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Striving to Be a DPT

Coping Mechanisms for PT School

Published June 2, 2014 3:59 PM by Jocelyn Wallace

My course load in the first semester includes Physiology, Anatomy, Clinical Anatomy for Physical Therapists, and Introduction to Physical Therapy. Luckily, we didn't have to cover all of these last week as our first four days were primarily orientation. The only course we have actually attended is Intro to PT, but I've somehow managed to become overwhelmed either way.

Some of the things we've covered during orientation include learning styles, time management, study techniques, and the demands of graduate school. In short, I am scared. The faculty stressed the fact that physical therapy school will be intense because of the pace and the nature of a cumulative curriculum. As one professor put it, "every piece of information we learn will come up again someday." Not to mention gross anatomy is an eight-week course! This intensity is what concerns me the most.

Not everything I've learned has been in class, however. I've had to learn an all new campus, find the closest coffee shop, figure out where the power outlets are and learn professors' names. I've also learned the faces of my 54 classmates. The names, not so much. Needless to say, it has been a very disorienting week.

So how do I plan on coping? To start, I've put together a very detailed schedule outlining most of the hours in each day including class and study time but also gym time, eating and even blogging for ADVANCE. Further, we evaluated our learning styles and I took the time to really consider that information. I've realized I'm an auditory learner, and plan to study accordingly. If your physical therapy school doesn't go over learning styles, I suggest you research it independently!

Despite embracing time management and learning techniques, I think my most important coping mechanism will be my classmates. They have already been a shoulder to lean on during this first week and I can't wait to see each other through the next three years! It's going to be tough but I trust that we'll have some fun along the way.

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I am a first year Physical Therapy student at East Carolina University getting ready to end my third semester. This past semester was condensed into 10 weeks because the final 6 weeks of the Spring will be our first clinical affiliation. I have to say that a lot of the coping mechanisms you use are the same ones I have used to get through these few semesters. Being organized and setting out a plan at the beginning of the semester is a great way to prepare for what is to come. In addition, exercise is my stress-reliever and always has been since I was in undergrad. When first starting PT school, I was not sure if I would have the time to keep up an exercise routine, but I quickly realized that if I did not keep one that my grades actually slipped. I had to find this out the hard way by obtaining an injury a month into my first semester of PT school. It may seem that without being able to do an intense exercise regimen that I would have more time to study, but by not having an outlet for my stress with classes, it had the opposite effect. Apart from exercise being an important coping mechanism, I agree with the point you made about leaning on the shoulders of classmates. If it had not been for my classmates, I do not know how I would have made it through that first semester. Just in that one semester, I could see how we would grow as a family and now as we are coming to the end of our third semester, we truly are a family. Each of us has had our down days, but somehow we find a way to lift each other up. Your classmates are the people who understand you the most and what you are going through. I think above all, having that strong support system is probably the most important way to cope with all the challenges PT school brings. Good luck with the rest of your studies!!


Chelsea Hollingsworth March 4, 2015 4:49 PM


Thank you so much for your encouraging words. I will certainly refer to them in the future when the going gets rough. So far, everything you said has been displayed by the amazing people I have met. I've yet to meet a PT who was unhappy with their career choice!

Jocelyn Wallace June 4, 2014 9:03 AM


Loved your post and your honesty about feeling overwhelmed in your first week of PT school!  I feel your pain!  We have all been there, so please know that you are not alone!  I have been a PT for 30 years and I am presently enrolled in my tDPT & I am in the American Academy of Manipulative Therapy Fellowship Program!  You have chosen a great, dynamic, and exciting profession that will give you a life-long stimulating career!  You are surrounded by intelligent, caring instructors, wonderful group of fellow students, and supportive family!  As you lean in to learn...when it gets rough don't forget to lean on the people in your support groups!  Physical Therapy school is rigorous & demanding but all 54 of you can do this and your instructors are there to lead you toward a very dynamic, exciting, and fulfilling career in Physical Therapy.  

Victoria Galante, Physical Therapist - Director of Physical Therapy, STI Physical Therapy June 3, 2014 9:19 PM
Phoenix AZ

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