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

 

How to Manage Your Money in DPT School

Name: Kim Bjorkman, Class of 2019
Undergrad:
 University of Puget Sound
Hometown:
Jackson, WY
Fun Fact: 
I sang the national anthem at rodeos when I was in high school!

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Living as a graduate student does not mean that you must subsist on Top Ramen and canned soup, but it does require taking responsibility for your finances and making informed decisions. I’m here to give some insight on how it’s possible to still live like a normal human being while on a graduate student budget.

First off, the nitty gritty:

Each year of the program, you can accept $20,500 in Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans. You can also apply for a Federal Direct Graduate PLUS loan. The amount of Grad PLUS loans you are eligible to apply for will vary year to year, but expect around $25,000 per year. It’s important to remember that even if the Grad PLUS loans are on your financial aid award letter, you still must apply for them to actually receive the loan!

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Kim is happy to know so much about budgeting!

If you establish Colorado residency right when you get here (before the start of fall semester), you can also qualify for the Colorado Graduate Grant (starting 1 year after you become a resident). The grant pays $5,000 per school year, so be sure to apply as early as possible for residency to make sure you can get the grant for you 2nd and 3rd years of DPT school! Eligibility entails having a CO driver’s license, being registered to vote in CO, and all vehicles in your name being registered in CO. Prior to applying for the grant, you must also update your FAFSA with your CO address and ensure that your state of legal residency is listed as Colorado. Finally, you must ensure that your address in Regis’ system is updated. Remember, you must apply for FAFSA each year to be eligible for the Colorado Graduate Grant.

As you’re creating your budget, here are some things to keep in mind:

The loans are distributed at the start of fall semester your first year. This money will be for fall and spring semesters. You will get another disbursement at the start of the summer semester for the same amount of money. This must last you for summer, fall and spring! So, essentially, every semester the financial aid will be dispersed in three equal quantities…but there will be differences in tuition costs each semester. This will result in an imbalance in refunds—be sure to plan ahead.

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These first years are so glad they planned ahead! (Volunteering for the Outdoor CO Trail Restoration Crew)

If you have questions about your particular circumstances, email or make an appointment with our financial aid counselor, James Cesar, at Jcesar@regis.edu.

Now that you have your bank account full of loan money, how do you make it stretch?

While on my graduate student budget this year, I discovered several ways to save money here and there, and it has added up!

Here is the inside scoop to becoming a Master Couponer:

  • Digital coupons: create an online account with your grocery store of choice (King Soopers, Sprouts, Safeway, etc.) and simply load digital coupons to your club card. As long as these are loaded prior to shopping, they are automatically deducted when you checkout. No paper coupons necessary!

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  • Ibotta: this is an app created right here in Denver that provides digital rebates for all sorts of things! You can get money back on groceries, alcohol, Uber rides, Amazon purchases…The possibilities are endless. Once you’ve earned $20, you can transfer the cash to Venmo, PayPal or a gift card. If you access the app using my referral code, https://ibotta.com/r/jtfwknt, you will get a $10 bonus when you redeem a rebate within a week of loading the app J (Pro tip: “any brand” items do not count toward earning this $10 bonus).King Soopers Screenshot.png
  • Other apps: there are two other rebate apps I sometimes use, Checkout 51 and Mobisave, that have less items but can be helpful in saving a few dollars.

 

  • Groupon: get an additional 25% student discount on all local deals. While you can certainly find deals for restaurants and spas, Groupon also has deals for dental care, car maintenance and Costco memberships. Get a bonus 3-10% savings if you access the Groupon app through Ibotta!

Living on a student loan budget does impose some limitations, but when managed responsibly, it is certainly possible to enjoy your time in graduate school. If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at kroberts006@regis.edu.

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Staying Grounded in PT School, Method 42: Silence

Name: Blake Miller, Class of 2019
Undergrad: 
Whitworth University
Hometown: 
Missoula, MT
Fun Fact: 
I grew up 20 minutes from a ski resort but never downhill skied until moving to Colorado this year.

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It’s an age-old story: a small-town boy moves to the big city to pursue his dreams of fame and fortune, only to face trials and challenges that test him more than he’d even imagined. Alright… maybe that’s a little sensationalized, but all the parts are there. Here’s the real story: I grew up on the outskirts of Missoula, a lovely town in Western Montana where the only thing that could cause a traffic jam on the Interstate was a herd of rogue cattle. As fate would have it, I decided to venture south to the land of altitude, and more importantly, the city of the prestigious Regis University. As you’ve probably guessed, I moved here for PT school, a 3-year endeavor where excitement and challenges abound. While school has been hard (insert cliché reference to Anatomy and Neuro), there has been another large and unexpected challenge: finding silence and calm amidst the whirlwind of school and obligations.

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Missoula, MT

Growing up in an area of the country that is relatively isolated, it was easy to take the absence of noise for granted. I was guaranteed to find at least 5 mountain trails with no one else on them within 10 miles; if I was feeling lazy, I could simply walk outside and find that same noiseless environment in my backyard. But that all changed when I moved to Denver. The first hike I did was a 14er (not the brightest idea), and I was shocked by how many people could find their way to a mountain at 6:30 AM on a Tuesday. My new apartment wasn’t any better, as the sounds from the traffic were always present (in contrast, my roommate from Chicago was just happy to not hear gunshots at night anymore).

It’s amazing what happens when you lose something you take for granted. At first, I didn’t realize it had happened; I thought my newfound low-level agitation was due to my obligatory grad school coffee addiction. But, after about a month I figured it out: I had not found a single moment since moving to Denver where I had felt the silence that is only found by being alone in nature. So, I changed a few things. I began making space for myself, and as a result I slowly became less anxious, more productive, and much more present in everyday situations.

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Enjoying some solo time on Mt. Quandary

Here are my tips to help you find silence during PT school–both in nature and in everyday life:

1. Make time for yourself when you’re in nature

I’ve developed the reputation among my hiking classmates of getting 80% of the way to the top of a mountain and then flying ahead, not to be seen again until I’m sitting on the edge of the summit. While they might attribute this to my eccentric personality (fair enough), the main driver of this behavior is that there’s an uncanny stillness atop a peak that is only disturbed by the occasional chirp of a bird and, once they catch up, the laughter and musings of my friends. So, next time you go hiking, biking, or climbing, take a second for yourself to simply be still and relax in the wonder around you.

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Team picture!

2. Utilize your car time

Take one of your weekly drives and turn off the radio. I prefer to study alone, so most of my go-to coffee shops are 20 minutes away (Stella’s, Steam, Nixon’s, but that’s a whole different blog post), and assuming you don’t go there during rush hour, you’ll have a relatively peaceful drive when you turn the music off. Or, next time you make the 90-minute drive to Estes Park or Vail, try it in silence and see how it affects your mood and the way you interact with others.

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Getting some silence at Wash Park

3. Make it a daily practice

If you’re pinched for time, Regis has many good spots that are removed from the noise. If you want to watch the sunset in silence from an unobstructed view, try the chapel; if you just need a break from studying, find an empty classroom in Claver – there are plenty!

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Sky Pond

4. Become comfortable with listening to your thoughts.

I write this as finals are creeping up, and it is a common sentiment among my classmates that we feel overwhelmed and bombarded with constant thoughts that demand our attention. Instead of tuning them out, listen to them; give them the attention they deserve. One way I sort out these thoughts is to take 15 minutes every day to sit in silence in my room with all distractions, especially my phone, removed. Set a timer, and just sit in your thoughts until it goes off. These 15 minutes might feel like an eternity at first, but after making it a daily practice for several weeks I’ll bet you will find it to be a very peaceful and life-giving way to end your days.

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On the hike to Mt. Evans

5. Translate your comfort with listening to your own thoughts into comfort with listening to others.

It’s difficult to listen to others when you’re busy trying to take care of your own thoughts. Once you have sorted out yours, try using that same approach in conversation with others: listen without interrupting, and see if you are more able to actively engage in their story now that you have dealt with your own distractions.

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Up on Mt. Elbert

A quote I often come back to is this:

“Silence is God’s first language; everything else is a misunderstanding.”

Of all the coping mechanisms I use to excel in school, none is as important or as beneficial for me as creating time to be alone and remove myself from all the distractions that so easily surround me. If you make time for yourself, you will create space to add time for others and school as well.

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Chasm Lake

7 Reasons You Should Take a Gap Year Before PT School

Name: Courtney Hardin, Class of 2018
Undergrad: Washington State University (GO COUGS)
Hometown: Spokane, WA
Fun Fact: I’m obsessed with my dog.

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If you’re currently reading this blog asking yourself, “Is it a good time to go to school right now? Should I take a year off before I apply? Should I even take 2?” Well, this blog is for you! I took a year off before going to PT school, and it was the best decision I could have made for my soul and–of course–for my professional career.

Here are 7 reasons why taking a year off could be the right choice for you:

1. Make Sure PT is the Right Career Choice

I didn’t have enough experience with multiple disciplines of PT, so I volunteered at an inpatient rehab facility for a few months and got a job as an outpatient PT aide. I ended up getting a lot of experience and gained a passion for PT that I didn’t have in my undergraduate pursuits.

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Halloween at the clinic

2. Polish Your Application

I needed to bump up my GPA a little before applying. So, I ended up retaking a couple of the core classes at a local college (anatomy and physiology… #amiright). Whether you need more hours in the clinic or that pre-req grade, taking a year off will help you be the best applicant possible!

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Taking some time to reflect in Peru during my year off

3. Explore

I’d always wanted to travel abroad in undergrad, so I decided to backpack through South America. I went to Peru and hiked the Inca trail to Machu Picchu, then to a ski mountain in Chile, I toured the Wineries of rural Mendoza, cruised through Argentina by bicycle, explored the city of Buenos Aires, and hiked through Iguazu Falls. This trip changed my life and my viewpoint in so many indescribable ways. So, before you enter graduate school and a full-time PT gig, take the time to explore the world now!

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Machu Picchu!

4. Be There for Family and Friends

I wanted to spend some time with my family before heading off to grad school because hey—my family is pretty rad! If you’re considering PT school, sometimes taking a year to visit home, reconnect with friends, and get some quality family time in is key before you sign up for 3 grueling years of work.

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5. Give Your Brain a Break

I needed a break from the school books. I wanted to enjoy a good book (of my choosing), take time to run a few races, and live a bit more “stress-free” before embarking on the next school adventure. Regardless of if you take a year off or not, you will eventually get burned out in PT school from all the studying with no breaks. Many of my classmates agree that taking a year (or more!) before PT school helped delay that burnout onset.

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6. Do Some Things for YOU, not for your Application

I needed some relaxation time up at the lake cabin. If you take a year off, don’t spend every second on your PT application: have FUN!

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7. Grow as a Person

At the end of the day, I simply needed to just be me for a year.  Taking a year off doesn’t mean you’re putting your life on hold; it means that you get a whole year to find out more about yourself and fine tune what you want in life.

Without taking that time off, I wouldn’t have done all the necessary things to improve my application, my confidence, my PT experience, and—of course—my life experience. There is no specific time you have to apply! Schools don’t look at how much time you take off between undergrad and applications; they look at the person you are when you apply. And hey, if you’re ready to apply now, go for it—I know plenty of people who did that, too.  Bottom line: do what’s best for you, not what’s best for everyone else!

If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at chardin@regis.edu.

Regis DPT Family

What Did the Class of 2019 do Over Summer Break?

Name: Kassidy Stecklein, Class of 2019
Undergrad: Kansas State University, KS
Hometown: Hays, KS
Fun Fact: I really, really enjoy tornado weather.

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Mission trips, senior trips, and retreats, oh my! (I’m from Kansas, I just had to 🙂 ) As roughly a quarter of our class journeyed through Utah, people constantly asked us why we were all together.  When we explained to them that we were simply classmates on our week off from PT school, they were thoroughly impressed that such a large group of grad students would all like each other enough to travel together. However, anyone who currently goes or went to Regis would tell you this doesn’t shock them one bit: PT school at Regis isn’t just an education—it’s also a family.

When deciding on where I wanted to go for PT school, I knew I wanted somewhere where I would not only get an incredible education, but also get a place that I could make new memories at and feel like I was at home for the next 3 years. Regis has not only provided that, but so much more. Thinking back on the first 2 semesters of school, my initial thoughts don’t go to the countless hours spent in Claver Hall drawing the different pathways of the brain or that familiar smell of the cadaver lab; they go to the numerous adventures spent with my classmates.

During the transition from the spring to summer semesters of our first year, we were given a wonderful a weeklong break. Now, the initial thought might be to spend that week prepping for the upcoming semester or catching up on the sleep missed during those last few weeks of finals…but this was not the case with our class. Our class is always up for new adventures and spending our time to the fullest.

We all love living in this beautiful state of Colorado, but since we were given a week off, why not adventure out a little farther? About 25 of my classmates and I traveled to Zion National Park in southern Utah to make some irreplaceable memories. We packed our cars to the max (and I mean every last inch) with our sleeping bags, tents, and backpacks, and we were ready to embark on our 10-hour road trip. Lucky for us, PT school teaches you how to spend 40+ hours a week with the same group of people, so 10 hours went by like a breeze!
The first stop on our adventure was Cedar City, Utah. We used this as our last little pit stop before heading all the way to Zion the next day. Despite the forecast for storms and rain, we lucked out and were able to find an awesome campsite where we all relaxed together by the fire and began to take in the beauty we would be blessed with over the next few days.

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The start of many dinners by the fire.

Starting off on our 2nd day, we only had about an hour or so drive to our final destination outside of Zion, but our first hike of the trip happened to be on the way. Our 1st hike was Kanarra Falls, which was a perfect hike for us to start off the week. Not too long of a hike, Kanarra Falls was great for getting us back into the hiking routine. It also provided a bit of an introduction to getting comfortable with hiking through water. Traveling through slot canyons, this hike consisted of many waterfalls; it even ended with a waterfall that we could go down like a slide! After the hike, we finished our road trip outside of Zion National Park.

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Our group in the middle of the slot canyons at Kanarra Falls

 

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Climbing inside the slot canyons of Kanarra Falls

When they say teamwork makes the dream work, they weren’t kidding! This was our motto for day 3, as the trek to get to Zion was an adventure in itself. We knew the roads were expected to be a little “rough,” but that was a complete understatement. Regis is great at developing leaders and team players in the PT field, and I’d say these traits were tapped into as we worked together to get Wyatt’s Subaru down the mountain in one piece. We had people picking up and moving rocks, walking beside the car to make sure it didn’t go over the edge, and I’m pretty sure at one point we were all about to pick the car up and just try to carry it down the mountain. In the end, though, we all successfully got down; this forever remains one of the best memories. We also hiked Hidden Canyon Trail that day and saw the incredibleness that is Zion for the first time.

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Everyone got out of their cars and moved rocks to get Wyatt’s Subaru safely down the mountain!

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Hiking up Hidden Canyon

Day 4 brought about one of the hikes we had all been waiting for: The Subway. Being one of Zion’s more popular hikes, there was plenty of information to tell us to start early in the morning (typically an 8-hour hike) and avoid it when the weather is rough. We like a challenge, so (of course) we slept in and waited until afternoon to start—all while having the prediction of inclement weather and possibly flash floods. Despite the circumstances, we successfully completed this 10-mile hike through the water in a little over 4 hours, and even made it back in time to return our gear that day (the workers at the store didn’t believe that we could successfully finish it that quickly, but obviously they don’t know the determination of Regis PT students). If you ever go to Zion, this hike is a MUST: you end at a series of pools that you can swim through to make it to the final waterfall destination.

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Trekking through the Subway

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Alex leading the way through the freezing pools at the end of the Subway

Day 5 was sort of our recovery day. We had our biggest hike of the trip planned for Friday, so in preparation we did a nice short hike at the Emerald Pools. We finished the day by finding our own waterfall pool to go swim at Toquerville Falls. The road to Toquerville Falls was another adventure in itself; but once again, we like a challenge, so despite advice to turn around and people telling us our cars wouldn’t make it, we defied the odds and were able to enjoy the day!

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Toquerville Falls

Day 6 was our big finale: the 18-mile hike up the West Rim to Angel’s Landing. At this point, everyone was a little beaten up, whether it was blisters, muscle soreness, or just mentally fatigued. Either way, we were determined to complete this last hike together. There is a much shorter hike up the Angel’s Landing (5 miles roundtrip), but if PT school taught us anything, it’s that the reward is so much better when you’ve worked your tail off for it. This was by far the hardest and longest hike, but if you ask any of my classmates, it was 110% worth it.

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All of us at the top of Angel’s Landing!

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Soaking in the view after 19 miles of hiking         

If coming to Regis for PT school has taught me anything, it’s that experiences, relationships, and memories are just as important as the education you receive throughout these 3 years. As much fun as the late night study sessions and practical preparations are, it is the memories made between the class times that I will cherish forever.

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If you don’t have shorts and socks tan lines, did you really hike 18 miles?

5 Ways to Impress During Your Practical Exams

 

Name: Abbey Ferguson, Class of 2019
Undergrad: Westmont College, CA
Hometown: Sacramento, CA
Fun Fact: I absolutely love to dance! If any of you out there are dancers in need of a new dance studio here in Denver, I can definitely hook you up!

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Lab practicals are often the most terrifying and anxiety-provoking parts of physical therapy school. It is the chance for you to show your skills as a developing clinician in the most realistic setting possible, and they’re some of the only opportunities we get to practice being in the clinic before we get there. As a student who has only been in PT school for two semesters, I especially feel this weight due to our lack of clinical experience so far. However, while it may sound daunting, I have grown to love practical exams. As crazy as it sounds, I find it exciting to walk out of an interaction with a faculty member and feel like I could possibly interact with a real patient in a professional and capable way. While it took me a few exams to get there, I think I have found some ways that have made the tests manageable and exciting rather than threatening. I hope that these tips help, and always feel free to email me if you have more questions!

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We finished our first year of PT school! Class of 2019 Cinco De Mayo party

 

  1. Take deep breaths.

Prior to taking a practical exam, you will be given a time slot and an assigned room where you will perform your skill for a faculty grader. These time allotments begin at relatively short periods of 20-40 minutes, but as you take more classes, these can last for up to an hour or more. I’ve found that, to calm myself down before entering the exam room, taking the time to close my eyes and take a few deep breaths to simply slow my heart rate and clear my head is extremely helpful. For some reason, many of us students all cluster outside the rooms before our assigned times and stress each other out about the unknowns of the exam, and this not only invokes fear, but it makes us question our own abilities that we have developed. By simply pausing for a couple seconds before entering the room, I am able to remind myself that I am capable enough to perform well.

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Sky Pond hike with my classmates

 

  1. Speak slowly and confidently.

As you enter the exam room you are often given a case study or a patient problem to solve, and you only have a few moments to think through a solution and then employ your plan of care. This rushed feeling can lead to stumbling over words and key phrases that need to be communicated with the grader to show them you have reasonable rationale behind your interventions. What I often do is continue to take deep breaths and think through exactly what I am going to say prior to saying it. A skill I learned when I was in high school drama class was to speak my lines in a ridiculously slow manner. While the words sounded incredibly slow to my anxious brain, what was actually communicated to the audience was a line that in a normal, even pace. Because our brains are trying to process so much at once, by consciously thinking about slowing down words and thoughts, it can come across to the grader that you are confident in what you are saying. By instilling confidence in your grader, you are much more likely to get positive reviews. You have the knowledge from the classes to perform the skill well, so show them that you believe in yourself!

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At our Welcome BBQ the first weekend, I met my twin, Sari!

  1. Mental AND Physical Rehearsal.

I am the kind of student who does not love to practice the same skill over and over again prior to an exam. It often becomes monotonous and boring, and I feel like I start making new mistakes every time I practice. HOWEVER, I am convinced that the more you physically practice, the more automatic the skill becomes, and the less likely you are to fumble through your skill during the exam. As reluctant as I was to practice, I was very fortunate to have fellow students who convinced me that practicing was vital to performing well, and I believe it made a difference during the exams. But this does not mean that mental practice can not be helpful as well. I found that by taking the time to sit with the material and rehearse in my head what I would say and do during the skill, I was still able to feel more confident than if I had done no sort of practice once I entered the exam. These skills can feel tedious, but I think that is the point of physical therapy school! As the skills become automatic (after they are practiced correctly), we can be more confident in a clinical setting that the interventions we are performing are done well and will benefit our patients.

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My first 14er, Mt. Bierstadt!

  1. See your grader as a human, not an intimidating figure.

Perhaps it is just because I haven’t been in graduate school for that long, but I was honestly scared of my graders prior to actually being in a practical exam. Performing skills in front of experienced clinicians can be intimidating, and it becomes easy to expect them to be hyper-critical and harsh. But this misconception was debunked fairly quickly. Yes, our graders and professors are incredibly smart and know what they are doing, but they are also humans who believe in you and want you to do your best. By entering an exam setting with the mindset that your grader is there to support you and make you the best PT you can be, the fear and anxiety will be eased.

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Move Forward 5K

  1. Believe in yourself.

Confidence and believing in yourself may seem intuitive, but it really can make the difference when you are entering the exams. I know I tend to get pretty down on myself when it seems like an overwhelming amount of information is being thrown at us. However, I have realized I must have confidence in my program and professors that they have taught me well and I am prepared to show my skills in a practical exam. If you have practiced, studied, and listened in class, you know what you need to know to excel, and you can trust in yourself and in your abilities.

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Rocking our 90’s cartoon costumes for the annual Halloween contest

While these tips don’t stop my pits from sweating profusely prior to a practical, they have helped me get excited for the opportunity to show off what I have been trained to do. It keeps me from becoming overwhelmed and allows me to perform as best as I can, which is all I can really ask of myself. You will all be successful, and I’m sure you will find more strategies to add to this short list of how to survive practical exams. When you discover new things that help you, let me know, because I will always take the extra help:)

Email: aferguson002@regis.edu

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Weekend break at Grizzly Rose for some line dancing!