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 Melba, a DPT student with no lack of motivation or discipline!
Melba, thank you for sharing your story with us!
When and how did you decide to pursue a career as a physical therapist?
Melba: It was a rather last-minute shift of major, from Biology to Exercise Science, when I was given the opportunity to engage in a shadowing experience at Roper Rehabilitation Hospital. Prior to this shadowing opportunity, I was in my second year at the College of Charleston, and I had felt unenthused with my major. I felt as though I was just going through the motions. As such, I decided I needed to make a change. A lot of my close friends were majors in Exercise Science, and I decided to change my major. This would ultimately result in me graduating an extra semester later, but it was well worth the change!
For the first time in my college career, I felt as though my interests were intertwining with my passion for being physically active. Moreover, the classes were challenging; however, I didn’t see it as a burden because I was thoroughly enjoying each class and its respective content. Furthermore, the labs were extremely interactive which I found really attractive about the major.
Prior to my time at Roper Hospital, I had just experienced the death of my 24-year old cousin in a rollover crash. Soon after, I was randomly assigned to a physical therapist at Roper who specialized in spinal cord injuries. My first observation involved a 24-year old individual who had survived a similar accident. During the whole hour and a half of treatment, parallels between this patient and my cousin engulfed my mind. Specifically, the adversities, adjustments, and rush of emotions this patient too would be facing as a result of this life-altering event. I attribute this observation as the defining moment that further propelled my interest in this particular career path.
What attracted you to Hunter College?
Melba: What attracted me to Hunter was definitely the tuition ($40k for 3 years), as well as its reputation in NYC, among other things. If possible, I wanted to save money, and I knew that if I went to Hunter I could commute from home and move back in with my parents (they’ve been so great with helping me out, from charging me no rent to cooking to helping me relieve Ollie – my dog – when I have long days scheduled at school).
Additionally, Hunter has a great relationship with numerous renowned hospitals in New York City. For example, due to our relationship with Hospital for Special Surgery, which is ranked the #1 orthopedics hospital in the nation for the past 9 years, we are able to learn orthopedics from the best in the field for two semesters during our second year.
We also have a great relationship with Bellevue, which houses our clinical simulation lab, and clinical affiliations with hospitals such as New York Presbyterian (ranked #1 in New York), Mt. Sinai, and Montefiore, among others.
Lastly, the faculty is so supportive of whatever endeavors you may have and/or interests you may want to further explore. The other 30 classmates whom I am sharing this journey with are absolutely amazing as well!
I understand you started off your career as a therapy volunteer and later a PT technician. How did these roles enrich your familiarity with the profession and strengthen your application?
Melba: Yes! I started all the way at the bottom of the totem pole! The significance behind these roles is that they allowed me to truly see not only the “glamorous” parts of being a PT, but also the nitty-gritty– particularly, in the hospital setting. Essentially, these roles reaffirmed my decision to pursue the field.
I am eternally grateful for these roles because they allowed me to view a variety of diagnoses and their presentations firsthand, which thereafter served as a reference later on in PT school. Moreover, I was able to interact with patients, and thus, continually practice my communication skills with patients and their family members.
Additionally, it also allowed me to interact with the other members of the interdisciplinary team (physiatrists, nurses, CRNAs, OTs, OTAs, PTs, and PTAs) early on.
It strengthened my application in that I had well over 2,000+ hours combined working in the inpatient rehab setting in addition to the acute care setting. I had also accumulated many hours in other settings such as during my time volunteering in the Medical University of South Carolina’s outpatient clinic in addition to shadowing a pediatric home care PT.
I was familiar with a large amount of the material such as managing wheelchairs, performing transfers, patient handling, managing CVA patients, and line management, among other things. This really served to give me a leg up during my first clinical rotation. I was also able to interact with other integral members of the rehab team such as OTs by helping with ADLs (activities of daily living) in the morning, and SLPs by aiding stroke patients who had dysphagia with eating during both breakfast and lunch. I think this spoke to the admissions committees in that this was a promising representation of how committed I was to pursuing the profession through my will to consistently occupy so much of my time with PT-related obligations.
Did you ever consider becoming a physical therapy assistant? Do you feel that getting a PTA is a helpful first step for students interested in the DPT?
Melba: Of course! This was definitely something I considered. However, after assessing the pros and cons, it would not have been beneficial for me to accumulate unnecessary debt if I didn’t have to by going to PTA school. I think it’s definitely an option, but if you don’t need to go that route prior to DPT school, I would save the time and money.
What was your experience with the GRE? How would you recommend applicants prepare for this test?
Melba: The GRE was definitely an obstacle for me in a way. I had to actually take it twice, and applied with my second round of scores. All I can say is practice, practice, and practice! I would also encourage individuals to invest in Kaplan’s separate verbal, math, and writing workbooks. Magoosh was also a very beneficial resource in terms of preparing for the vocabulary aspect of the test.
Here is some more detailed advice:
1. Know your STRENGTHS!
I’m personally better at verbal and writing so I focused my studying more on math since that’s my weakest subject area. Nonetheless, I still dedicated a significant amount of time to both with a slightly greater focus on math. There are study schedules online that you can follow or you can create your own based on your individual schedule.
Purchase practice materials (or if you can get them passed down to you by friends that’s also great)!
I ordered the Kaplan Verbal workbook in addition to the Kaplan Math workbook. Kaplan was my company of preference. The Princeton Review and a few other test-prep companies produce study materials, as well. I also utilized the Magoosh vocabulary word bank. It’s free too! I would go through each level and would not advance to the next level until I had the level before COMPLETELY memorized. Repetition is key for vocabulary! They also have an app which is nice when you’re on the go, and have a few spare moments to go through their decks. I also bought the Kaplan question bank which I thought was extremely helpful since it provided me with a ton of questions and step-by-step explanations if I got the question(s) wrong. Kaplan also has free online classes for the GRE – you just have to sign up and attend, by logging in, during the designated time.
- Magoosh flashcards
- Magoosh App with questions
- Other Magoosh resources
- Kaplan question bank
- Free Kaplan GRE classes
2. Take the free Kaplan practice tests off their website.
Take one before studying and one a week or two before your test date to see where you are. If you get a bad score right before, don’t let it get to you! You still have time to review and improve!
3. When you study, study – no distractions!
Dedicate your whole time and mind to studying to get the most out of each and every session. If you can find a study buddy, this will definitely help with accountability. You’re going to do great, and you MUST believe that going into the test! Confidence is key 🙂
4. Check out Pinterest!
I would’ve never thought to check this website until my professor told me to go on it for resources!
5. For the essays, know the general format for the two types of essays.
This will help you save a ton of time on test day, since you will know how to answer the essays immediately. I believe ETS, who creates the GRE, has sample essay questions you can practice with and other free resources.
6. Make a cheat sheet with the most used equations, and also the format for writing your essays!
The Kaplan Verbal workbook and the Kaplan Math workbook have awesome cheat sheets! Or just google them and make your own!
Did you experience any surprises or bumps in the road as a DPT applicant?
Melba: Not necessarily, no. If anything, I’ve had more bumps, per say, during PT school. During my first semester of PT school, my dad had a heart attack while I was in the middle of anatomy. So balancing visiting him everyday after classes in addition to studying and taking care of my family was definitely a surprise that I did not expect that semester!
However, surprises or bumps such as these really do allow you to become cognizant of how much you’re truly capable of!
What does a typical day look like for you as a DPT student? How does your program divide students’ time between coursework and hands-on patient interactions?
Melba: Here’s actually an attachment of our schedule from last semester! Besides that, I usually wake up around 4 to get 1.5 hours of studying in, walk Ollie, and shower. Following that, my commute on the subway takes 1.5 hours each way, so I commute 3 hours in total! I use this time as well to get some studying in!
First year, we don’t really have any hands-on patient interactions since we were primarily getting our feet wet, so we’d work in pairs during lab time to practice and hone the basics. It’s more towards second year and thereafter, where we participate in more hands-on patient interactions.
During the initial 9 weeks of second year, we have simulation lab at Bellevue which allows us to practice acute care scenarios prior to going off to clinicals. The “patients” are actually real-life physical therapists which is pretty cool. Following this fall semester of second year, we are sent off to our first clinical which is 6 weeks long. So the semester is technically split into half didactic and half out in the field to practice and use our clinical skills.
How difficult is it to maintain a long-distance relationship as a DPT student? Any tips for making it work?
Melba: It’s actually gotten less difficult with the passage of time – and that’s primarily due to Chris being so amazing! Initially, we both knew that there was a possibility we would get split apart since he was applying to residency programs during the time I was applying to PT programs. However, we both knew that becoming the best clinicians we could possibly be in our respective fields would mean spending some time apart from each other to get the best possible training. Moreover, already 2 years have gone by, and only 1 more to go! Otherwise, we have a set routine of calling each other before heading out in the morning, sending a million memes to each other during the day, and calling at night as well as squeezing any FaceTiming we can get in between!
He makes it feel less distant, if that makes sense. We see each other every 2 months, and it actually works out perfectly because he’s in his second year of residency at Duke and I’m a second year full-time student, so our hands are pretty tied! As crazy as it seems, we make it work!
What population would you most like to work with after graduation?
Melba: Definitely the acute care population – specifically ICU patients. I’m extremely passionate about early mobilization especially after seeing how important it was for my dad following his cardiac bypass surgery!
If you could send one message to aspiring DPT students at the start of their journey, what would it be?
Melba: These are two of my favorite quotes which I think sum up the journey.
- “You will not always be motivated, which is why you must be disciplined.”
- “Without commitment, you’ll never start. Without consistency, you’ll never finish.”
Also, if PT is really what you want to do, don’t give up! Especially if you don’t get in your first time. If there is a will, there is a way!
Do you have questions for Melba? 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 Melba by following her on Instagram.
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