Learn how real students navigate their way through the graduate school admissions process and grad school itself with our What is Graduate School Really Like? series.
Meet Veronica, a new DPT whose goal is to help her acute care patients feel like themselves again.
Veronica, thank you for sharing your story with us!
I understand you considered a number of different career paths in college. When and how did you realize physical therapy would be a great fit for you?
Veronica: Physical therapy as a whole really aligned with my present lifestyle and future lifestyle goals. When I really sat down and reflected on what I wanted to get out of a career (around my second year of college), physical therapy matched in many ways for me.
Here are some of the things that solidified physical therapy for me:
- Job stability
- Good work/life balance
- Variety in settings (meaning I have the ability to switch settings to keep things exciting)
- Ability to go into teaching positions
- Close patient relationships/interactions (aside from nursing, PTs spend a lot of time with their patients)
- Ability to use knowledge/skill to help patients regain movement
Had you considered other careers in the field of rehab, such as PTA, OT, or OTA? Can you discuss the differences between these roles and why you selected the DPT degree?
Veronica: I originally considered becoming a PTA before going into DPT. I ended up choosing the DPT route because I ultimately wanted the autonomy that the DPT title provides.
- DPTs dictates the patient’s plan of care as well as doing treatments.
- PTAs follow the plan of care set by the supervising PT and provide treatments.
What was your most challenging course as a PT student? Any study tips?
Veronica: I believe that I was most challenged with the subject of neuro in PT school. It is my most challenging yet my favorite subject to study.
I think the best way that I was able to study is to relate all symptoms and concepts back to a patient/person. Everything is easier to study when you can envision a particular patient that has personally touched you.
How did you prepare for the National Physical Therapy Exam? Can you share some tips for students who are currently studying for the exam?
Veronica: I made sure that I had a concrete plan, a calendar that I followed religiously. It was a 3-month study schedule that dictated what pages to study each day, when I was to take practice exams, and when to review exams.
NPTE is completely doable with good discipline and planning. Make sure you have a solid study group/friends that you can turn to for support when things get hard.
Congratulations on starting your first job as a physical therapist! What do you love about working in acute care?
Veronica: Being that acute care is so close in time to the patient’s onset of diagnosis, I love being able to get to patients early on to improve their functional mobility. I like being one of the first people to get a patient up and moving after being bedridden for a few days. I love being one of the first people to give patients the ability to feel like a normal healthy person again and to achieve basic goals like walking/sitting up.
What has been the biggest surprise so far about working as a licensed physical therapist?
Veronica: I think the biggest surprise about finally being a working licensed physical therapist is being in a state of both feeling super prepared and also not prepared. I feel very prepared in keeping my patients safe and using my PT knowledge from school to improve their quality of life and functional mobility. At the same time, I feel as though there is still SO much I need to learn that school cannot necessarily teach you, such as insurance nuances, interprofessional dynamics/interplay, and interactions/relations/sometimes conflicts between bosses/coworkers.
Do you plan to pursue certification?
Veronica: I do plan on attending a PWR (Parkinson Wellness Recovery) Therapist workshop so that I may get certified in this specific treatment style. I am still currently very interested in neurology in physical therapy, so I will surely be pursuing various neuro-based certifications. I also wish to one day do a neuro residency and ultimately get my Neurology Certified Specialty.
Can you speak a bit about the pros and cons of residency for PTs?
- PROS: With residency, you can enhance your skills, critical thinking, and knowledge in a particular specialty of physical therapy. After one year of residency (which includes formal mentorship, didactic courses, research, and sometimes teaching), you will be able to sit for a board specialty certification exam. Residencies are a great way to push your career forward in a certain direction with perks of networking and academic opportunities!
- CONS: The biggest con is the financial aspect. Most PT residency programs pay their residents; however, they are typically paid significantly less than a full-time PT. If you have goals for financial independence or have financial responsibilities, a residency can put a strain on your earnings for an entire year. So I would urge you all to really consider your readiness for this financial decision.
How has your status as a DACA recipient affected your educational/professional path?
Veronica: My DACA status has definitely made it much harder for me to enter into this profession. I have had to face rejections by universities, merely due to my immigration status and not due to my educational merits. I have had to prove myself to universities and the public to be given a seat at the table.
However, despite all the hardships that accompany the complexities of being a DACA professional, I believe it has made me a more compassionate healthcare provider. I believe I have a unique lens that I see healthcare in, knowing that I will encounter patients that very well may be undocumented.
My DACA status has only made me more grateful to have this profession. It has only made me a better professional.
What can aspiring physical therapists do during undergrad (and beyond) to prepare for admission to a DPT program?
Veronica: Two main things:
- Plan, plan plan: Plan all the prerequisite classes you need to take, time the number of observation hours you need to complete, and plan who will be writing your letters of recommendation.
- Network early on: Do observations in various clinical settings and form early relationships with PTs. Network in clubbing events and organizations that focus on physical therapy.
Do you have questions for Veronica? Questions for us? Do you want to be featured in our next What is Graduate School Really Like? post? Know someone else who you’d love to see featured? Are there questions you’d like us to ask our students in this series? LET US KNOW!
You can learn more about Veronica by following her on Instagram.
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