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Middle School Career Day Presentation - What it's like to become a Physical Therapist

03/22/2019

Middle School Career Day Presentation

- What it’s like to become a Physical Therapist -

**To become a PT: **

*First you’ve got to ‘decide/KNOW’ that you want to be a PT. Ask yourself these 3 questions: Do I like learning about the human body and how it works, and am I comfortable with seeing what’s under the skin without getting squeamish? Am I comfortable around people of all ethnic groups and ages and moods, and do I have an open heart that can be compassionate and polite and patient to all people? Am I comfortable and can I be very professional with touching and looking closely at people’s bodies, and can I make them feel comfortable too?

It’s a great idea to find a few different PT clinics and ask if you can ‘volunteer’ there. They’ll have you doing things like cleaning tables and changing pillow cases and putting away the ice packs – but you’ll get to see the flow and the energy involved at a PT clinic. Many PT programs require some volunteer hours anyways!

*Find some colleges that have a program and apply to them. Schools offer Master’s or PhD programs in PT, and you could consider a PTA (physical therapy assistant) program as well. OT (occupational therapy) is similar in many ways as well.

Start NOW working on your grades and your college entrance ‘resume’. PT programs are very competitive and they’re looking for good grades and being well rounded.

*You got accepted! Now prepare to work hard and be sure to enjoy the discovery of so many cool things about the body. You’ll be taking classes like Chemistry, Biology, Physics, Statistics, Pharmaceuticals, imaging (X-rays/MRI) basics, Anatomy, Dissecting Cadavers, Marketing, insurance concepts, Ethics of patient care, some pre med stuff…

*Internships: you’ll be going into a real PT office and essentially shadowing a PT. Be sure to see a couple different settings to make sure you’re headed towards the specialty that really fits you! Inpatient, outpatient, Pediatrics, Geriatrics, Neurological stuff, Head trauma, Spinal cord injuries, Strokes, Heart/lung rehab, and school settings, are among the many options.

*Graduation: You get your degree. Congratulations!

*National licensing exam: Everyone has to take this to be able to register and practice as a Physical Therapist. 20 years ago it cost me $500 bucks and was a 200 question multiple choice test took at a testing center on a computer. Some states (CA and NY) require an ethics exam too

*About getting hired: If it were me, I’d try to find a place that there are other PT’s working in the same office. That way you have PT’s with experience to learn from and ask questions of. There is always always always more to be learned!

*Tips for an interview: make sure YOU like place. Have questions ready for THEM. And don’t be nervous. An interview isn’t really a moment of someone telling you if you’re ‘good enough’ to be hired- think of it more as a time to figure out if it seems like a good fit for the company and you to be together.

*Other Options: If a 9-5 one office job doesn’t feel right to you, you can consider being hired by a temp agency. They will find jobs for you at a variety of clinics in your area and you’ll fill in for sick time, vacation, and things like maternity leave. There’s also the option of being a “travel PT”. You get hired by a temp agency and tell them you’d like a 6 month rotation in say, Hawaii , and then 3 months in Alaska , you get the idea….

*Continuing Education: You’re not done. Never stop learning. You’ll be required to take at least 30 hours of continuing education every 2 years (check requirements of each state). Tons of classes are offered as 1-2 day lectures or online classes. You learn, you take a brief exam, and you implement your new knowledge into your practice.

*Typical day in an Outpatient Orthopedic setting: You’ll see a combination of evaluations and follow up appointments. You’ll have 30-60mins to do initial evaluations. Getting the subjective information of how someone got hurt and then measuring the motion and the strength and the integrity of the muscles. Then you make a treatment plan and speak to the patient about the treatment goals. Sometimes you’ll do a modified “treatment” with them which could include and ice/heat pack and practicing a few of the key exercises. Typically the evaluation (plus all the documentation) will take you 45-60mins. You might get 2-6 evaluations a day. You’ll also likely see a different follow up patient each 15-30mins (even though each patient gets about an hour treatment). With any luck you’ll have a solid aide and perhaps a licensed assistant as well. Depending on the company that hires you, and the state in which you live, there are different rules regarding using an employees without a license to assist in patient care. I’ve had a few jobs where I get 30mins a patient without any helpers. They push for 16 patients a day there. And I’ve had jobs where I have an aide and an assistant and we see up to 35 patients a day between the 3 of us. So- it depends on where you work, and as you’re interviewing this is a really good question to ask!

*Love your job: not only will you be getting a good paycheck (80-100K ish), but you’ll be making a big difference in this world. The feeling you get when someone feels better because of the things you did to them and taught them is indescribable and priceless. It’ll keep you going on those busy days too!

Scroll down to the bottom for the made up MadLibs

At Career Day 2-14-19: We talked about the things mentioned above. We played a physical therapy version of “Head, Shoulders, Knees, & Toes”. There were 2 volunteers that read a script about the typical subjective conversation between patient and PT at an initial shoulder evaluation. Another volunteer came up and we talked about measurements of movement and strength of the shoulder. The classroom came up with the words for the made up MadLibs. Many students volunteered to act out ‘injuries’ and their classmates guessed their ailment.

My Story of becoming a PT:

I think I just always knew that I wanted to be a physical therapist. It didn’t happen with a decision making process. I don’t remember it being a conscious thing. Just, one day, I – like- KNEW that I was going to go to college and be a physical therapist. There were no other careers that I even remember considering (except to be a professional beach volleyball player!). But, if I look back to see what maybe pointed me in that direction- I guess I would say there were a few things that made me realize my destiny. When I was in high school I had some knee and hip pain and I went to see a Physical Therapist which helped me feel better. My mom was a P.E. teacher. My Grandpa had back pain and it seemed no one could help him feel better. I loved sports and wanted to have a career as closely related to that as possible.

There was a college about 2 hours away from home that had Division I volleyball and a Physical Therapy program. I applied to that school. I reached out to the coach. I was accepted to the school, and offered a scholarship for the volleyball team. Looks like I was on the right path!

For the University@Buffalo physical therapy program, there were 2 whole years of prerequisite classes that I had to take. Math, Chemistry, Biology, Psychology, Physics, Statistics, English, and Social Science. I threw in a nutrition class and an advance level biology class all about monkeys for fun. At the end of my sophomore year I applied to the physical therapy program. Knowing how competitive it was- I studied my butt off my freshman and sophomore year. They only took 150 students into the program out of the several hundred that applied. Students were advised that the lowest GPA that was accepted was nothing less than a 3.7/4.0.

I was accepted.

My junior year started 3 weeks before the rest of the students. The PT program was so intensive; we had so many classes to take that we’d have to start in the summer, and we were to expect our spring semester to run late into the summer this year and our senior year as well. Each of the 4 semesters that made up the Bachelor of Science PT program had 22 hours of classes, (typically students take 18hours).

Now we were into the fun stuff! Anatomy, dissecting cadavers, memorizing every muscle in the body, knowing the purpose of every bump and curve on every bone, every nerve and which muscle it was in charge of, how our organs work and some basic knowledge to know the difference of a muscle problem or a more serious problem that our patient should go back to see our doctor for, some basics on pharmaceuticals and their roll in healing muscles, how hormones do WAY more stuff in our body than just affect our moods, a taste of insurance companies, and marketing, and how to interpret a study, MRI, and XRAYS, and ethics regarding patient care including privacy of information, and cultural differences that we needed to learn so that we could be sensitive to everyone’s feelings and comfort level with their bodies… just so many things that all go into being a good physical therapist. It was great! Hard work – but all really interesting.

I think a lot of kids in school now-a-days might get annoyed with homework and having to sit there and learn stuff all day… but college is so different. It is actually More work and More homework and More intense studying for tests that mean a whole lot More! But- it’s classes that you signed up for yourself. Stuff that you’re absolutely interested in. So it makes it really great, and makes learning something to really look forward to, and inspires you to try really hard.

After all those classes – they were a combination of lectures and hands on labs – the next step was to go on 3 ‘internships’. Our internships meant we were to spend 6 weeks at 3 different physical therapy clinics and shadow an experienced licensed physical therapist. They encouraged us to go to many different settings. I went to a hospital doing physical therapy on people that were too sick, old, or had a recent surgery and couldn’t go home yet. I went to a community home where there were many adults that all were born with physical and mental deficits that needed to be helped and encouraged to do stretches that they weren’t able to understand on their own. And I went to an orthopedic outpatient clinic where regular community members that had a sports injury, or a surgery, or a strain came to have hands on stretching and be taught what exercises would help them to feel better. And it was at the last clinic that I confirmed to myself that THAT is my calling.

I graduate Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in Physical Therapy. In addition to a degree, all physical therapists have to pass a national test. It was a 200multiple choice question exam on a computer that cost $500bucks. I passed. And that gave me the qualifications to be a physical therapist in many different settings. I could go into sports, spinal cord injuries, head trauma, heart or lung therapy, pediatrics, geriatrics, aquatic therapy, so many options!

I was actually hired by the clinic where I did my last rotation at. They were impressed with my knowledge that I gained from school, and most importantly they were impressed with how I treated my patients. They hired me – but didn’t give me any patients for 6 months – simply so I could keep learning from their other physical therapists. Once again, I saw how blessed I was. Now I was getting paid to learn!

I was soon begging them to have my own patients. I wanted to get started and helping people myself! I felt confident and ready. And I knew I’d have 7 other therapists around me to help if I had a question.

Not even 2 years passed and I got a calling in my heart to move to California to follow my dream to play beach volleyball (and live someplace warm!) There were many job opportunities there, and it seemed that companies were impressed with the degree programs on the east coast and thought I had good qualifications. I easily got a job. Then upgraded to a better job. Then another job. Then I decided I liked switching around and decided to work for a ‘registry’ which is like a temp agency. They call me up and offer me a job, and I can decide to take it or not. I was a bit nervous b/c you are never 100% certain you will actually have a job (which means you have to have some spare money in savings, in case). Once again I was blessed and always had enough work offered to me to have the paycheck I needed. It helped that many of the companies I worked for said I was the first one they would call if they needed a substitute. I worked hard and was always friendly with the patients and my coworkers. That is what gets you the jobs.

Eventually I found a clinic that I really liked and when they offered me a permanent position with them, for a guaranteed 3 days/week, I accepted. My supervisor was the best, my aide was very good with my patients and trustworthy, and the company believed in putting patient care first, rather than trying to see as many patients as possible to make the most money. It was at that clinic that I learned to speak Spanish well enough that I could communicate with my patients if needed. Knowing a second language is another little tip that makes you more apt to get a job or at least more apt to get a higher pay rate!

Now I am busy trying to start my own business. I love working directly with the patients, and getting to teach them exercises and also to do massage & stretching that they need to speed along their recovery. I love solving the puzzle that they present with and figuring out exactly the best exercises that will make the most impact in their recovery. But over my 20 year career so far, I realize that there are many similarities between everyone’s injuries: the way the injury started (warning signs), and the exercises that tend to help them the most. So, putting together programs that combat the many different repetitive strain issues seemed like something that could help a whole lot of people! And that is the direction I’m hoping my career will go in now. Some hard work up front, and then the ability of the internet to spread the word to thousands of people that will be able to avoid being injured if they learn my programs. I’d be able to help way more people than I would be able to day after day in a clinical setting.

There are so many options for you if you have a degree as a Physical Therapist. Not only in the many different settings that are to choose from, but that you can work for someone else, or many others, or open your own practice too!

_If you have any questions – shoot me an email – I’d be more than happy to help! _

Made Up MadLibs Physical Therapy Style:

(coming soon!)