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

Coming to PT School From Another Career

 

Quite a few of our classmates came to physical therapy school after 1, 2, or even 3 previous careers! Laura and Tara are academic all-stars, wonderful additions to our Class of 2018 cohort, and have some of the coolest past experiences out there.  

Name: Laura Baker, Class of 2018
Undergrad: University of New Hampshire, Durham
Hometown: Seville, Ohio
Fun Fact: During college, I studied abroad in Tamil Nadu, India!

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Name: Tara Businski, Class of 2018
Undergrad: Bates College
Hometown: East Lansing, MI
Fun Fact: I have swum in 4 of the world’s 5 oceans.

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First off, tell me about yourself. 

Laura: I grew up on a small farm in Ohio. My father raised hogs and grew crops while my mom operated a strawberry business. Much to the delight of the unsuspecting customers, chaos ensued when piglets escaped from their pens and ran straight for the berry patch.

I chose UNH for my undergraduate degree because of their intriguing curriculum and to chase after the ocean and mountains. I received a resource economics degree that laid the foundation for my natural resource conservation career. After graduation, I spent a year in Queensland, Australia as an intern studying resource economics of tropical rainforest re-forestation. I chose my next job as a forest conservation activist based on running: the people of Ketchikan, Alaska informed me that there were miles of trails (and black bears and wolves were rarely problematic). So there I went–Alaska or bust! I spent the next 11 years working various conservation jobs in Alaska with the majority of my time being spent at The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in Juneau.

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Laura doing some plant surveying for TNC

Tara: I grew up in Michigan, went to college in Maine, then moved to Newfoundland to study biological oceanography. After 4 years of graduate school, I joined the Marine Corps to be a helicopter pilot. I stayed in that job for almost 9 years, then resigned to come to PT school.

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Tara’s Christmas in Afghanistan

When did PT first catch your eye as a future career? 

Laura: I’ve had a number of encounters with physical therapists, most resulting from mundane, physics-gone-wrong scenarios: a torn ACL here, a nagging hamstring injury there, a helluva whiplash and concussion situation, etc.

After I turned 30, I felt like I had lost the passion for working in the natural resource field; I quit my job and travelled for a year. Several months into drinking wine and picking olives in Italy, I found myself unhappy with my state of uncertainty.  I knew that physical therapy was a profession with attributes that aligned well with my values and goals: a specific and defined skill set, available work in remote areas of Alaska, and getting to support others’ well-being in a tangible way. It seemed like the perfect next step!

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Laura on the job in AK

Tara: When I was considering post-military careers, I was looking for an intellectual challenge and a consistent schedule. I had a biology degree, a Pilates teaching certificate, and a little medical background from my time as an EMT and as a search and rescue volunteer. Physical therapy seemed like a logical extension of these experiences. I’m excited about the new challenges, variety at work, and job prospects.

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Talk about a cool past career! 

Describe how you went from thinking about PT as a career and getting into PT school.

Laura: I came back to Alaska to work odd jobs and sent myself back to school for the basic sciences. I shadowed physical therapists in various settings in Anchorage and Juneau and gave myself 2 years to get accepted into PT school. If, within that time frame, I was not accepted to a program, I figured it was not meant to be and that I would return to the conservation world with new goals and intentions.

Tara: I observed in an outpatient clinic on the base where I was stationed for a handful of hours, but was unable to get very many hours due to work demands. I also took anatomy and physiology at the local community college in the evenings. After I decided on Regis for PT school, I was able to get more observation time at the naval hospital in San Diego. That experience was invaluable and has had a major impact on my interests within the PT profession.

What is an unexpected challenge in PT school?

Laura: I could not have anticipated how much I miss the relationships I had built during my time in Alaska. Also, I’m giving up years of income and will be facing a level of financial instability that makes me squeamish. However, I am completely energized by my motivated classmates, committed faculty, and opportunities that I could not have otherwise imagined!

Tara: Group work across generations. I didn’t even have dial-up internet until high school! While I am proficient with technology, messaging and social media are not as natural to me as for many of my classmates. I like meeting face-to-face much more than messaging…And how many different messaging apps do I really need, anyway? Can’t all my different groups just use the same one? Modes of communication that appear effortless to others take extra time and energy for me to work with

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Tara and Laura take a study break on their bikes

What’s an unexpected awesome part of PT school?

Laura: I am thrilled about the professional and leadership development offered within the curriculum at Regis.

Tara: Being on the puppy raising team!

 

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Laura: My plan is to practice in southeast Alaska where towns are located among the islands. I cannot say if I will be in a specific clinic, providing tele-medicine, or traveling on the ferry or floatplane to treat people in remote areas. I can say that I am looking forward to settling back into life in Alaska where everyone moves just a little slower than in the big city and where patients compete to bring you their finest smoked salmon.

Tara: Denver–I don’t want to move any more! I’m interested in working with patients with neurologic health conditions so I’d like to be in a rehab center or hospital.

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Tara and Laura sip some cocktails and study for a neuro test

What pieces of advice do you have to incoming students (particularly those coming from another field)?

 

Laura: My advice to incoming “career-changer” DPT students is to practice patience with yourself and others and to recognize that your skills and experience from previous work add significant value to this field.

Tara: Beware of hubris. You bring life experience and maturity to your new profession but you’re still a novice. On the flip side, don’t sell yourself short. You may be new to PT, but have confidence in your new skills and use your life experience to improve communication with your patients and to manage time.

Also, homework sucks. However, when you think nostalgically about being able to leave work behind at the end of the day, remind yourself that school work is helping you become good at your new job. Also, it lasts less than 3 years, so you’ll get back to the real world soon (or so I believe)!

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Questions for the bloggers? Email Tara at tbusinski@regis.edu or Laura at lbaker@regis.edu.

Meet Maggie McKenna: Why Regis?

Name: Maggie McKenna, Class of 2019
Undergrad: University of Dayton
Hometown: LaGrange, IL
Fun Fact: I’ve been skydiving twice!

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Deciding where to go for a Doctor of Physical Therapy education is a big, life-changing decision…but also a very exciting one! Unlike some of my classmates, I didn’t know exactly what I was looking for at first, so my decision process took time. In the end, though, it was Regis that caught my heart and it hasn’t let go since.

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Service Learning!

Here are a few (of many) noteworthy reasons I ultimately chose Regis:

The faculty: I remember being very impressed with the faculty on my interview day, and my admiration for them has only grown in my short time here. All are experts in their specific fields of study, in addition to being involved in many leadership positions throughout the APTA. Most notably, our professors know us as individuals and treat us as equals. They respect and listen to our insights, questions, and concerns and do their best to support us any way possible.

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On top of Breckenridge Mountain with classmates

Colorado: I am from and went to undergrad in the Midwest (Go Flyers!), and was ready for a change of place…and altitude! I traded in the gray, flat, windy Midwest (still love you, home) for three years of sunny days, mountain views, and powder-filled weekends. I was drawn to the mountains and the breathtaking playground it offers.  And when I do miss city life, downtown Denver is just a ten-minute drive away. There is something for everyone here in Colorado! I’ve been here six months and there is still so much more to see and explore—mountains and city alike!

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On top of Mt. Bierstadt!

Jesuit Values: Catholic education is very important to me (17 years and counting!), but by no means do you have to be Catholic or religious to attend Regis. I was drawn to the Catholic education and values that Regis and the Jesuit community stand for because they are ones I hope to embody both as a physical therapist and in life. Through our professors, peers, and curriculum we are encouraged to exemplify these values by caring for the whole person, providing service locally, nationally, and globally, as well as being leaders in our field, practicing with integrity, and collaborating with other professionals.

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Hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park on a weekend

Regis was and is the right place for me; I absolutely love it! I chose the place that would help me be the best version of myself, and encourage you all to do the same with your exciting decision ahead. We at Regis are hopeful it will lead you here!

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Sky Pond, RMNP

Finding Your Work-Life Balance in PT School

 

Name: Katherine Koch, Class of 2019
Hometown: Cleveland, Ohio
Undergrad: Ohio State University
Fun Fact: I’ve run two marathons!

                 Profile Pic.jpg               Physical therapy school is tough; that’s true no matter where you go. You’ll be challenged more than you were before and in ways you never were before—academically, intellectually, emotionally, existentially…the list goes on and gets even more dramatic. However, when you go to PT school at Regis and you’re living in Colorado, life gets simultaneously better and tougher. The upside is that you have a seemingly endless outdoor playground to frolic around on, and the downside is that you can’t spend all of your time doing that.

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Some of the Class of 2019 conquering a weekend hike

I grew up in Cleveland—the land of Lebron, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, and the river that caught fire. Even though Cleveland rocks, Denver stole my heart pretty much as soon as the plane touched down. And, my first winter living in Colorado has proven again and again that this is where I want to be! Living near mountains provides the perfect pasture for snow bunnies to hop around with skis, snowboards, snowshoes, or just in hiking boots.  It seems as if the sun is always out (a welcome change from the dreary Midwest), and the motivation to go outside and get active is hard to ignore—especially with the free outdoor rentals at Regis!  If mountains aren’t your thing, Denver is a vibrant metropolis filled with fantastic local restaurants, breweries, museums, parks, and more. As biomechanics professor Dr. Erika Nelson-Wong likes to say, “it’s a beautiful day in Colorado,” and Erika is almost never wrong.

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Katherine and her classmates climb a 14er–Mt. Bierstadt!

So: the mountains are great, Denver is  a super cool city, and…what anatomy exam?? Like I said, PT school at Regis will challenge you in a myriad of ways, one of the foremost being time management. As much as I love exploring the city and the outdoors, there are days when I feel like I barely see that enduring sunlight. Classes are long and the work can be arduous. That’s why I’m pretty sure the phrase “work hard, play hard” was invented by a former Regis graduate. We work incredibly hard to become the best clinicians we can be, but we also know that work-life balance is precious and  we must strive to maintain it. On our first day of orientation, foot/ankle master Dr. Tom McPoil urged us to take one day out of the week to not prioritize school, but instead to prioritize everything else. I personally take every Saturday to not even think about school; I go hiking or for a long run or have a movie marathon or explore downtown or literally anything else—but I forget about school for a day. Then, the rest of the week, I have the energy and motivation to focus on school.

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A Halloween study break

While Saturday is a saving grace, weekdays aren’t totally lost to school and studying. No matter how interesting the class is or how captivating the professor is (which they all are!), sometimes it’s tough to sit in class all day and then go home and study. There are many evenings where a group of classmates will check out a new brewery, get some air at the trampoline gym, play pick-up sports, or explore the restaurants on nearby Tennyson Street. Most Denver museums have free admission days once a month; I love checking them out!  Regardless of what your hobbies are, it’s easy to find something you will love.

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Celebrating Josh’s (front and center) birthday at Sky Zone last week with the classmates!

I think Regis is wonderfully unique in that we are encouraged to embody the concept of “cura personalis.” You’ll be intimately familiar with this phrase by the end of your first semester, as we are often reminded that one small part of the body is tightly intertwined with the rest of the body, the mind, and the spirit. We learn to be physical therapists who practice this care for the entire person with our patients and with ourselves. I know that I will not be the best physical therapist I can be if I don’t reward my hard work with some well-deserved time off. Most of my classmates, including myself, were fortunate enough to have multiple options of schools to choose from, and I’m sure I could have gone to any school I was accepted to and worked hard to succeed. However, I came to Regis—and to Colorado—because I knew I would learn how to become an outstanding physical therapist while also becoming the best possible version of myself. And after countless hikes, one 14er climbed, falling on my face 6 times while skiing, 2 excursions to local breweries, 1 snowshoeing experience, 1 trip to the Denver Botanic Gardens, and meeting some of the best friends I could ask for, I’ll say with 100% confidence that I made the right choice.

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Ugly Holiday Sweater party after finishing first semester

What is the Regis DPT Interview Like?

Name: Monika Teter, Class of 2019
Hometown: Los Alamos, NM
Undergrad: Colorado State University
Fun Fact: I had a 5th wisdom tooth that had to be removed in 5th grade!

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            We all remember sitting down for hours at a time: filling out PT school applications, finally hitting the daunting submit button, and then that overwhelming joy we felt when we got our first interview invitation. I can’t believe my interview experience was already a year ago! The entire application process is a rollercoaster of emotions, but my experience with Regis’ interview put my nerves at ease and stood out from the rest of the schools I applied to. From the moment I stepped onto campus that snowy Monday afternoon, I felt a sense of belonging that I hadn’t felt at any other school. The interview process exposed unique facets of Regis’ program including the sense of community, the school’s dedication to the PT field, supportive faculty and students, unique involvement opportunities, and the program’s adaptability to unpredictable situations.

            My interview at Regis was one of the most memorable of my interviews—not only because of the people I met and conversations I had, but because of the blizzard that ensued that day. Though Regis provided the option to do a phone interview if we thought it was too dangerous to travel, I decided to attend the interview anyway since I was in Colorado at the time. I braved the drive from Fort Collins to Denver in my suit and red plaid snow boots armed with four-wheel drive and going over potential interview questions in my head. I was unbelievably nervous! The storm inevitably resulted in the early closure of campus and a shortened interview day. This could have caused mass chaos, but I was impressed by the adaptability of the Regis PT community to expedite the interview process without jeopardizing our time and experience. The organizers made sure every applicant had a fair chance regardless of the barrier Mother Nature concocted. They were able to calmly adapt to an unpredictable situation, which is a valuable skill in this field. Additionally, the current Regis PT students offered up their homes for interviewees to stay until they were able to safely get home. This kindness expressed by current students and the flexibility of the program spoke volumes to me, and I knew this was a program I wanted to be a part of.

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Enjoying the CO sunshine on days off!

            Weather aside, the interview process was a wonderful representation of the program. I was able to get a sense that this was a PT family and everyone was here to support each other. The students spoke nothing but good things regarding the faculty, and I understood why when I met several of them. Each and every one of the faculty radiated dedication to the field as they talked about their passions and areas of research during the faculty-interviewee mixer. We talked about the Peru trip Heidi was preparing to take students to as part of their global immersions trip. We chatted with Marcia and learned about her breadth of research in leadership, clinical development, and management of neurological disorders. I talked with Larisa in my interview regarding my love for volunteering and how the service learning here at Regis would fill that particular passion in my life. Talking to the faculty here at Regis was surprisingly easy in the stressful environment interviews can create. They were attentive and were interested in getting to know me as a person deeper than just my academic accomplishments.

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My mentor, grand-mentor and me at the welcome BBQ

          Regis also wanted to give us a peak at what our daily lives would look like as a PT student by taking us into the anatomy lab and having us sit in on a class. I remember walking into the anatomy lab where students talked about their experiences with cadavers as they pointed out structures on the brains. We also had the opportunity to participate in a postural assessment and wheelchair transfer lab in PT Exam. I remember looking at the students in awe thinking that I would hopefully one day be doing the exact same lab. These two unique experiences set Regis apart, and I was sold!

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Some of us first years enjoying our day off

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9thHealth Fair for Service Learning

         I went home that day bubbling with excitement. I had found my ideal program that matched my values, and I was hopeful they saw something in me that would complement their program. The day I got my acceptance letter, I was elated to call Regis my home. I have become part of a class full of brilliant minds and kind souls. These incredible people push me to be better, to stay that extra hour after class, to help maintain my sanity by going on a hike, and keep me motivated during hectic weeks. I have made some incredible friendships and have had some amazing experiences so far.

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Friendsgiving with the PT Fam!

         There are several wonderful programs out there, but something resonated with me the day I left the interview at Regis. It is truly an amazing community composed of unique perspectives nestled in the most supportive environment. I am happy to call Regis my home and my PT family.

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The Professional Ceremony inducts us into the Regis DPT program at the beginning of the semester.

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Our anatomy lab group–celebrating the end of the semester at the Nutcracker!

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.