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!

 

Managing Your Posture in PT School

Name: Joshua Holland

Undergrad: Idaho State University

Hometown: Centennial, Colorado

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

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

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

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

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

 

Question and Answer Interview with Dr. Alice Davis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A:  

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

 

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

 

Sit on deflated Gertie ball.

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

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

Head nods/nose circles on Gertie ball.

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

Wall sit pelvic curls.

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

 Seated neck stretch – sitting on hand.

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

 

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

When Should You Take the National Physical Therapy Exam?

Name: Lindsay Mayors, PT, DPT, Graduated Class of 2017
Current Employment: Physical Therapist at KidSPOT Pediatric Therapies
Professional Goals:
to empower every child that I encounter to discover their vast abilities and reach their greatest potential, become a clinical instructor, and become a Pediatric Certified Specialist

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So, you’re a third year DPT student ready to graduate this upcoming May. The question is looming: when should you take the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE): April or July? Lindsay Mayors, recent graduate, is here to give you a guide to deciding on when to take the NPTE.

Deciding when to take the NPTE is no easy task. If you are a third year student reading this and if you’re anything like I was at this time last year, your mind has felt like a teeter-totter repeatedly bouncing between April and July ever since you took the NPTE prep course at Regis. If your mind is on that teeter-totter at this point, take a deep breath and know that you do not have to make a decision right now. Now is the time to recognize all that you have accomplished in the classroom over the past two years, enjoy your last few days with your amazing classmates, embrace the uncertainties that undoubtedly come with the start of your final clinical rotations, and go out and enjoy those golden aspen leaves! Once you settle into your clinical (which, I promise, you ARE ready for), you can jump on that teeter-totter again with a clearer mindset.  The good news is that there is no right or wrong answer. It just takes a little bit of what Regis instills in us best…you guessed it…self-reflection!

There are 4 dates every year to take the NPTE; they are in January, April, July, and October.

I was one of the few in my class who chose to test in July. My fourth clinical was finally in the setting of my dreams: pediatrics! It’s a niche field of PT that is not heavily emphasized in the curriculum. For me, the thought of going home after clinic and studying for the NPTE did not stand a chance against going home and studying up on all things peds! My ultimate goal was to work in pediatrics, so I wanted to absorb all of the information I could during that rotation without spreading myself too thin between additional obligations. This decision allowed me to be fully prepared and present every day to each child; this is now something I highly attribute to the reason I was offered a position at that clinic.

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I traveled to Belize after graduation without allowing any NPTE thoughts to enter my mind.  When I returned, the 6-week journey of studying several hours/day began. Were there times over the summer that I was tired of studying and wished I had gotten it over with in April?  Of course. But were there times that I was thankful that I had un-interrupted time to study while maintaining a balanced lifestyle? Absolutely. Channeling my energy to be thankful for the process and reminding myself that it would be over in 6 weeks brought be back to my center. And those 6 weeks flew! A few days after receiving the results, I saw my very first pediatric patient independently. My mentoring PT signed off on all of my notes until my license number came through 5 weeks later. And here I am now, writing a blog post (instead of documenting on today’s PT sessions), still in disbelief that I have been a practicing PT for two months already!

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Here are some questions to consider during your decision-making process:

1. In what setting is your final clinical rotation?

 

Is it a setting in which you already have a high level of confidence, or is it a setting in which you have had minimal experience and may require additional preparation and study time?

2. What is your ideal study set-up?

Group study or individual study? Shorter bouts dispersed over a long period of time, or longer bouts concentrated in a shorter period of time? If the latter sounds better, maybe waiting until after graduation to settle into the rhythm of studying is for you.

3. What other tasks/activities/obligations do you have outside of clinical?

Research presentations, working on completing your capstone, finishing you clinical in-service presentation, family events, hobbies, weekend trips, etc. all will impact your ability to study–make sure to consider your time available from all angles.

4. Considering #2 and #3, what will set you up best to maintain a healthy life balance during your NPTE preparation?

Think about what’s realistic for you to accomplish.

5. Additional factors you may consider: travel and finances!

If you are planning on traveling after graduation, will you be able to relax and enjoy yourself if you still have to take the exam in July?

You should also consider:

  • If you want to take the exam in July, but feel it is financially necessary to begin working as soon as possible…
  • Does the state in which you plan to work allow you to practice under a provisional license while you study?
  • Does the setting in which you hope to work allow you to begin working in the time period between passing the exam and obtaining your license number? (~4-6 weeks is typical).

TIP: In general, it is more likely that a larger healthcare system will require a license number than a private practice.

The bottom line is, no matter what decision you make, there may be “the grass is greener on the other side” thoughts that arise. There may be doubts. There may be teeter-totters and remaining questions even after you decide on your test date. This is why I encourage you to consider what would be best for your own well-being. When answering the 5 questions above, consider your personal pros and cons. Reach out to your advisors, mentors, and classmates to assist you in the decision. Most importantly, make sure to have fun and create positive energies around your studies, no matter if they are for the April or July exam.

 

 

What to Do When You Get Into PT School

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

You’ve gotten into PT school! Now What?

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

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

Click.

Click.

Deep breath. What next?

Step 1: Take a moment.

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

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

Anticlimactic? Perhaps. Fitting? Definitely.

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

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

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

This is your moment. You deserve this.

Step 2: TREAT. YO. SELF.

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

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

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

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

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Brooklyn Bridge!

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

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

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

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

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

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Step 3: Back to business.

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

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

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

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

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Step 4: Freak out…But only a little!

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

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

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

You’ll be okay. I promise.

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Step 5: Breathe, relax, and GET PSYCHED!

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

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

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

This is the beginning of the rest of your life. 

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