best to stay well-informed and have some sort of budget in mind before jumping into the world of grad school loans; start thinking and planning now!

Finally, it might be a good time to start thinking about your upcoming living situation. Do you want roommates, or do you like having your own space? Where in Denver do you want to live? For those coming from out-of-state, the process of finding proper accommodations remotely may be daunting and difficult, so try to get started early to get your bearings.

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Step 4: Freak out…But only a little!

“Wait, but I’ve never lived outside of California before. What will it be like to leave my home and my comfort zone? Wait, where are my immunization records? A CPR class costs how much? Do I REALLY need a new laptop and iPad? Holy moly how much money am I going to have to borrow? I haven’t been in school full time for years; am I even ready for this? Where am I going to live? How do I find a place close to school that is also nice that is also cheap and also has great roommates? Oh my goodness; there are only six weeks left before I leave. What about all the things I wanted to do? Who will I be able to see before I leave? How will I get all this done in time? Am I just going to live out of my car? Will I even have friends? AHHHHHHHH!”

It’s okay! Cálmate! Tranquilo! Take a deep breath! It’s okay to freak out a little. Lots of big changes are about to happen and it’s natural to be anxious. Try not to stress too much, though. I know it all may seem a bit overwhelming, but try and take things as they come.

Get things done slowly, one thing at a time. Remember that you now have a whole new support system at your disposal. The counselors and administrators at Regis University are there to help you, so don’t hesitate to call or email with any questions you may have. You also have a whole list of classmates, entering and current, who are eager to help so reach out to them as well! You are not alone in this.

You’ll be okay. I promise.

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Step 5: Breathe, relax, and GET PSYCHED!

You’re about to begin a rigorous academic journey that will eventually lead you to the rest of your career in physical therapy. Soon you’ll be in school full time, five days a week—not to mention the hours spent practicing and studying outside of class and lab.

So, be kind to yourself. This is your time to relax. To breathe. To fully enjoy the calm and the free time you have before becoming a full time graduate student.

Go soak in the sweet sunshine of your last summer. Go play hard and be joyous. Spend quality time with your family and friends. Daydream about the future. Think of all the beautiful and wonderful new opportunities and possibilities that lie ahead. Connect with your new classmates. Be happy for yourself. Get psyched.

This is the beginning of the rest of your life. 

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10 Tips to Get You Into PT School

So, you’ve decided you want to be a physical therapist? Congratulations! That means you’ve decided to pursue pretty much the best career the world can offer. Unfortunately, the idea of actually applying to PT school can be pretty daunting, but I’m here to help! Hopefully I can make the process a little easier by passing on a few pieces of advice I found helpful back in my application days. These are either things I wish I had known when I was applying or tips I heard firsthand from professors, PT’s, previous students, etc. I hope they’ll be useful for you as well:

1. Think about what you want out of a school

One of the most difficult parts of applying to PT school is figuring out how you’re even going to start narrowing down the 220-something schools to just a handful that you are interested in. Before you dive in, make a list of characteristics you want your school to have. Some things to consider might be:

  • Location
  • Cost of tuition
  • Class size
  • Research opportunities
  • International opportunities
  • Clinical schedule/requirements
  • APTA Involvement
  • And many more!

Do some research and don’t apply to any schools that don’t fit ALL your criteria. If you want a large class, don’t apply to a school that will only admit 20 students. If you don’t want to move to Texas, don’t even look at the schools in Texas. Also, make sure you know why you are applying to each school—If you can’t explain specifically what jumps out to you about a particular school, you probably shouldn’t be applying there. The PT school application is just as much about you figuring out which is the right school for you as it is about each school figuring out who is best for them.

Some first years at the top of Estes Cone in October–funny how long ago that seems now!

2. Be honest with yourself as an applicant

Be a well-rounded applicant! Know where your weaknesses are and make up for them by being strong elsewhere. For example, if you don’t have the highest GPA, then you should take the time to study for that pesky GRE to boost your academic profile. Don’t make excuses about your weaknesses, but instead be able to articulate what you’ve done to overcome those setbacks. Find other ways to strengthen your application outside of academics: volunteer, get observation hours in a variety of PT settings, take extra time on your essays, or rack up some more extracurricular activities. Here are a few more things you can do if you feel like you might not stand out next to someone with a 4.0 who was president of 17 different clubs:

  • Apply to schools that conduct interviews so you can sell yourself in person.
  • Do a little extra research to find the schools that are going to look at you as more of a whole person rather than primarily emphasizing GPA and GRE scores.
  • Apply to schools with less applicant volume so you have less competition.
  • Look at the school’s acceptance statistics (e.g. what percent of in-state vs. out-of-state applicants they accept) to see what your chances are of getting in.

Survivor contestants and Jeff Probst: we take Halloween very seriously.

3. Don’t apply to too many schools

It might seem like applying to 20 different schools is playing it safe, but here’s the catch: not only does it take a lot of time to complete all those supplemental applications, but every school comes with a fee of its own and you have to pay to send your GRE scores to each one. Think about it: say you get into all 20 schools. You are probably seriously considering less than half of them, so you’ve already wasted time and money by just submitting an application to the schools you don’t really want to go to. My point is, only apply to schools you know you can see yourself at. You also need to take into account the cost of visiting each school, which brings me to my next piece of advice.

A post-finals ski trip to celebrate surviving our first semester!

4. Visit a school before you make a decision

The best way to get a feel for your fit in a DPT program is to go to the school and see it for yourself. You can email current students and professors all you want, but it’s not the same as actually seeing the campus and talking to those people in person. You would hate to show up for your first day of class and realize you don’t want to be there! On the flip side, you might be on the fence about a certain program and then fall in love with it once you’re there. If a school requires an interview, obviously you have to visit. That’s how I knew I wanted to go to Regis – everything about the interview day made me feel welcome, and I felt a better connection with the program than I had with either of the other two schools I had already visited. I had also gotten accepted into a program that didn’t have interviews, but when I visited the school on my own time, I realized I did not see myself there at all. So even if you get accepted to a school that doesn’t do interviews, you should definitely take the time to visit on your own before choosing it.

Trekking up waterfalls on the Subway hike during our summer break trip to Zion National Park

5. Location matters

You may be thinking, “PT school is only 3 years, so I don’t really care where I live as long as I’ll be at a good school.” Although location might not be a top priority for everyone, it’s still something to consider. Remember that PT school is hard, so you are going to need a sanity break every once in a while. That means you want to be in a location you know you would enjoy when you need to escape all the studying. (For me, and for a lot of us at Regis, having the mountains nearby is perfect.) Moral of the story: make sure wherever you end up, you have access to something you like to do for fun.

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Some of the first years took our service dog-in-training, Zuma, to Estes Park this summer!

6. Rankings DON’T matter

While it might feel pretty cool to get into the top ranked PT school in the nation, remember that every accredited program is going to teach you the skills you need to be a good physical therapist. Sure, you should look at academic statistics such as first-time pass rates, but what else about the school stands out to you? (See tip #1.) Don’t feel bad about yourself if you are not applying to super highly ranked schools—they will all ultimately get you to where you want to be! 

Trampoline parks aren’t just for little kids’ birthday parties

7. Student debt is real

They say ignorance is bliss, but you wouldn’t want to ignore all your loans until graduation and then find out you’ve racked up a ton of debt. This is, by no means, a lesson in finance, but you do need be realistic with yourself. Consider the cost of attendance of the schools you are applying to and figure out this will affect your financial planning. Also, try to have a basic understanding of how financial aid works so you are prepared to manage it while you’re still in school. That being said, you should still go with your gut when choosing schools and don’t base your decision on money alone. Remember, your education is an investment for you to pursue a profession for which you are passionate.

Giving snowshoeing a try at Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

8. Don’t procrastinate

This seems self-explanatory, but coming from personal experience, it is really easy to put things off and end up submitting your applications a little too close to the deadline for comfort. Give your references plenty of time to write their recommendations, but more importantly, give yourself more than enough time to write your essays and personal statement. Know the individual requirements for each school so you aren’t scrambling to get things together at the last minute. If you’re like me and you can never seem to kick the bad habit of procrastination, make your applications like homework or a job. Set aside a few times per week to work on them, and assign yourself deadlines (that you will actually stick to—be realistic and make manageable goals!) to hold yourself accountable.

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And that’s a wrap on semester 2!

9. Be able to explain why you want to be a physical therapist

Your personal statement is one of the most important aspects of your application. It is every admissions team’s snapshot into who you are as a person. Before you start, you should write a mini essay about exactly why you want to be a PT (this was a requirement for me in an undergrad class, but I would recommend doing it because it was extremely helpful). Go below the surface-level answer, of “I want to help people” and instead make it personal: add your own anecdotes, style, and voice. Also make sure your reasoning isn’t too general; describe specifically why you were drawn to PT, and don’t allow the same reasons to be applicable to other careers. Make it clear that you understand what a PT does! It’ll be challenging, but once you are able to put all that into words, you will be able to transfer a lot of it to your real personal statement, no matter the prompt. Then you should get it proofread as much as possible. Ask a PT, your favorite professor, your high school English teacher, your neighbor’s son’s girlfriend’s uncle—whomever you think would provide good feedback and help you make your statement as strong as possible.

Learning new skills at the APTA Colorado Chapter’s spring conference

10. Take a risk and be adventurous!

Finally, this is my own personal piece of advice. The closest PT school to my home in Portland is only 19 miles away. The closest school I actually applied to is a whopping 996 miles away. Why? Don’t get me wrong, I love the Pacific Northwest and I by no means wanted to “get out.” It’s just that I stayed in Oregon for undergrad (go Beavs) and I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and try somewhere entirely new for a change. Maybe that mindset isn’t for everyone, but whether you’re coming straight from undergrad or starting a whole new career, taking on PT school is life-changing no matter how close you are to home. It was definitely scary moving away from all my friends and family, but I love having this new home with new friends and new hobbies all separate from that other part of my life. So just consider stepping a little further outside of what you’re comfortable with; it might be fun to take on a little extra risk and you will be all the more stronger for it.

Taking in the views at our campsite in Zion National Park

I hope these tips ease some application anxiety and help you feel a little more prepared for the fun that is PTCAS. If you stay organized and keep this advice in mind as you tackle your applications, the whole process will be a lot less stressful. Good luck!

Kelsie Jordan graduated from Oregon State University and is currently finishing her first year at Regis. Kelsie loves to line dance, the outdoors, and is the admissions representative for the Class of 2019.

 

 

 

The Best Loss I’ve Ever Had

Blogger Katie Ragle, Class of 2018, writes about her experience at the National Student Conclave held in Miami, Florida over the October 27-29th weekend.  

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Let me tell you about my trip to Miami.

It all started with an email from a fellow Regis student that read, “Hey Katie! I just tagged you in a Twitter post about the Student Assembly Board of Directors. Take a look at the application :). Deadline 7/1.” This began my journey into a passion for the APTA. But first, a history lesson:

If you are a PT or PTA student and an APTA member, then you are in the Student Assembly. There are around 29,000 of us, and we’re all led by a board of 10 people—the Student Assembly Board of Directors (SABoD). This board is comprised of positions such as president, vice president, and other director positions that help to make the student APTA experience a great one.

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That aforementioned email referred to the Director of Communications position on the SABoD. This person creates content to engage the Student Assembly through emails, social media, and videos. You may not realize it, but you receive emails from the Director of Communications on a regular basis.

As a broadcasting major with a minor in editing and publishing, this position was right up my alley. After I was encouraged to apply, I decided that I wanted this position to get more involved in the APTA and to use my talents to further the profession of physical therapy by engaging students from across the county.

After an application and a Skype interview, I was chosen to run alongside three other candidates for the Director of Communications. The election occurs every year at the National Student Conclave (NSC), which is the annual national APTA meeting that is just for students. Two weeks ago, I packed my suitcase and headed to Miami for the final election.

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The Regis representation at NSC.  I’m so glad they were there!

I arrived in Miami with nearly 1,000 PT and PTA students from around the country who gathered to learn how to be better practitioners and how to advocate for our profession. I was immediately blown away by the amount of enthusiasm and support for our field. Everyone eagerly engaged in meaningful conversations about their program and what they’re doing for the field of PT. Rather than simply clustering together with individuals from their schools, people branched out and met students from around the country. The excitement was palpable!

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These are the incredible candidates I got to interact with all weekend.

Little did I know that I would receive a ribbon that read “Candidate” all weekend so that people could ask me about my slated position. I had the opportunity to meet so many amazing people in my field! These people inspired me to not only be the best PT that I can be, but also to advocate for our profession and to represent it well. The speakers empowered us with knowledge in entertaining ways and generated passion for the field.

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This is one of my new friends, Alicia from MA

But more than passively attending, I got to actively participate in the conference. I participated in focus groups on how to make communication within the APTA better. I introduced a few speakers before their talks, and I met with the leaders of the Student Assembly to discuss the future of the organization. I also got to meet the president of the APTA, Dr. Sharon Dunn. She held an open Q&A for students to ask her any questions they had. She is both incredibly intelligent and personable. The APTA is fortunate to have her!

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APTA President, Dr. Sharon Dunn, gave all of us candidates a pep talk.

Did I win the election? No. Am I upset? Absolutely not. I wouldn’t trade my experience at NSC for anything. I made connections that will last a lifetime. This conference opened doors that I otherwise would have never been able to encounter. I still receive emails and messages from other students and professionals asking to keep in touch and encouraging future connection at upcoming APTA events. Best of all, NSC lit a fire within me for my future profession and for the organization that represents us so well.

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This is the amazing group of individuals with whom I ran for Director of Communications.  The one standing next to me (second from the left) was elected to the position.  His name is Cruz, and he will do great things for the Student Assembly!

In a future post, I will share some of the tips I learned at NSC about how to get plugged into the APTA;  for now, think about attending NSC 2017. It’s in Portland, Oregon, so how can you turn it down? You won’t regret it. We are the future of PT. Let’s be the best that we can be!

aptayay2.pngFollow NSC’s twitter to start counting down to next year!

Meet the Class of 2019 President: David Cummins

Name: David Cummins, Class of 2019
Hometown: Cortez, CO
Undergrad: Fort Lewis College

Fun Fact: I’ve moved 17 times since graduating high school

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When I received a letter from Regis University notifying me that I’d been accepted into their DPT program, I panicked. I had been working hard to get into PT school, but the reality of the impending changes caught me off guard. As a non-traditional student who had been out of school for more than 10 years, I was nervous about leaving the career I had worked so hard to build. The thought of surrounding myself with young, smart, successful, and ambitious classmates only added to my anxiety.

By the end of the first week of classes, I realized I had found my new family. Classmates surprised me by being genuinely interested in my academic success. They shared study guides, strategies for achievement, and—most importantly—support. There is now a palpable (Ha! Get it?) mentality that we’re all going to get through this program together;  that has made my anxiety melt away.

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David and his classmates climbing a 14er with some time off from school (PC: Elizabeth Johnson)

I was honored when someone nominated me for class president and elated when I was elected because the role will give me a chance to foster the supportive environment that got me through my first few weeks. The position comes with a lot of extra stress, but I’ll be working with an incredible group of elected officers who share the same vision of creating a healthy and supportive environment that is conducive to academic growth and overall success.

The 14 elected officers come from a wide variety of different backgrounds. Some have extensive experience working with physical therapists, some have worked in completely unrelated fields, and some are coming straight from undergraduate programs. Together, we represent a holistic cross-section of knowledge and viewpoints. We will utilize our combined skills and knowledge to build upon the foundation that previous classes have established and add our own projects and ideas to make this experience our own.

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The new officers for the Class of 2019

We’ve already been through a lot in the 11 short weeks we’ve known each other. The support and encouragement I’ve experienced has been overwhelming. Over the next 2.5 years, I hope to cultivate a supportive cohort based on the values we all share: we will be a community that promotes shared academic success and continues to motivate us to be the best, most compassionate physical therapists we can be.

President: David Cummins

Vice President: Katarina Mendoza

APTA Rep: Grace-Marie Vega

Fundraising Rep: Kassidy Stecklein and Celisa Hahn

DPT Rep: Nina Carson

Media Rep: Courtney Backward

Diversity Rep: Stephanie Adams

Ministry Rep: Sarah Collins

Service Rep: Amber Bolen

Move Forward Rep: Sarah Pancoast

Clin Ed Rep: Josh Hubert

Admissions Rep: Kelsie Jordan

Secretary: LeeAnne Little

Treasurer: Jennifer Tram

 

 

Flat Stanley Goes to Clinical

Name: Nicole Darragh, Class of 2017

Hometown: Columbus, OH

Undergrad: Regis University

Fun Fact: I think kale is totally overrated.

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The Class of 2017 recently returned from their second clinical rotations with a plethora of new knowledge and stories to share.  Some students even had a visitor along the way: Flat Stanley.  Flat Stanley is a small paper figurine that keeps students connected outside of the classroom.  Students take a photo of Flat Stanley completing an activity, learning a new technique, or going to a cool new location, and share those photos with their classmates through social media.  This helped us learn a little bit about each rotation, and keep in touch with our classmates.

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Pictured: Sarah Campbell ’17 with Flat Stanley on her first day of clinical (PC: Sarah Campbell)

Flat Stanley traveled to a wide variety of locations across the country including California, Wyoming, Kentucky, and even Alaska!  Along the way, Flat Stanley learned new documentation systems, new techniques in the clinics, and went on a lot of hikes.  Really, what Flat Stanley is trying to tell you is that while you’re on your clinical rotation, don’t forget to take the time to explore your new surroundings!

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Flat Stanley reviews Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) while at clinic in Chico, CA (PC: Adam Engelsgjerd)

 

Clinical rotations work in a variety of ways.  The first is the lottery option; students choose ten clinical sites from a large list compiled by the clinical education faculty, and rank them in order from 1-10.  Once the lottery is generated, students are placed at a site.  The second is the first come, first serve option; students can choose a site before the lottery begins that they are particularly interested in, and request to be placed at that site before it is taken.  The third is the set-up option: students are allowed to contact a clinical site that is not affiliated with Regis and set up a clinical rotation with them if they are interested.  When rotations get closer, you’ll learn more specifics about how they work, requirements, etc.

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Flat Stanley’s meet up at Devil’s Tower outside of Gillette, WY (PC: Amanda Morrow)

 

Throughout the clinical process, it is important to know that you might not always end up in Denver, and you’ll have to try something new!  Wherever you do end up, make sure to enjoy your free time.  Clinical can sometimes be very overwhelming, and it is crucial to take time for yourself, whether that be exploring your new surroundings, trying a local restaurant, or binging on Netflix.  And if the thought of being gone for six, eight, or twelve weeks scares you a little, all of us will tell you that the time flies by so quickly.  There isn’t much time to be bored!

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Flat Stanley goes sandboarding in the Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado (PC: Lauren Hill)

 

If you have any further questions about clinical rotations–or other places Flat Stanley and/or students traveled–please feel free to contact me at darra608@regis.edu!  Also, I would recommend reading the post below called “Class of 2017 DPT Student Lindsay Mayors Reflects on Her Clinical Rotation.” (https://regisdpt.org/2016/05/27/class-of-2017-dpt-student-lindsay-mayors-reflects-on-her-clinical-rotation/)

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Flat Stanley helps out with some end-of-the-day documentation (PC: Amy Medlock)

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Flat Stanley enjoying a nice Moscow Mule after a long week at clinical (PC: Amy Medlock)

 

 

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Flat Stanley joins Lauren Hill and Jenna Carlson to run the Bolder Boulder race (PC: Lauren Hill)

Cover PC: David Cummins, Class of 2019

 

What is it like to be in the military and PT school?

Name: Zach Taillie, Class of 2018

Hometown: Phoenix, NY

Undergrad: SUNY Cortland

Fun Fact: I’ve been in the Air Force for 6 years.
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You may not believe this, but NASCAR Technical Institute is a bit of a dead-end school.  You read that right—there is a school completely dedicated to folks who want to learn about race car maintenance and occasionally take them for a spin.  It is a one-year program outside Charlotte, NC, and was what I thought I wanted to do.  While the program set me up for an awesome career as a tire technician at Sears Auto while living out of my parents’ basement, I decided I wanted more out . I found myself over at the Air National Guard office, and in December of 2009, I enlisted.

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Once I was done with my training and learned that I could get school payed for while serving in the military, I was stoked to get started. Little did I know that when it comes to school and military duty, school usually doesn’t win. The biggest mission we undertake in the Air National Guard is state-level disaster response.  My first emergency response was to a winter storm, and to my surprise, I was told by my supervisor that school takes a backseat to duty.  I remember feeling frustrated at the situation, but once I showed up I realized how much of a positive impact we could have.  The feeling of helping out and giving back to those who needed it far outweighed any disappointment at missing classes or balancing class all day with working at night.  Luckily, I was blessed with great professors who would email me notes and allow me to reschedule tests if necessary.  This understanding and flexibility allowed me to respond whenever the call went out, and it allowed me to still excel in school.

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The military hasn’t been all rough, though.  During one of my winter breaks, I was sent to Germany for training.  I spent Christmas in Kaiserslauten, New Years in Berlin, and my birthday in Amsterdam.  Even when I wasn’t out exploring Europe, I was able to have fun at work coordinating air drops (think Humvees and supplies hopping out of planes) with the 86th Airlift Wing.  I’ve had the opportunity to deploy to the Middle East and serve with coalition troops from all over the world and make some lifelong friends.  Oh, and having part of school paid for is another perk!

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Although I originally thought I wanted to make a career of the military as an officer once I graduated from college, I stumbled upon physical therapy during my junior year and fell in love.  Due to a shoulder injury, I was able to experience what it was like to go from injured back to working out and wanted to give that gift to others.  Fast-forward a couple of years, and here I am: at Regis fulfilling me dream!  Currently, I serve with the 153rd Airlift Wing up in Cheyenne, Wyoming.  I go up once a month and spend at least half of my breaks working.  Luckily, my drill schedule and our finals week seem to always coincide…so I get the opportunity to test how long I can stay awake and study.  Two semesters down, and I’m still here!!  While I listen to my classmates plan super rad trips for our summer break, I’m looking forward to two weeks of work connected by a drill weekend.  All things considered, though, I would do all the same given another chance.  I work with some great people and get to do things for my job that most people only see in movies: riding on C-130s, running through live shoot houses, firing some pretty awesome weapons, and watching live gun runs from planes overhead.  The military/civilian balance can be a challenge at times, but it’s one that’s well worth it!

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If you have any questions about balancing school with the military, please feel free to contact me at ztaillie@regis.edu.

Physical Therapy Classification and Payment System: a Discussion with Lindsay Still

 

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Blogger: Katie Baratta

My name is Katie Baratta and I just graduated from the Regis University School of Physical Therapy. I had the opportunity to spend two weeks at the APTA doing a student internship. I was able to talk to many different members of the APTA, attend the Federal Advocacy Forum, and learn more about what the APTA has been doing to move our profession forward. I’ve written a series of essays about my experiences here at the Association.

Interview with Lindsay Still, Senior Payment Specialist

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I talked with Lindsay Still, a Senior Payment Specialist, and she explained the current state of the PTCPS.  Read a summary of our interview below!

Overview

The Physical Therapy Classification and Payment System (PTCPS) is an ongoing initiative that was developed as an alternative to the current, fee-for-service codes—ones that easily fail to capture the true value of what PTs do—and instead particularly account for the complexity and skill of clinical expertise required for patients with more involved presentations. It also incorporates the use of standardized outcome measures. PTCPS would include a single CPT (Current Procedural Technology) code for the entire treatment session versus the assortment of 15-minute unit codes that we’re used to today.

The system has gone through multiple iterations in the past several years, and was developed by the APTA in collaboration with a specialty work group within the AMA (American Medical Association) involving members from the professional organizations of OTs, massage therapists, athletic trainers, speech-language pathologists, chiropractors, psychologists, optometrists, podiatrists, physiatrists, neurologists, orthopedic surgeons, osteopathic physicians, and representatives of CMS (Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services).

Structure of the new coding system

Under the new system, there would be three new evaluation codes that puts a patient into an initial category of lower, moderate, or higher complexity. Certain documentation criteria (e.g. under patient history, presentation, or plan of care) would determine which of the three eval codes you would select. For example, the number of comorbidities for a given patient would play a role in the eval code selection. There would also be a single code for any re-eval visit.

As currently structured, the proposed PTCPS would also incorporate five treatment codes, based on the overall complexity of the patient’s presentation and treatments. These codes, much like our current CPT code for evals (97001 Physical Therapy Evaluation), would not have a set time frame or number of units associated with it. However, treatment billed under the lowest complexity code would likely be much shorter than a treatment session under the highest complexity code, and the reimbursements would reflect this fact.

Implementation

In 2014, pilot testing of the new system was performed with PTs using the new system to code/bill for hypothetical patients, as well as using the new system to code the treatments of actual patients previously coded with the existing system. This testing occurred in various care settings. Overall, the clinicians were very consistent in their ability to categorize patients with the new initial eval codes. However, for the intervention codes, the pilot clinicians were only able to consistently categorize those patients with the least complex and most complex presentations. There was significant disagreement between PTs in regards to cases that fell within the different “moderate” treatment categories.

The definitions and valuation of the proposed eval codes were reviewed and approved by the RUC (Relative Value Scale Update Committee) and will now require CMS approval. Lindsay is hopeful that CMS will accept the new eval codes, as they will be budget-neutral. In August of 2016, CMS will release the 2017 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule Final Rule; this should include the new PT evaluation and reevaluation codes. The new codes will go live on January 1, 2017. PTs will have three brand-new CPT codes to replace the current 97001 Physical Therapy Evaluation. The APTA will provide training and support to clinicians during the time leading up to the release of the new eval codes.

Impediments to the impending treatment code change

The new treatment codes will require further review and refinement, given their inconsistency of use during the pilot testing. This will likely be an interactive process, and not without controversy from the perspective of payers (insurance companies). In the meantime, the RUC has requested a “backup plan” to address ten CPT codes commonly used by PTs which have been identified as “potentially misvalued codes,” most of which PTs probably use frequently:

  • 97032 attended electrical stimulation
  • 97035 ultrasound
  • 97110 therapeutic exercise
  • 97112 neuromuscular reeducation
  • 97113 aquatic therapy with therapeutic exercise
  • 97116 gait training
  • 97140 manual therapy
  • 97530 therapeutic activities
  • 97535 self care home management training
  • G0283 unattended electrical stimulation (non-wound)

These codes are flagged  because they represent a high reimbursement rate and have not been assessed since 1994.

As a result, the APTA is currently redirecting efforts to provide replacements to those 10 codes rather than waiting for the codes to be reevaluated for us. The new treatment codes the APTA envisions to replace them with would be procedure-based: you would still bill in 15-minute increments. However, they would be streamlined; there would be fewer codes, and the codes would reflect the types of treatment PTs currently perform in practice (as opposed to focusing on what treatments PTs may have historically performed).

Future of the proposed treatment codes

The more general patient- and value-based treatment codes initially envisioned by the APTA are still in the works, but Lindsay foresees a longer process before fruition: it will require all parties to agree on a coding system that accurately and cost-effectively describes the type of treatments that PTs perform for patients. This includes the third-party payers who generally prefer the current setup of treatment codes based on billable units. The current coding system is easy to monitor for abuse or overuse of treatments.

I asked Lindsay if she saw outcome measures as one way of giving insurance companies some power to track the value of treatments under the proposed system. While they wouldn’t be able to screen specific procedures in the same way that they are able to under the current system, they would be able to, for example, monitor whether the progress of a “low complexity” patient was lagging behind what would be expected given that patient’s presentation.

She agreed that this could work in theory, but felt that we still have a long way to go in terms of standardization of outcome data across the spectrum of patient presentation. This is one of the reasons the PT Outcomes Registry will be so important! These two issues truly are intertwined in the future of value-based billing for PT services.

For more information, visit: http://www.apta.org/PTCPS and check out the Timeline for payment reform.