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!

 

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

Name: Courtney Backward

Undergrad: Oklahoma Wesleyan University

Hometown: Salina, OK

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

Managing Your Posture in PT School

Name: Joshua Holland

Undergrad: Idaho State University

Hometown: Centennial, Colorado

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

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

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

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

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

 

Question and Answer Interview with Dr. Alice Davis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A:  

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

 

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

 

Sit on deflated Gertie ball.

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

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

Head nods/nose circles on Gertie ball.

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

Wall sit pelvic curls.

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

 Seated neck stretch – sitting on hand.

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

 

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

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

 

Regis DPT Summer Semester: How to Stay Motivated and Have Fun

When most Coloradans flip their calendars from April to May, they smile and ponder the period of peaceful transition that lies ahead: flowers bloom, the sun warms the pristine mountain lakes, spring turns to summer.

First year physical therapy students, likewise, anticipate a time of transition—albeit a bit more abrupt! Regis PT students undergo finals in the first week of May, and once that is conquered, one glorious week of break ensues. Many students take advantage of the time off by visiting family, traveling, or enjoying the many pleasures of Denver while allowing their usually overflowing minds to be idle. They return a week later to a relatively bare campus (3rd years are graduated, 2nd years are on clinical, and undergraduates have scattered) as true rulers of the roost.

The 3rd semester of PT school is—dare I say—a time of reprieve. Courses shift focus from foundational sciences to instead hone in on management. Although this involves much more time spent in class/labs, students are expressing joy in finding more time out of class to devote to recreational pursuits…and no better place exists, in my humble opinion, than beautiful Colorado for making a memorable third semester! I could probably write an entire brochure on the prodigious amount of adventures to be had in the Denver area, but below I’ve highlighted just a few activities for Regis students seeking to make the most of their budding summer.

1. Survive spring finals.

Stay passionate, study for neuroscience, and victory is assured.

2. Take advantage of your break.

In the first 2 semesters, PT students put their hearts into every academic excursion they undertake (anatomy dissection, manual skills checks, service learning, etc.), so by the time summer rolls around, they’ve earned every second of their time off. I urge students to use that time to be self-serving. If you miss your family, go home. If you long to travel, rally your buddies and hit the road. If you need to sit on the couch and eat donut holes, start researching TV series to binge watch now.

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Regis SPTs strike a pose on their vacation in Zion National Park.

3. Relax at Coors Field.

Rockies games are shockingly affordable, and you can’t beat the baseball park atmosphere.

4. Camp.

Gather your classmates on Friday after class and head for Rocky Mountain National Park. Physically getting away on the weekends is an ideal way to recharge (plus: s’mores).

5. Check out the brewery scene.

Denver is a beer lover’s wonderland. Enthusiasts can walk among 20 breweries in LoHi alone: Denver Brewing Co., Great Divide, Wynkoop, Vine Street Pub, and Breckenridge are just a few favorites.

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Once you graduate from brewery tours, get a history lesson at Stranahan’s Whiskey Distillery.

6. Take regular night hikes.

As nights grow balmier, head out to Boulder to traverse the trails in Chautauqua Park and get a stunning view of both the stars and city lights.

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The mountains are a prime location for appreciating some moonscapes.

7. Reflect on the past year and what lies ahead.

The life of a student physical therapist is a beautiful struggle. After your first year, don’t forget to take the time to consider everything you’ve learned, how much you’ve grown, and the divine opportunities that await you.

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Blogger: Meg Kates

Apart from blogging, Meg (Class of 2019) is a member of the social media committee for the Move Forward race, a member of the Foot and Ankle Special Interest Group, and was Boss of the Applesauce in April (this is a big deal). Her current goal after graduating is to work in an outpatient neuro rehab facility.