How to Survive PT School

YEP.  One of these posts.  Mostly because this is an easy thing for me to write at the moment.  I have posts planned about hip rotation mobility, about power training for endurance athletes, about bike fit and setup…but let’s be real, I’m too braindead from finals for that kind of stuff. Currently writing this from my bed at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon, struggling through that annual end-of-semester viral illness. BUT, I did survive, and I’m now officially halfway through PT school!

my PT school class on our last day of final exams this semester!

This semester was incredibly rough for me.  I’m sure it was for many of you DPT students out there.  When you have a semester that frustrating, it’s easy to get down on yourself, to let it affect other aspects of your life, and to lose joy in your profession…..some would call that “burn out”. Um guys we got a LOOONG career ahead of us, we should not be burning out halfway through PT school! And while there’s a lot I would like to change about the way curriculums are set up…I’m no match for CAPTE.  So any change in how you feel during the semester, and afterward, has to come from within. Here are some of the things I forgot to do these past four months, and that I plan on making a PRIORITY for my last two didactic semesters at Duke in order to make my life a little happier.


1  Exercise More, Study Less

This is not normally something I struggle with, but this semester as you know, I was making my epic comeback from hip arthroscopy.  So the workouts were limited, not by time, but by my own body.  This may sound crazy for a grad student but I’m quite used to spending about 2.5 hours per day working out or walking. It keeps me sane, it allows me some “me-time”, and it makes me feel good about myself.  I’m also kind of hyperactive and ADD – I need a LOT of exercise in order to be able to focus on my schoolwork without bouncing off the walls.  So…that lack of an outlet this semester really did me in! My grades were actually worse, I felt miserable, I slept poorly, and I even ate more junky!

When in doubt, don’t cut your workouts short.  Expending that energy will keep your focus lazer sharp, so you can spend the next three hours 1) actually paying attention in class (which means studying for exams will truly just be review, rather than trying to learn five weeks worth of material in two nights) or 2) actually studying, not “read two lines…scroll facebook for five minutes…ooh food!”.  It will also keep your confidence up.  The more you believe in yourself, the better able you’ll be to tackle the difficult school things.

2  ENGAGE in the coursework!

If you’re a sports/ortho nerd like me, your cardiopulm and neuro classes will be….difficult to engage in, to put it nicely.  If your program is like mine, you will, for better or worse, spend a TON of time on neurological patient management and on cardiopulm.  I find it helpful to put the information in a context that interests me.  For instance:  what if you had an elite triathlete who got hit by a truck while on his bike and is now a T2 ASIA C spinal cord injury?  How are you gonna get that guy back at the Ironman start line?  What about your patient who’s run a marathon every year since her remission from breast cancer, and is suddenly experiencing delayed-onset chemotherapy related heart failure?  How are you going to keep this runner’s life meaningful in the face of that diagnosis? Or, what about the cute kid with cerebral palsy who wants to be a ballerina?  Try not to categorize people too much – not everyone has neuro or cardiovascular problems, but EVERYONE can be an athlete if they want to be.  If you force yourself into these thought exercises, it might make the subjects come alive for you.

3  Do some PT networking!

I love my classmates, I really do.  I’ve met two of the best friends I’ve ever had here at Duke. But sometimes you really just need to break out of that bubble and seek out other PT students or #FreshPTs that can give you a different perspective on the profession.  Create a professional twitter account, join a mentorship group, or if you live in an area with multiple programs, walk over to a different campus and say hi! This can open SO many doors not just for friendship, but for collaboration on extra-curricular projects that interest you, and even for new career inspiration!

*Fun fact: Aimee and I “met” on twitter! and now we have this awesome blog!


There is no nice way to put it:  PT school sucks sometimes.  We got into this so we could be up and moving around and changing people’s lives all day, not glued to a textbook or face-down on a plinth table while your classmates struggle to find your cervical facet joints (headaches for daysss…..). But you have to do it, or no license for you.  So remember WHY you decided to come to PT school in the first place.  What are your goals? What kind of change do you want to make in the world? Seriously, it sounds cheesy, but write it down.  Tape it up beside your bathroom mirror.  Look at it EVERY DAY, and I guarantee it’ll be that much easier to drag your tired butt to class in the morning.  Remembering your WHY will increase your motivation, which leads to better retention and integration of the material, which will make you a better PT….oh also you’ll be happier.



Every morning, before checking facebook or your email, write down three things you’re grateful for.  You’ll start ever day with a more positive, humble, abundance-based mindset.  Every night, after closing your textbooks for the last time, write down three good things about the day.  You’ll go to sleep with a better perspective…which might lead to a more restful sleep, and a better attitude upon waking up.  At the very least, these things help you focus on the GOOD,and everything that’s going right for you even when school is knocking you down.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s