Category Archives: Pre-DPT

How to Prepare for Physical Therapy School As a Career Changer

So you’re interested in becoming a physical therapist. What do you do next?

Getting into a doctor of physical therapy program is becoming more competitive each year. According to the centralized physical therapy application system, the cumulative undergraduate GPA of accepted applicants during the 2010-2011 cycle was 3.49. A scary number for us old folks is that the post-baccaleureate GPA of accepted applicants was 3.70. The widespread use of a centralized application system has also flooded PT schools with record amounts of applications. The average candidate submitted an application to five schools. Several schools in my regional area received more than 1,000 applications. My program received over 800 applications for forty seats! Obtaining a seat in the program isn’t impossible but it’s certainly not something  to take lightly.

Additionally, applying to any graduate school program is a grueling process. The PT application “season” starts more than a year before you can get on campus. So if you’re ready to apply in the summer of 2012, your program would begin in the fall of 2013. It typically isn’t something that career-changers can “just try to see if I get in.” A long period of time must be devoted to preparing the application — a challenge in itself.

The first step is to make sure physical therapy is a good fit. Physical therapists can go home at the end of the day knowing that they tangibly helped another person. It’s an extremely rewarding field with a myriad of opportunities. But make sure you will enjoy it. Get in touch with PTs or physical therapy assistants in your social network. Ask them questions over coffee or via e-mail about the profession, their day-to-day, or any other insights they can share. Observe a physical therapy practice for a full day. It’s nice to say that you’ve had X number of hours, but you won’t receive the full benefit if you only pop in for an hour or two. You’ll get to see a larger variety of treatment protocols, as well as observe clinicians’ normal day. As a friend stated, “it’s easy for people to put their best foot forward for two hours, but much harder to do in eight.” Essentially, gather as much first-hand information as you can.

Do your best in post-baccaleureate courses, once you’ve decided on physical therapy. A competitive applicant is strongly distinguished by a high GPA. To admissions committees, nothing predicts future academic success more than past academic success. Since the average accepted applicant GPA is a 3.5, if you have a GPA higher than a 3.8 I think you’re sitting pretty. If you didn’t perform particularly well in undergrad, do your absolute best in post-bacc classes. Because similar career-changing applicants are notching an average post-bacc GPA of 3.7, and likely a significant upward GPA trend, shoot for a 4.0 in your post-bacc coursework.

Only ask references for a letter of recommendation if you know they will put forth effort. Plainly, don’t ask a bad writer to serve as a reference. Sometimes it’s difficult to pinpoint which physical therapists are good writers, as SOAP notes don’t require proper syntax. In this case, ask the PT who you think will both put forth the greatest effort and who knows you the best. Admissions committees scan hundreds of recommendations, so try to find a reference who will provide a thoughtful, accurate recommendation.

Lastly, perform well on the GRE. A good GRE performance (80th percentile and above) may hint that you may not be as stupid as you look. Although, I have a feeling that the GRE doesn’t weigh heavily in most program’s admissions algorithms. So don’t sacrifice too much course studying for GRE studying.

Ultimately, high GPAs will get your application reviewed but personalized letters of recommendation and exceptional GRE scores can also help your cause. I do not believe that a large amount of observation or work hours have as positive an effect as it seems. But I don’t have any statistical evidence of this; this is purely my opinion based on going through the process and talking to classmates and friends who have gone through it too.

The programs I visited had matriculating career-changer percentages between five and twenty percent. So there are more hurdles for people like us, but it can be done. Good luck and please contact me with any questions!

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After School

I drive past an elementary school on my usual route to work. Call me reckless but I always get irritated when the car in front of me goes 20 MPH when there are no kids in view. Am I driving behind Michael Jackson or something?

Today, driving slowly past the school made me think about whether my future work schedule would allow me to see my future children. This is extremely premature worrying because I’m a dude with no plans of having children during PT school and I haven’t even begun PT school yet.

But the outpatient orthopedic companies I know of do not have parent-friendly clinic hours. These clinics see patients until seven, eight or nine in the evening. That’s lights-out time for young children. It’s also dinner time for a lot of families.

If I decide to go the outpatient route, I wonder if I’ll find a job that’ll allow me to get out of work at a reasonable hour. I wonder what our physical therapists’ experiences have been with this potential problem. I’m not sure I’d be happy sacrificing family or wife time so I can treat a snobby, ungrateful, middle-aged corporate braggart.

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Training My Replacement

My last day in the clinic as a physical therapy technician is in two weeks. I’m quitting early so that I can give myself some time to relax before my DPT program starts. I’m extremely excited, both to start my program and to finally put an end to my erratic work schedule.

I trained my replacement yesterday and that experience showed me how far I’ve come since I was a lowly physical therapy novice.

My replacement hadn’t done any type of PT observation. So she didn’t know any therapeutic exercises, didn’t know about any modalities, and was generally clueless about the structure of outpatient, orthopedic patient appointments.

She’s interested in applying to physical therapy schools next year, so I asked her about what prerequisite coursework she had outstanding and to which schools she planned to apply. Her answers betrayed a naive confidence that she’d get into one of the “second tier” schools in the area — although each school in our area received more than 800 applications in my cycle. I tried to unobtrusively give her some advice: apply broadly, apply early, and get some observation hour variety.

I certainly don’t fault her for her lack of experience but it highlighted how much knowledge I’ve gained from two years of clinic work.

I also know just enough about PT to know that I ultimately know nothing. And that’s what excites me about starting the DPT program this year.

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ETA: Two Months

My program starts in two months!

I’m extremely excited for this opportunity that I’ve been working toward diligently for the past two years of my life. It’s tinged ever so slightly with doubt though: will I be able to hack it? Can I fit in socially with a bunch of 22-year-olds? And most importantly, are my biceps big enough?

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Sickly Me

In high school, I thought I was going to be an architect. I took all of the Computer-Aided Drafting (CAD) and Architecture courses that my affluent school offered. I revered miter boxes. I loved when my fingers were covered with errant pencil lead.

As you might imagine, these classes were only taken by a cohort of nerds and lumberphiles. One such nerd was a frail, pale boy who was always absent. On the days he would attend class, he went directly to the class instructor with a physician’s note describing whatever cold or flu he had this time. In a word, he was sickly.

In contrast, I had been a bastion of high school health: never missing school or practice, like Kevin Costner on Whitney Houston in The Bodyguard.

Now, I too am sickly.

And maybe it’s because of clinic work. If you’ve had sustained contact with schoolteachers (I am married to someone who taught elementary school for three years), you’ll know that schools are disease incubators. Kids sneeze, cough, drool, and vomit all over the place. And they do it all while picking their boogers and eating them.

Similarly, I’ve realized that physical therapy clinics may also be germ incubators. Patients come in with fleas, cut their toenails on the exam tables with swiss army knives, and try to inconspicuously spit on the gym floor during their therapeutic exercise routine (all of these things have happened in front of me).

So, yes, I am sickly. I find that I easily get run down or contract colds more frequently than I did in my early twenties. But maybe it’s a good thing. Maybe my immune system, with two years of clinic experience under its belt, will have worked out the kinks in time for my rotations.

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PT Tech Work Schedules

A physical therapist I work with asked me what it was like to jump headfirst into this career change. We talked specifically about what it was like to go from a cushy, salaried business position to an hourly PT tech job.

I just kept repeating that it was “weird.”

I know, I know: it was a very verbose response. But it’s prudent not to air dirty laundry (unless, of course, you are blanketed by the anonymity of these internets).

However, for those considering a transition to physical therapy, by way of hourly work in a clinic…

Physical therapy technicians are the low men on the totem pole. They are really at the beck and call of almost everyone in the clinic. My erratic work schedule is a microcosm of how they can be treated within the clinic.

My coworker asked about my back to school experience, starting with how much my work schedule sucked. I’m limited to forty work hours per week which my company and, more specifically, my immediate supervisor nervously adhere to since paying time-and-a-half to a low wage worker would clearly splatter red ink all over this humongous company. Therefore, my work start times vary dramatically: sometimes I come in at 7:30 am and the next day I may come in at 4:00 pm. However, I can only leave when the clinic closes which is well into the evening. This effectively kills each weekday, even if I only work four hours.

This company, “Company A,” tends to mold tech schedules — and physical therapy assistant schedules to a lesser extent — around the patient volume. They are a large-scale orthopedic provider in my metropolitan area. Their customer pull strategy seems to lay primarily on appointment scheduling flexibility and market saturation. If a patient demands to come in at 8:00 am or 6:00 pm, and the ubiquitous Company A bends to their demands, will the patient look elsewhere? (Basically, “we’ll see you even if it alienates and overworks our employees.”)

Compare this to my two other firsthand experiences as a PT tech. The first is at another outpatient orthopedic clinic, “Company B,” where my weekly schedule was permanent. This clinic prides itself on true one-on-one care, where there is no overlap or double-booking of patient appointments. Company B would, conversely, steer patients toward appointment times that fit around the employees’ work schedules. (So, “if you want to be treated by us, get in the damn line.”)

My last PT tech experience was at a hospital. The techs working inpatient here would have set schedules from 7 am to 4 pm each day with an actual lunch break splitting the day in half. Talk about an awesome schedule. (In other words, “cool, man, let’s go to work and treat some patients. Then get out in time to have a life!”)

As with any appointment-based service industry, there are times when nothing is going on. I have experienced this in droves while at each of the three referenced companies. But, as a general rule, if a tech comes into work, it will most likely be busy.

There are advantages to being a tech at Company A, but in my experience, the erratic work schedule is definitely not one of them. All-in-all, being in the clinic is great. But try to establish a firm schedule from the onset.

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You Got What I Need

This week, a female called our clinic requesting a male therapist. This is the first I, or any of my coworkers, have ever heard of this request. Typically, women will ask to work with women. Or parents will request that a female work with their preadolescent daughter. Or homophobic men will ask for female therapists only. One such man said, verbatim, “I don’t feel comfortable with dudes touching any part of my body.”

But never have we had someone ask specifically for a male therapist. Maybe next week a man will ask for a man. We can only hope.

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