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!

 

Finals Week: A Beautiful Struggle

It’s that time of the year again…

No, we’re not talking about the holidays.

It’s Finals Week, the crescendo of each physical therapy (PT) school semester.

If you haven’t experienced a finals week in PT school, then here are a few ideas of what Regis students encounter during this time each semester.

  1. …but first, Practicals Week

Gone are the days of “dead weeks” leading up to final exams. Practical Exam Week is usually the week prior to all of the written final exams. This is where the skills you have acquired over the entire semester are put to the test to see how you are able to apply them in a real-life situation. During the days leading up to these exams, you will often see students crowding into room PCH 409 to practice their skills and drill each other on the specific times to use them. Study sessions can extend late into the night for some students (Pssst…PT school secret: often these practicals require knowing information that will also be on the written final, so it’s like studying for two exams at once…now that’s a deal!)

  1. Review Sessions

It is not uncommon for faculty members to hold review sessions discussing what to expect on the final written exam. These are often a great help in refining study strategies (PT school pearl of wisdom: take advantage of these sessions!)

  1. Finals Week Schedules

Each class takes 4-5 exams the entire week, with one exam per day and each one for 2 hours. You can find last minute study sessions dispersed across Claver Hall in the hours leading up to the exams to review any lingering questions or fill any remaining knowledge gaps. And hey, after one exam is over, students have 22 hours to study for the next test…what an ample amount of time!

  1. Work-Life Balance

In the words of The Great Tom McPoil, “take a day for yourself every week.” This may be hard to remember during these challenging weeks, but still very relevant. Students usually make modifications to Tom’s “day” suggestion during finals week, and instead take a few hours to relax and meditate with various types of exercise (or naps) – whatever takes the mind off studying for a few moments.

  1. The Triumph of Completing a Semester of PT School

At the end of each finals week, you will find students celebrating another semester down and another job well done! It’s a time to look back at the terrific accomplishments with pride and relish in the fact that your hard work got you here

– Courtney Backward

Check out this video of first and second year students studying (and relaxing) for their finals!

 

Video Credit: Janki Patel

 

DPT School Nutrition: 4 Ways to Eat Healthy

Name: Janki Patel, Class of 2020
Hometown: Fremont, CA
Undergrad: University of California, Davis
Fun Fact: I hiked a 14er (Mount Democrat) for the first time…three days after moving from the Bay Area’s sea level.
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If you are currently enrolled in physical therapy (PT) school, or attended in your past, you can probably identify with the struggle of eating healthy, stress eating, and forgetting exercise. With one exam after another, I’ve found myself eating one snack after another. And by snack, I mean chocolate-covered espresso beans, chocolate-covered almonds, and chocolate-covered pretzels. Anytime anyone mentions “free food,” my ears perk up, eyes widen, and I suddenly feel as if I’ve been starving for centuries, instantly questioning “Where?! When?!” And, when I do finally find the time and energy to go grocery shopping, I think to myself, “I’m going to get a ton of vegetables, fruits, and healthy foods only.” Yet, I end up walking out with a handful of unhealthy items, which I justify by all the vegetables and fruits I just filled my cart with (it’s all about balance, right?!). Days later, I find myself eating all those unhealthy items first though, while the vegetables and fruits start going bad. And with more stress, I seek out the fatty, carbohydrate-heavy, sugar-loaded foods for comfort and relief. When I talk to classmates, I find many are in the same boat. It’s almost as if we could use a class about how to consistently eat healthy while in PT school…or maybe just a blog post!

We already learned that nutritious foods are better fuel sources for our brains and bodies, leading to improved energy, clearer minds, and overall better productivity. Ensuring proper nutrition takes self-discipline and motivation. Once you make it part of your everyday though, you won’t even have to think twice about it. Just like driving a car or riding a bike or remembering the direction of roll and glide for the convex-on-concave rule of arthrokinematics. It’s simply a matter of training the brain, or neuroplasticity, if you will.

1. Mindfulness

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Photo Credit: Mindfulness Words

 

Take the time to really listen to your body and thoughts in the present moment. When you find yourself reaching for a snack, ask yourself if you’re truly hungry. Is your stomach really rumbling? When was the last time you ate? If the answer is “no” and “just a half hour ago,” then try opting for a drink of water or a piece of gum to chew instead. If you start deeply craving food, ask yourself where that craving is stemming from. What’s really causing it? Hunger? Or, stress and anxiety? If it’s stress or anxiety, then first acknowledge that the true cause of your feeling is stress or anxiety. But, don’t let that acknowledgement stress you out more. Take a minute to close your eyes and take a few deep breaths, rather than running to the cafeteria or kitchen. Try to then relieve the craving by simply changing your position (sitting up straighter, getting up and taking a quick walk, or stretching) or environment. I find that every time I study on the dining room table, I end up grabbing a snack shortly after I start, or I sit with one to begin with so I don’t have to get up later. With the kitchen so close by, there’s little time between my thought and action. Choose a study spot away from food sources so that you’re given more time to think twice about any craving that occurs and prevent yourself from fulfilling it.

Find more activities to relieve cravings in the moment as well, whether it’s having quick play time with your pet, reading a short article (PT in Motion has great ones!), or talking to a family member or friend for a few minutes. Essentially, we want to train the brain to think “this is my cue to grab water, take a walk, or talk to someone” instead of “this is my cue to eat” whenever it receives the signal of a craving or desire to eat that really stems from stress or anxiety rather than hunger.

2. Commit to a List

Photo Credit: Grocery List

 

This is one of my biggest challenges. I always have a few items in mind that I need to get from the grocery store, but the rest of the items in my cart end up being in-the-moment purchases. Make a solid grocery list beforehand and commit to sticking with it by grabbing only the items you need. One way to do this is to first find healthy recipes and then creating a grocery list from the ingredients. For example, I’m subscribed to New York Times Cooking, which sends me daily emails of recipes. I choose and bookmark a few healthy ones every day so that by the end of the week, I have a list of ingredients for my weekend grocery shopping trip (as well as recipes to cook for next week then!). You can go paper-and-pen style or use an app on your phone to keep track of your list.

Another way is to commit to a 5-5-5 rule. Include 5 vegetables, 5 fruits, and 5 protein items on your list every time you make a trip to the grocery store (or any other area, such as fiber or a specific vitamin, that you may not get enough of). Depending on when your next trip will be though, you may have to increase these numbers. Think of your grocery list as being a grading rubric for a class assignment or a list of topics on an exam. Just as you would ensure to cover all required items for your clinical skills check or anatomy exam, and not a single more item than you have to, commit to ensuring you cover all the items on your list, and not more, for groceries as well.

3. Avoid Justifying Unhealthy Items for Costing Less

Photo Credit: Money Fork

I know we’re all “balling on a budget,” but try to not let that be a reason you start compromising healthy foods for less nutritious ones. Order that avocado for the extra 50 cents. Don’t order that whipped cream on the frappachino simply because it comes at the same price without it. If you’re like me and are easily lured by sale items at the grocery store (who doesn’t like buy one, get one free items?!), try to take more time to practice the previous points of being mindful and committing to a list. It’s easy to fall into marketing schemes since sales make “sense” that we would be saving money. However, it does not make “sense” to feed our brains and bodies with foods that have little to no nutritious value.

This goes for restaurants as well, especially if you don’t cook at home or buy groceries often. Think back to the 5-5-5 rule when ordering still: did you have vegetables, fruits, or protein today? Create and commit to a list and find items on the menu that incorporate this “grocery list.” We’re actually lucky that our bodies already give us a grocery list of items they need for optimal functioning: proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, water, etc. Seek the specifics your body truly needs on the menu, just as you would seek keywords in multiple choice options on an exam question to know it’s the correct answer.

4. And Of Course, Don’t Forget to Exercise!

Photo Credit: Time for Fitness

 

This last point is more of a reminder to exercise regularly. The benefits of exercise are endless. Schedule it into your calendar as if it were a mandatory class. Additionally, any time you start to feel your energy levels plunge, try exercising rather than reaching for energy bars or sugary foods for a boost, even if it’s simply 10 minutes. If you’re in class and a craving or energy lull hits, try seated calf raises under your desk, flexing and extending your toes in your shoes, or flexing and extending your fingers and hands (set a frequency too!). Again, it’s about creating a healthy response when your brain gets these signals.

We know exercise can cause physiological changes in more than just our muscles, specifically in our metabolic pathways. Keep moving regularly and solidifying healthy eating habits and it’ll soon feel like you never had a struggle with healthy eating, stress eating, or forgetting exercise. You won’t even have to think twice about it. Just like driving a car or riding a bike or remembering the direction of roll and glide for the convex-on-concave rule of arthrokinematics. It’s simply a matter of training the brain, or neuroplasticity, if you will…these are my foods for thought. Happy nutritious eating!

How to Find Your Work-Life Balance in PT School

Name: Tom Sears, Class of 2019
Undergrad: Wheeling Jesuit University
Hometown: Moundsvill, WV
Fun Fact: I once gave a ten minute impromptu (and decidedly silly) speech about apples for an undergraduate class.

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The ultimate question for me once I found the perfect PT school (Regis) was:

How do I balance the rigors of PT school with my family, friends, and all the responsibilities that accompany everyday life?

This is the question. So, what is the (your) answer?

Well, to begin… I am fortunate enough to be blessed with a beautiful wife, a dog and cat (the cat is temperamental and bites for no apparent reason), and a house (and the lovely mortgage and maintenance that goes along with it). Oh, and my wife and I are in the process of adopting a child! And, well, I have friends and hobbies and I even like to workout on a regular basis.

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My dog Rufus’ puppy graduation

So, how does one achieve this so-called balance? The most important piece of advice I can give you is to surround yourself with a good support system. Let your friends know that your life is changing (for the better) and you will need them to be patient with you. Ask them to check in with you on how studies are going, to celebrate with you when you do find the time (celebrate that anatomy lab practical being over!), to understand when you have to turn down their invite to try line dancing at the Grizzly Rose, and to be there when you need to decompress.

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Tom plays music with his brother to de-stress

My wife has been SO supportive of my endeavor, and for me this was imperative. Be sure your spouse or significant other is forewarned of the change that’s about to take place. If you don’t have an “other,” let your family and closest friends know. They likely cannot fully appreciate what the experience is like, but have this talk…Let them know you will need them by your side. You will be in school much of the day and studying more frequently than you ever have before. You won’t always be as available as you would like. Get them on board! And perhaps best of all, be prepared to meet some truly awesome new people. These are perhaps the only people in your life that will truly understand what this experience is like. You may be amazed to see how quickly you become close with your classmates. Lean on them!

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Service learning with my classmates

The other essential part of work-life balance: develop a routine—a routine that fits with your needs. This, of course, will be difficult to determine at first. But alas my young apprentice, it will come. This may mean planning your days out to allow for your studies or for time to relax/decompress. Think forward to your assignments that are due and allot enough time to finish them.

I have talked with 2nd and 3rd years (much wiser and more experienced than I) and for a few of these folks their answer revolved around boundaries and separation. They would arrive to school at 7 AM and leave at 5 or 6 PM. During this time they would study with absolute focus. You know, the kind that doesn’t involve watching Youtube clips, posting tweets, or watching a ball game in the background (okay—guilty as charged!). And when they came home, they were with their family and friends. Truly with them. This was not my answer, but it could be yours.

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Professional Ceremony with my family

My answer was not so easily developed at first. I have a dog at home who had not been out for 8+ hours, and thus I feel the need after class to return home to let my beloved furry friend out for a long walk. I then return to my studies before joining my family for a nice conversation and an episode of Game of Thrones.

Whatever your familial and personal needs are, plan accordingly and give time to them.

The next key to work-life balance: build into your routine a time for rest. Whether you’re parking your gluteus maximus, medius (and other various muscles) in your most comfortable seat to watch the weekly Steelers game, checking out one of the local breweries with your peers, or enjoying the wondrous outdoor activities that Colorado has to offer, find the mental and physical space you need to completely unplug from schoolwork.  No matter how much time you spend on studying, you may never feel like you are as on top of the material as you would like to be. But trust me: this time will refresh your mind, reinvigorate your resolve, and ultimately help you to perform optimally in PT school.

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Fireworks night with the Colorado Rockies!

Oh ya—and there is this thing called exercise. Chances are you’re a fan (or will at least be soon). Some of my peers elect to put this on the back burner. I would strongly suggest keeping exercise in your routine. For me, blasting some 1975, John Legend, or Tool and going for a run is the perfect way to clear my mind and prepare me for a night of studying.

It is well worth an hour of your time to keep your routine, practice what you preach, and prepare your mind not just to cram, but retain the material at hand. This will bring you closer to your future success as a PT.

Your routine may take time to develop, but that’s okay. If you had all the answers to achieving optimal balance for success in your new PT career right now, you would be the first! Be steadfast in your resolve and be flexible. Prioritize your needs and you will find your answer!

Welcome, Zuma!

The newest addition to our DPT program has arrived! Zuma will be trained by our service dog team of students.  We’re looking forward to seeing her learn and grow; she has a big vest to fill!

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…Oh, and isn’t she ADORABLE?!

What is the First Year of DPT School Like?

Name: Meg Kates, Class of 2019
Hometown: Herscher, IL
Undergrad: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Fun Fact: I was the Spanish Student of the Year at my high school. ¡Me encanta Colorado!
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“I can’t believe you’re actually leaving.”

“I know, but it’s okay. I’ll be home soon.”

I hugged my best friend goodbye underneath a star-dotted sky. They shine brighter in Herscher, Illinois, which is a farming community in the middle of the state where the lights of Chicago are but a faint, pink spot in the northern distance: in fewer words, home. That was the day I packed up everything I owned and moved to Denver to embark on my grand physical therapy school adventure. I look back at that time and consider the expectations I had for Regis University and how they have been exceeded many times over.

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Meg and her classmates at the beginning of their semester

To begin, I knew starting PT school was going to change my life, but I didn’t realize the extent to which it was going to change my mind and how I perceived the world. When Regis students begin the first semester, classes last about eight hours. I think it’s safe to say that none of us were accustomed to such a heavy intellectual load—both in breadth and in depth. At first, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with sheer amount of material (i.e. the origin, insertion, action, and innervation of every muscle in the human body). However, Regis students will tell you that a day comes when our passions combine with our teachers’ lessons, and, by the magic of neuroplasticity (to be discussed more second semester), our brains have been primed to absorb information like those ridiculous towels you see on the infomercials. I feel like I learn eighty new things every day, and, even wilder, I have the intellectual capacity to accommodate it all. Regis creates the most competent professionals by challenging its students to elevate their caliber of thinking.

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Participating in the Professional Ceremony at Regis initiates all students into the DPT program.

Even though Regis’ DPT program can be dense, professors are there to ensure that we persevere through the lows, and they celebrate with us during the highs. Never have I been surrounded by such a reputable group of physical therapists and scientists. I would believe that Dr. Cliff Barnes, the anatomist, created the human body himself if I didn’t know any better. I want Dr. Mark Reinking to talk to me about the shoulder forever. I will never fangirl as hard as Tom McPoil makes me fangirl when he explains the biomechanics of the ankle. Beyond their intellect, Regis DPT faculty have made me feel immensely supported in my first semester. Professors are just as eager as students to discuss individual goals, explain difficult concepts, and offer resources to aid in understanding. It has been emphasized to us time and time again that Regis selects students that they believe will succeed in becoming accomplished, holistic practitioners. Their faith in us inspires me to be an excellent—yet humble—student and future physical therapist.

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Meg and some of the Class of 2019 take a study break in the mountains

Yet, the most earth-shattering surprise about PT school is the relationships that I’ve formed with my classmates. I expected to make friends when I moved to Denver; I didn’t expect to be inspired by every interaction I have with one of my peers.  They’re the people with whom I climb both literal and figurative mountains. They challenge me to be a teacher when they cannot find answers, and they shed light when I’m confused. I spend every day with the same eighty-one people and I know they watch over both my academic and spiritual wellbeing, as I do for them.

When I think about going back to Illinois, I cannot wait to show my friends all I’ve learned. When I look to the future, I cannot wait to show the world the physical therapists and human beings my classmates and I will become.

 

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