How to Pass the NPTE

Name: Carol Passarelli, Class of 2018
Undergrad:
 University of Southern California (fight on)
Hometown: 
Mountain View, CA
Fun Fact: Llamas don’t have fur or hair; it’s called fiber. Pretty cool. Or warm, actually. Depends on the fiber count.

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Wow, does it feel good to write that title and have it be true! Are there countless tips and tricks out there for SPTs looking to conquer the NPTE? Absolutely. Are they as good as my tips? Um, probably. But, hopefully, this will give you some tools to help tackle the important things…like, best snacks for studying (dry ramen), my highlighter color preferences (classic yellow), and (okay, seriously now) how to work with crippling test anxiety.


 

Let’s back up to almost a year ago: the comprehensive exam. Created by faculty as the final, culminating didactic exam before you leave for 6 months of clinical rotations. Most people will say not to worry—you’ve been preparing for this the entire time you’re in PT school! And, for the most part, y’all will do just fine with it.

If you’re like me, hearing that reassurance of success only increases my anxiety. If there is going to be an exception to the high pass rate, then I know it will be me. Yes, that’s right. I had my first bout of panic attacks since undergrad during the 2 weeks prior to the exam—and a giant whopper of an anxiety attack during the first half of the test. But hey, I do well academically…it’ll work out fine, right?

I didn’t pass.

Sure—I retook it the following week and did fine. Do I know exactly why I was so irrationally terrified of that exam? Somewhat, but there are still pieces I’m fitting together. That’s test anxiety, folks.

Flash forward to today: I passed the NPTE with a delightfully solid margin, graduated from an outstanding DPT program (only slightly biased), and am employed in my dream setting and location. Groovy.

I haven’t beat test anxiety, but I found ways to manage it for the biggest exam we have to take as PTs. Here are some tips on how to conquer the NPTE and get closer to being that amazing clinician we are all going to become.


1. Settling is okay

I don’t recommend doing this when you’re looking for your lifetime partner, dream house, or—most importantly—picking your dog, but when it comes to grappling with a beast of an exam, absolutely do this. At the end of the day, if you didn’t hit your quota of pages, didn’t understand the finer intricacies of lymphedema bandaging, or can’t for the life of you remember the side effects of certain medications, my goodness. Just go to bed. Decide to learn just 1 piece of information about each topic. Allow yourself to just know the surface level facts for now. In other words: keep momentum. You don’t need to know everything perfectly.

 

2. Check your emotions at the door

This is key for me and any of you who struggle with test anxiety. For me, knowing that I hadn’t passed the comprehensive exam made my initial month of studying an emotional undertaking. It’s difficult to separate your self-worth from how you perform on tests—particularly in a grueling graduate program. Albeit this is easier said than done; try your hardest, though, to leave any feelings of self-doubt and shame outside the room. It is not shameful to have a setback. Failing does not detract from your self-worth.

Get in your happy head space before opening up the textbook! If I wasn’t in that headspace, I wouldn’t study: I ultimately decided to cultivate my confidence in my test-taking ability over gaining that extra knowledge I could have gotten during those study hours.

 

3. Redefine the word “studying”

This is just a friendly reminder that studying is RAD. We all love to learn, and those of us in a PT program get to learn some of the coolest stuff out there. So why is ‘studying’ associated in my head with ‘nooooooooooo’? This harkens back to #2, but here it is again: the times that studying sucks 100% is when I feel: 1. Guilty for not knowing something I feel like I should know 2. Ashamed that I got a question wrong, or 3. Hungry. Remember how awesome it is to learn, review, and grow as a clinician. Find that gratitude. Eat a snack.

 

4. Don’t do what your classmates do

Classic advice, but the root of it is: we are all different. If you’re like me, then talking about studying strategies with classmates is probably my #1 stress-increaser. I avoided most of my classmates’ study groups and didn’t like to talk about my studying with my CI and my clinic. Also, you do NOT have to study 30 hours a week…but maybe you do! I highly recommend doing some reflecting BEFORE jumping into that meticulous, color-coded study plan you’ve created for yourself to determine what is truly best for you. Oh, and don’t follow someone else’s study plan.

If you read the above and still are curious about study schedule particulars (this post is about ways to pass the NPTE, I guess) I studied about 30-60 minutes before my clinical, 4-5 times a week for 3 months. About a third of this time was used to review previous practice test answers. I took 8 practice tests—yes, this is a lot and yes, this is expensive—because I knew I had to practice being in the test environment more than I had to review content. I know that a couple of my classmates studied intensively for 2-3 weeks and also passed. This really is a choose-your-own-path-follow-your-dreams recommendation.

 

5. Ask. For. Help.

Quite frankly, I wish I had done this more. If you sit with a concept and can’t seem to grasp it, ask a classmate. If you need a break from studying, then ask a friend if you can unload your thoughts with them. Remember that you’re not just taking an exam. You are also working on becoming an independent practitioner, finishing a clinical, job hunting, possibly moving, adopting puppies, cleaning your bathroom, etc. Essentially, there is a lot to balance, and it is an uncertain time full of transitions. Be kind to yourself, and lean on your support network.

 

If anyone is curious about other stress-reducing tips, feel free to email me at cpassarelli@regis.edu.

Best of luck, future PTs!

 

Budget Tips for Students

Name: Jaegger Olden

Undergrad: Central Washington University

Hometown: Aberdeen, Washington (on the peninsula, no not by Seattle)

Fun fact: my spirit animal is a hangry Terry Crews

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I have been in college for almost a decade. So you could say I am what comes close to being a professional student. However, with that title comes heaping amounts of debt. Fortunately, I have learned the art of budgeting, scholarships, and sucking up to my extreme-couponing-and-geologist wife so my debt is incredibly low. Unfortunately, most students finish their graduate degrees with six figures of student debt. I am here to share my secrets and help you avoid evil student loans (well, as much as you can).  

Budgeting

I can’t stress this enough: BUDGET YOUR MONEY. This is the key to being able to:

A) know how much money you need in scholarships/loans/income and

B) decide where your money goes

Budgeting is fairly straightforward. Create a spreadsheet with all of your expenses listed out. It is easiest to do this for each semester because, as students, we are charged tuition and given financial aid only 2-3 times per year.

Some of the categories my wife and I use are:

  • Rent
  • Utilities
  • Gas
  • Groceries
  • Internet/Cable
  • Insurance/Medical
  • Car Maintenance
  • Entertainment
  • Emergency Fund

All of this goes into our budget Excel spreadsheet. If you don’t use Excel, then you should start now. There are plenty of tutorials online if you need to refresh on the functions or even through the Regis Library/Learning Commons/Tutoring Center on campus. The best part about budgeting like this is determining how much in student loans I need to take out.

Tip: Avoid taking out your max student loan amount each semester AT ALL COSTS. This is a great way to reach your lifetime federal loan allowance (which is $138,500 with no more than $65,000 subsidized).

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Loan Repayment Strategy

I’m sorry for using the L-word, I promise you it gives me a lot of anxiety just thinking about the hole I dug for myself, but that is just our reality as students. One day, we will need to repay these loans and it’s important to have a strategy to do so.

After plenty of research, my wife and I have decided to use the Debt Snowball repayment plan. This is the famous strategy created by financial expert Dave Ramsey that bases debt repayment on the combination of psychology and interest percentages. Instead of paying off debt based on interest alone, the Debt Snowball creates a system that pays off debt based upon the total value of each individual loan to create a psychological reward as well as paying off debt as quickly as possible.

This method, along with plenty of other financial tips and advice, is featured in his incredibly successful book The Total Money Makeover, which I can’t recommend enough.

Housing

I know too well what “money dump” apartments are and how getting a cheap apartment can come with some hazards. This is typical in Denver. As of today, three students just in my class have had their cars stolen from their apartment parking lots while their managers refuse to install security cameras. Because of this, it actually can be both safer and cost effective to slightly splurge and find apartments in low crime areas. The Denver Police Department maintains a great crime map that is user friendly.
However, if you can manage it, then I suggest trying to buy a house or condo. You’re probably saying, “this guy is crazy!” but you’re putting money into someone else’s bank account every month with no equity. Not to mention a mortgage payment is less than Denver rent. So if you have enough savings to go into a down payment, or can have family help, go for it! If you’re going the family route, then I suggest giving them a return on their investment via the equity upon selling. It is truly a win-win.

Shopping

Shopping is easily the biggest way we save money. I am infatuated with couponing and am getting pretty good at it…to the point of saving up to $30 a week on groceries. I’m currently a part of a coupon club that sends me coupons daily…go figure. I also use the Krazy Coupon Lady. The last major strategies I use is shopping at Costco or Sam’s club for bulk items such as meat to freeze, fruit, vegetables, and nonperishables.

However, if you are really interested in saving money and time on healthy meals, check out my wife’s blog post about eating healthy in college. She goes over our full healthy cooking system and how we save money on our groceries.

Read more about cheap and healthy eating in college HERE.  

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Saving Money at Regis University

Being a graduate student at Regis University does have its perks! Take advantage of the amenities. My favorites are the gym, 10 free local transit passes a week, and 2 free swimming passes a week for any Denver Parks and Recreation’s Aquatic facility. One of the better pools close to the university is the Berkeley pool attached to the Scheitler Recreation Center.

Some of the other ways I save money during class are bringing my own food for lunch, bringing K-cups from Costco instead of purchasing coffee (there are two Keurigs in Claver Hall, which ends up being 34 cents a cup), getting a beer with classmates at Walker’s pub during happy hour ($1 beer), and taking advantage of free food events. I also frequently use the classroom electricity to charge devices and shower at the gym to reduce water-heating costs at home.

Income

One of the most daunting factors about being in graduate school is the lack of income. However, there are plenty of great ways to have an income with minimal time commitment. One of the easiest and best ways to do that is to turn your hobby into a job. One great way to do that is to start a money-making blog! There are countless benefits to creating a blog in college. THIS is a great post that breaks down the reasons why you should start a blog in college and THIS is a great post to help you understand how to do it!

Another great way to make money is to donate plasma. I personally donate twice a week and receive about $300 a month for less than 3 hours a week of sitting in a clinic. All plasma is donated to medical research facilities and nearly everyone at these clinics are amazing and professional people. Despite what the stigma is against plasma donations, it is a requirement that you have a home in order to donate.

Some of my other classmates use their skills as a small income like instructing rock climbing lessons once or twice a week for gym memberships or baby sitting/house sitting for friends.

A small amount of income comes a long way, but take precaution based on your performance in class. You’re a student first!

Utility Saving Tips

I got bills! Of course the more energy efficient your household is the lower the bill. One of the more helpful strategies to adapt daily is running appliances that have a high energy cost during non-peak hours. For Denver (consumers of Xcel Energy), the best times to run your appliances (dishwasher, dryer, etc.) are between 9pm and 9am.

In addition, here is a list of other easy tips:

  • Sealing doors/windows/sinks
  • Running the fan in reverse during winter
  • Don’t use heat dry in dishwasher
  • LED lights in bulk and swap out when moving out
  • Read your electricity statement: Xcel sends personalized saving tips
  • Reduce standby power (printer, TVs, gaming systems)
  • Minimize cooling by opening the windows at night (if safe)
  • Deduce shower time

Having Fun

Now I know it seems like you are not going to have time, but make time to do what you love. This will prevent getting burnt out and being miserable.

Some cheap ways of having fun is getting outside to hike, trail run, rock climb, mountain bike, or cycle. The National Park Service has an amazing yearly pass deal that pays itself off in under 8 visits.

If you’re a skier/snowboarder, then I have heard the Epic pass is fantastic. It has a student pass and pays itself off after 4 times of hitting the slopes. If you like to hangout and watch tv, save money by streaming via Netflix and Amazon Prime. If you get Spotify premium as a student, you save $3 a month and get Hulu for free.

Also, if you’re a book worm, then go get a Denver library card in combination with an app called Overdrive. You can access the ebook library, audiobooks, and most movies currently out on Redbox.

Do you have any favorite budgeting tips? Were these strategies helpful for you? Feel free to comment and share with us!

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Mental Health Wellness in DPT School

Name: Abbey Ferguson

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With all of its incredible opportunities, graduate school, especially a doctorate program, also brings a new amount of stress and anxiety. It is a pressure cooker for bringing out both the best and the worst in us, and as my first year came to a close, I found myself drowning in mental illness and anxiety. I realized I wasn’t alone as we embraced vulnerability in our summer Psychosocial Aspects of Health Care class, and many of us found the courage to admit how exhausted we were with life, finding relief in common ground.

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We are literally on a common ground 🙂

Our Psych-Soc. class was one of the many resources I began to take advantage of in order to regain mental wellness. Regis’ counseling center provided free counseling, all of the advisors had their doors open, and with time many of my classmates became close friends as we continually showed support for each other. However, there was still a nagging sense that I couldn’t pursue full wellness in our program without bringing some sort of awareness to mental health issues that permeated our program.

 

When I was 19, I was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa. After years of treatment, bouncing in and out of recovery, I arrived at Regis ill-prepared to ward off another relapse. Being in a healthcare field is difficult as an individual trying to fight health and diet culture which often triggers eating disorder behavior. I found myself getting angry with some of the comments people would say or the culture that was fostered in the general population, and I felt helpless.

 

However, thanks to the community at Regis and within our DPT program, I was encouraged to do something about my feelings of anger and helplessness. I began to formulate an education program to advocate for those in recovery from eating disorders, and to educate the program on how to foster a less triggering environment. We had one of Regis’s counselors come and speak about the language health-care providers use and how these words can affect an individual’s perception about themselves. We also had a panel of three second-year DPT students who shared their own experiences recovering from an eating disorder in graduate school.

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I was overwhelmed by the support. As I looked out at the crowd that had showed up to my small education session, I grew misty-eyed and almost cried in front of everyone. My frustration dissipated, and  I was instead filled with pride for the program I am a part of. Fellow students asked questions, attempted to understand, and showed overwhelming empathy as the session continued. After the session, dozens of fellow DPT students came up to me, expressing similar experiences of recovery and wanting to continue the conversation. Weeks later, another DPT student came up to me at our national conference in New Orleans, excited and passionate about the topic and wanting to team up with me to advocate for mental health as well. I found it encouraging and exciting to see like-minded, future health care professionals so interested in becoming more familiar with these issues in order to properly care for individuals plagued by these illnesses.

 

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There is no question: graduate school is hard. It is intense, exhausting, and often times it feels like I am just crawling along. But, I have never been more thankful to be a part of a program that allows its students to own their mental health by advocating and educating the community.

5 Ways to Spend Your Time When You Are Not Studying…

Name: Courtney Backward

Undergrad: Oklahoma Wesleyan University

Hometown: Salina, OK

Fun Fact: I am the world’s most awkward high-five giver/receiver.

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One of my classmates once said “PT school is neither a marathon nor a sprint. It is both at the same time.” That statement resonated with me on a personal level. During my first year of PT school, I found myself drowning in homework and responsibilities. The temptation to ignore almost every other aspect of my life in order to survive school was strong. However, I found that this did not help my stress levels, and it only added to them in a negative way. Instead, I found that taking good care of my life outside of school is the foundation of taking good care of my school work as well. Sometimes taking care of yourself means…NOT STUDYING…yeah, that’s right! So, here are 5 ways to spend your time when you are not studying:

  1. Find a good hang out spot:
    • From coffee shops to book stores to the bar down the street. Find a spot you can unwind and relax. Some favorite local spots include Allegro Coffee Roasters, BookBar (if you are looking for a one-stop shop), Goldspot Brewery, and Local 46. All of these are 3-5 minutes from Regis and are just scratching the surface of the many hangout locations in the Denver area.

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  1. Exercise:
    • Whether you are a yogi, cross-fitter, avid runner, cyclist, power-lifter, or intramural sport phenom, you can find Regis DPT students covering the exercise spectrum. Joining a fitness club is a great way to connect with other people in the community. However, if you are into exercise options that are easy on the bank account, find a friend and exhaust the available free Youtube exercise videos or try out the many trail running paths nearby. If you love organized, competitive sports, Regis offers many different intramural sports. Our classes frequently compete together as a team and have won several championships (not to brag or anything…). Whatever you like to do for exercise, take advantage of opportunities and use it as a stress relieving activity.

 

 

(please enjoy the slo-mo video of Lauren’s epic trick shot)

  1. Get outside:
    • If you don’t take advantage of the outdoor activities in Colorado, you may be missing out on some serious soul medicine. From hiking to park days to outdoor festivals downtown, get out and enjoy the famous Colorado’s 300+ days of sunshine. Some enjoy tackling 14-ers over the weekends, others find beauty and excitement in the lower, half-day hikes. Some of my favorite lower hikes include: Mt. Galbraith Trail Lily Mountain Trailhead and Herman Gulch Trailhead. Our PT class loves to plan park days where we take advantage of the city parks to play volleyball, corn-hole, have a cookout, or just soak up the sun. These activities are very therapeutic and immensely enjoyable!

 

  1. Practice your creativity!
    • I often am so impressed by the creativity and talent that is displayed by many of my classmates. We have dancers, painters, poets, woodworkers, talented chefs, etc. Although my creativity is often derived from Pinterest, it is so much fun to put my creativity to work. Wine and paint nights can be a fun way to relax and unwind with friends. Some individuals enjoy improv dancing to help them to express themselves while others channel their inner “foodie” and put their chef skills to the work (I, personally, am very thankful I have friends with this talent). One thing to keep in mind when practicing creativity is to NOT get caught up in perfection. You are not being graded on this! I know this is a hard concept to understand in PT school. Just have fun with it and let your mind or body be free to run wild!
  1. Don’t think about school!!
    • School is very important. Responsibilities are very important. Becoming a capable physical therapist is very important. However, prioritizing your health and balancing your personal life is imperative. Remember that you are a multi-dimensional person and that is a beautiful thing. Take time to calm your mind. Take time to spend with your friends and family. Take time to treat yourself. We work hard at our school work, so don’t forget to work hard at other aspects of your life as well!

 

Managing Your Posture in PT School

Name: Joshua Holland

Undergrad: Idaho State University

Hometown: Centennial, Colorado

Fun fact: Before PT school, I worked at a BBQ restaurant in Missoula, MT called Notorious P.I.G.

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Last week, I was editing my Biomechanics skills video when I noticed a curly-haired DPT student in my video with fairly poor posture. I was far from excited when I realized that student was me. I knew my posture wasn’t the greatest after years of asymmetrical shoulder position from college pole vaulting and poor lifting mechanics, but I had no idea it was THAT bad! My shoulders were protracted with my head in a significantly forward position. My initial thought was, “man, I am about to be a PT soon…how am I going to teach posture when my own posture is so poor?!”

An average day for PT students involves a heavy dose of lectures, studying, and an even heavier dose of sitting. Often a PT student may be seated in lectures for 8 hours a day. By the end of the day, professors may start to notice students performing many combinations of wiggling, shifting, and slouching, with many students standing up in the back of the class.

The field of physical therapy involves movement for rehabilitation and we often hear, “exercise is good!” However, within school, sometimes we neglect our own movement in order to remain studious. The intention of this blog post is to initiate the thought of posture and provide some quick exercises that DPT students can use throughout their day. As future clinicians, we are role models to many of our patients, so it is important that we recognize our own posture and work to preserve good body mechanics within ourselves in order to have long-lasting careers and fully help our patients.

I couldn’t sleep after seeing my poor posture! So, I set out the next day to find ways to correct and maintain posture and decided to share them with you all. In this blog post, I interviewed Dr. Alice Davis, an expert on the spine, and fellow first year DPT student, Sarah Spivey, a certified pilates instructor since 2007, to provide some tricks on improving posture!

 

Question and Answer Interview with Dr. Alice Davis

Q: Often our posture is poor in class, we tend to slump over to write down our notes, what are some cues we can use in class to correct this?

A: Make sure your feet are flat on the floor and use the back of the chair to support you. You are becoming kinesthetically aware of your body in space as PT students, so try to be aware of the weight on your ischial tuberosities as you sit. Try to make each ischial tuberosity level. The overuse of repetitive poor posture is what creates problems over time, so start to realize your body position while you sit in class.

Q: While we sit in class it feels like we roll our shoulders forward and lean forward to pay closer attention or write on our devices, what are some cues to get those shoulders back with a neutral head?

A: Because you are sitting at computers for most of the days, you tend to have some upper cervical extension and increased flexion in the lower cervical spine. Imagine there is a rope going straight through your head and down to your seat, try to make that rope as straight as possible. A quick exercise you can do in class is move your shoulders up an inch, back an inch, and down an inch, then hold this for ten seconds, and relax. Try to do 10 reps for 10 seconds of this exercise.

Q: For the anatomy nerds out there, what are some of the muscles that are affected by this forward leaning posture/slumped position?

A: The upper cervical spine is extended in this forward posture position. Suboccipitals are a major component in this and often called the headache muscles because it can result in cervicogenic headache. A cervicogenic headache is when the pain begins in the back of the neck first before it goes up to the skull. This can be posture and stress related. Other muscles that play into extensor moment of the upper-cervical spine are the splenius and semispinalis muscles.

Q: Is there any other tips and tricks we can use in the classroom and out of the classroom to help with posture?

A:  

  • Foam rollers are great! You can put the foam roller vertically along your spine with the head and sacrum supported. Using your arms, do some snow angels for pectoralis major and minor.
  • If you are feeling uncomfortable and wiggly, your body is telling you to move – get up and move around.
  • Do something during lunch time. Eating is important, but try not to study if you don’t have to. Give 30 minutes during lunch for your body and mind.
  • Breathing is important. Moving the body and getting the diaphragm to move through breathing helps those muscles that support the thorax. Watch your breathing pattern, especially when you are stressed. Try to do some slow inhales and exhales.
  • Try a simple nodding of your head, as if you’re saying yes. This lengthens the longus colli and capitis muscles that can help with postural support. You can even do this when you’re driving! Rest your occiput on the headrest and perform a little nod. Try to hold the nod for 10 seconds with 10 repetitions.

 

Here are some techniques and exercises for managing posture in graduate school (or any career environment!) brought to you by our very own DPT first year, Sarah Spivey!

 

Sit on deflated Gertie ball.

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This will allow you to sit up on your ischial tuberosities (IT) to encourage a more natural lordotic curve while also eliminating the pressure on the ITs. By sitting on a relatively unstable surface you will also increase the use of your postural stabilizers. Try to incorporate five minutes per hour of sitting.

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Another technique is to use the Gertie ball between your lumbar spine and your chair. Find your ideal posture by allowing yourself to slump in your chair. Now, move into a full anterior tilt of your pelvis until you feel pressure in your lower back. Now, ease off until you feel the pressure disappear. Scoot back toward the back of your chair and place the ball at the level of the lumbar spine. The ball will help you maintain your neutral posture during sitting.

Head nods/nose circles on Gertie ball.

Lie in supine on a firm surface. Bend your knees and place your feet at the distance of your ASIS. Allow your sacrum to feel heavy and equally distributed on the floor/mat. Take a few breaths and notice if you have excessive space between your thoracic spine and the floor. If so, on an exhale, allow your t-spine to sink toward the floor. This should limit any rib flare. Place a 1/3 – ½ inflated Gertie ball (or folded towel) under your head. You should feel pressure evenly distributed near your occipital protuberance – this will insure you are lengthening your cervical extensors (especially for those of use with a forward head!). Take a few breaths and allow your head to feel heavy on the ball. Imagine a one-inch line on the ceiling and slowly trace this line down with your nose. Return to your starting position making sure to avoid moving into extension. Repeat this 8-10 times. Now draw slow circles with your nose around your one-inch line. Keep your circles small and controlled. Perform 6-8 in each direction.

Wall sit pelvic curls.

While sitting in class, if you start to feel your low back tighten up, try this stretch! Stand against a wall with your feet about 12 inches in front of the wall and hip distance apart. Try to feel contact of your sacrum, rib cage and the back of your head on the wall. You should have a very small space between your lumbar spine and the wall. As you exhale, draw your abdominals in and curl your pubic bone up toward your nose. You should feel your lumbar spine flatter against the wall. As you inhale, slowly allow your ischial tuberosities to widen until you are back in a neutral position. Repeat 10-12 times.

 Seated neck stretch – sitting on hand.

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Feeling tension in your neck during class? Scoot forward so your back is away from the chair and sit tall on your ischial tuberosities. Imagine lengthening your cervical spine and then gently tuck your chin toward your chest. Try not to flex your cervical spine! Now allow one ear to fall toward your shoulder. You should feel a stretch on the opposite side. If you would like to increase your stretch, you can sit on the hand of the side you are stretching. For example, if you are feeling the stretch on the right side, sit on your right hand. This will bring your shoulder down and away from your ear.

 

Overall, I hope  this post helped you become more aware of how important it is that we practice good posture while in school, or with any lifestyle! Do you have favorite exercises or tips to remind you to practice posture? Feel free to share with us in a comment below!

Lessons Learned During the First Clinical Experience

Name: Kelsie Jordan, Class of 2019
Hometown: Portland, OR
Undergrad: Oregon State University
Fun Fact: I spent the summer of 2014 studying in Salamanca, Spain.
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When I tell people I was in California for my first clinical rotation, everyone’s minds seem to jump to the flashy big cities like Los Angeles, San Diego, or San Francisco. Sorry guys, I wasn’t lying on the beach or treating the movie stars; I was working more in the realm of Middle of Nowhere, CA in a small town called Orland. If you’ve ever driven to or from Oregon along I-5, you’ve probably driven right past it without ever even knowing it existed, as I actually have multiple times. I have lived in or near major cities all my life, so I had no idea what to expect from working in a rural setting. I was worried I was going to be bored, and that being away from everyone I know would make me lonely. But Orland, with its farmers, high school football, and Dollar General stores, turned out to be the best place I could have been for my first clinical.
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Welcome to Orland!

Here are just a few things I learned along the way:

Work schedules > school schedules

I’m not going to lie, clinicals are exhausting. Being on my feet all day, both literally and figuratively, drained the life out of me, especially in that first week. The good news is, I immediately discovered how great it is to come home at the end of a long, demanding day and have nothing–and I mean nothing–to worry about. After a year straight of exams, projects, and endless studying, I forgot how nice it was to have a mellow evening without feeling guilty about procrastinating. My clinical instructor (CI) once asked me what I generally do after work and I had to laugh; my nightly routine was pretty much eat dinner, drink an occasional glass of wine, and re-watch early episodes of Game of Thrones. Call me lazy, but I look at it as taking advantage of the free time I never get to have during school.

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Wine tasting in Sonoma!

It’s never easy, but it gets better

As barely a second year student going into this rotation, I was pretty much inexperienced in every sense of being a physical therapist. Even the skills I was most familiar with had a different feel to them when working with real patients instead of practicing on healthy classmates. Luckily, my CI was an amazing teacher. He did a great job of layering on responsibilities for me so I always felt challenged but never felt thrown into the deep end. After an observation-heavy first week, I was tasked with doing the subjective interview portion of every evaluation and taking over the exercises for a couple patients. At the time, that honestly made me nervous and it felt like a lot of independence. But fast forward to my final week: I had somewhere around 10 patients all to myself, I was flying solo on pretty much every lower extremity and back evaluation, I was completing all documentation, and I had discharged three of my patients. We had a packed 8-5 schedule and it was never easy because my CI always gave me more to do before I got fully comfortable. It was demanding, I made a lot of mistakes, and being challenged every day sometimes made me feel like I wasn’t improving or I shouldn’t still be struggling. But looking back at what was difficult for me in that very first week compared to what I was able to do by the end, it’s easy to see how much I learned and improved!

Confidence takes practice

I have always struggled with my outward displays of confidence in patient interactions because I get nervous and tend to doubt myself. I’ve always been told, “Fake it ‘til you make it,” but that’s a lot easier said than done; I guess I just don’t know how to fake confidence. Instead, my confidence builds gradually as I experience success and overcome challenges. And that’s exactly what happened during my clinical. From prescribing and teaching exercises on my own to completing several full evaluations in Spanish, I was definitely challenged, but I was also successful. Sure, I felt like I didn’t quite know what I was doing half the time, but I learned to not dwell on mistakes and to push myself out of my comfort zone. Most importantly, I gained confidence in my own knowledge and abilities, and I now feel more prepared to take on the rest of PT school. If there’s anything I learned from my clinical, it’s that I am capable of doing far more than I ever thought I was.

Solo adventures are good for the soul

I’m usually go go go from one thing to the next for fear of missing out on any fun, so being alone in a rural area was definitely a change of pace.  Although I was lucky enough to reunite with some college friends during trips to San Francisco and Lake Tahoe, I actually probably spent more time alone over the six weeks of clinicals than I did throughout the entire first year of PT school. It allowed a lot of time for self-reflection I didn’t even realize I needed. I was itching to get out and explore, and my weekend adventures were definitely worth all the miles I put on my car: I took my first solo camping trip, discovered a National Park I had never even heard of, and hiked upwards of 35 miles by myself. Of course I missed my friends and my normal crew of camping/hiking buddies, but I learned how to embrace time alone without being lonely.

I enjoyed the opportunity to appreciate silence and just be.

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Support systems are necessary

As a class, we spend so much of our lives together throughout the year that, I have to admit, it was oddly nice to be away from everyone. No, I’m not saying I was sick of my classmates, but those 6+ weeks apart allowed me to actually miss my friends. And, although I already said I enjoyed my time alone, man did I miss them. When you go from sharing all of your time together to none of it, all while you’re being thrown into a new situation, there’s a lot to catch up on after just one day! I did my best to reach out to my friends here and there to see how their clinicals were going, and sometimes those check-ins turned into 2-hour phone conversations. Shout out to the two friends who kept up a group text with me every single day–we practically shared a play-by-play of our clinical experiences, from funny patient stories to weekend plans. Knowing everyone else was having similar challenges was reassuring, and receiving daily encouragement and sharing my accomplishments kept me excited to keep learning.


In a rural setting, a physical therapist needs to be a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none, as my CI once told me. As a result, I got to see a little bit of everything. Sure, there were quite a few back, shoulder, and knee injuries, but I also did some detective work with more neural issues, and I got to observe several vertigo treatments as well. I absolutely loved being in Orland, not only for the varied learning experiences, but also for the people and the small town charm. I found out the correct way to pronounce almond is “am-end” (according to Northern California farmers), and I even joined in on the tradition of wearing blue on Fridays in support of the high school football team.

“You are enough!”

That’s what we were told in our final pre-clinical prep session over the summer, and it turns out it’s true! At first it was easy to think,“I’m just a student” and feel as though I had to run every thought and decision by my CI. However, as he let me become more independent, I realized even as a student, I really did have enough knowledge and skill to make a difference in patients’ lives all on my own. Now, when people ask me how my clinical went, I have nothing but good things to say. I was pushed into recognizing how much I was capable of, and humbled into realizing how much more I still have to learn. Although it was a short period of time, those six weeks were like a refresh button to help me overcome the burnout I had experienced after a year in the classroom, and allowed me to come back to Regis ready to keep expanding my knowledge base before I head back into the real world again.

 

Chris Lew Reflects on Working With 2017 Opus Prize Winner

What is the Opus Prize? 

The Opus Prize is an annual faith-based humanitarian award that is designed to recognize and celebrate those people bringing creative solutions to the world’s most difficult problems. The award partners with Catholic universities, although recipients can be of any faith (Excerpt from Crux.).

Mercy Sister Marilyn Lacey received the Opus Prize from Regis, the host for 2017. Chris Lew, 3rd year Regis DPT student, assisted in her work in Haiti for displaced women and children as an Opus Student Scholar. Here is his reflection about his experience in Haiti, initially published in the Jesuit Journal of Higher Education.

Name: Chris Lew, Class of 2018
Undergrad: University of Portland
Hometown: Eugene, OR
Fun Fact: I have a whistle reminiscent of various fairy tale soundtracks…or so I’m told.

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Throughout my life I’ve had many opportunities for international travel – from travel abroad to Granada and London, a Fulbright scholarship to Madrid, and a service-learning immersion trip to Nicaragua, I have always considered myself blessed to be able to travel the world, experience different cultures, and see the world from a different perspective. Nevertheless, my time performing a site assessment in Haiti at Mercy Beyond Borders (MBB) for the Opus Prize was a unique and eye-opening experience.

MBB was founded more than 30 years ago by Sister Marilyn with the vision that education, especially of women, is the key to overcoming the widespread corruption and poverty that has consumed Haiti and South Sudan. Through my research of the Opus Prize, I understood this site assessment was different from the typical trip to an underserved community. From the initial interview to the final trip preparations, it was made very clear that the purpose of these trips was not to do; rather, the intention was to be, to see, and to experience. It was this aspect of the Opus Prize that interested me most in the organization and its mission. There is a plethora of groups in developing and underserved areas that perform charity work such as building houses and providing medical goods and services. While this service work provides a certain degree of benefit to the community, I have always been somewhat hesitant of this type of altruism because it generally fails to provide long-term, sustainable change to an underlying societal problem. What happens when the volunteers leave and no one is left to provide the necessary medical services? What happens when a fire destroys a new house and there are no resources to build a new one? This traditional type of charity work seems to be a superficial bandage over a much deeper, wider wound.

This is where Opus is different.

The Opus Prize Foundation emphasizes six values that it seeks in the recipient of the Prize. The one that stands out to me most is Sustainable Change. Rather than focusing on a top-down, government-focused approach to solve global issues, Opus intentionally sponsors and supports organizations directed towards community development and cooperation. Opus understands that the resolution of profound societal problems and corruption is ultimately driven internally, not externally. As such, the Prize acknowledges individuals who are addressing the root of social issues and are striving for change that is pioneered locally.

With this in mind, I embarked on my site assessment trip to Haiti with a very different perspective and intention than my previous international travels. The first stop on our trip was in Ft. Lauderdale, FL , where we met Sr. Marilyn, who lives in California and operates MBB in both Haiti and South Sudan. She introduced us to her story and illuminated details of the work she does with MBB. Her work in Haiti revolves around empowerment and opportunity for girls and women. Extreme poverty and corruption of the educational system prevent most children from obtaining a basic education. Most primary schools are private and, as such, require tuition as well as uniforms and books. Many families cannot afford to send their children to school or can only afford to send one child. In the latter case, most families opt to send boys rather than girls because males typically have greater opportunity for success than females in Haiti. As a result, most girls in Haiti only receive up to a 1st or 2nd grade level education. Sr. Marilyn and MBB attempt to ameliorate this disparity by providing secondary school scholarships, leadership development opportunities, and a safe and supportive living environment for girls who demonstrate academic potential. Additionally, MBB provides vocational and literacy training for young adult mothers and older women to develop skills such as reading, writing, computer skills, and baking. These skills provide women with greater independence and self-sufficiency and can even allow them to earn money through both formal and informal work.

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The following morning we took a short early morning flight from Ft. Lauderdale and landed in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The contrast between our departure and arrival city–only a quick two-hour flight apart–was profound. Destitution was apparent on our short drive from the airport out of the city. Litter filled the streets and empty plots of land and stray animals ran largely unmonitored throughout the city. Sr. Marilyn explained that, due to political and financial reasons, much of the rubble from the 2010 earthquake was never adequately disposed of in many of the poorer areas of the capital. As a result, many parts of the city appear recently destroyed even though the earthquake was seven years ago.

Our initial stay in Port-au-Prince was short as our first destination was Gros Morne, about a five-hour drive north of the city. Gros Morne, a town of about 35,000 people, is the community that MBB primarily serves in Haiti. Following the earthquake in 2010, Sr. Marilyn noticed that many relief efforts developed in Port-au-Prince but much fewer resources made their way out of the city and into the more rural parts of the country. She understood that her vision for MBB in Haiti had its limitations and saw the most potential for change in a smaller community.

Our time spent in Gros Morne and the surrounding area was quick but powerful. To gain insight into the MBB’s operations and its community impact, we met with several partners and individuals associated with the organization. We were able to meet several of the girls who are a part of the educational program as well as their families and see the personal impact that MBB has on their lives and their future. We interviewed the principal of a primary school that hosts several of the MBB students; he had high praise for the organization, stating that many, if not all, of the students would be unable to afford their school dues if it wasn’t for the support of MBB. On our final day in Gros Morne we also met with Sr. Jackie, a missionary sister who has worked in Haiti for almost two decades. She provided insight into the corruption in the Haitian political and educational systems. She explained that the private school system is largely unregulated, meaning almost anyone can start a school. This inhibits children from receiving a high-quality education and prevents those students who have the potential to succeed academically from actually achieving success. Overall, these interviews and personal interactions further highlighted the need for an organization like MBB in Haiti.

Sr. Marilyn embodies the spirit of the Opus Prize and models many of the Opus values, including Sustainable Change, Faith, and a Life of Service. She understands that long-term transformation is driven from within, not purely from her work, and this is what directs her vision for MBB. Through empowerment and leadership training of the girls she sponsors, employment opportunities for the local people, and a conscious effort to have Haitian and South Sudanese representation on her Board of Directors, she demonstrates a continued commitment to sustainable change in these countries. A woman humble in both stature and personality, she demonstrates her love and passion for her work in Haiti and South Sudan through her relentless work. I was most impressed by her ability to understand the needs of the communities she works with, while also maintaining a realistic expectation of how many people one person and one organization such as MBB can effectively impact. Although her work may be relatively small in the scope of the vast corruption and poverty in Haiti and South Sudan, her heart is big, and it shines through in both her actions and words.

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