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Striving to Be a DPT

First PT School Practical

Published June 30, 2014 5:05 PM by Jocelyn Wallace

On Friday, I had my first practical exam as a student physical therapist. It was a palpation exam on the lower extremity including the hip, knee and foot/ankle. We were only required to identify landmarks, while verbalizing the process, palpating at the correct depth and being able to answer a supplemental question for each landmark. We drew cards from a stack to see what we would palpate.

The entire process of this practical exam was a challenge. Due to my place in the alphabet, I was one of the last people to go and had to wait around for 2 hours. It was incredibly nerve-wracking to see the large array of facial expressions of my classmates leaving the exam and not be able to talk to them. I was terrified I would completely freeze. Not to mention, this was our first "hell week" with an exam every day aside from Thursday, so my preparation was not ideal.

Once my turn came, I stepped into the room with four graders and went to my table. I had to draw one hip card, two knee and two foot. The hardest one by far was the piriformis! I have been aware of the controversy surrounding how well you can actually palpate the piriformis, so I was nervous, but I tried my best. Luckily, I must have verbalized well because my grader did not feel to check if I was in the right place.

I was incredibly relieved to see that once I started, I calmed down significantly. My classmates and I have been completely absorbed in anatomy for the past few weeks and we know this stuff! It surprised me when it all came out of my mouth quite naturally, at least in comparison to what I expected, and I'm confident that my next practical won't create so much anxiety. In the end, the overwhelming majority of the class did incredibly well!

My biggest tip? Practice verbalizing exactly what you're doing when you palpate, including attachments and motions to expose to muscle or connective tissue. If anyone out there is facing their first practical as a PT student, please calm down! The anxiety is terrible and it really did nothing but exhaust me. If you are working hard, you will be able to show your professors that you know what you're talking about.

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Hi Jocelyn!

I'm so glad to hear that I am not the only one that was nervous for the first practical.  As a first year DPT student, I dreaded my first practical because it was the first time where I would be critiqued on my skills as a future physical therapist.  My first practical fell in a "hell week" for us as well.  I remember feeling completely overwhelmed and nervous about it all, but I do agree with you about verbalizing everything while you palpate.  Talking about it out loud while practicing and during the practical helped me to think things through a little better.  It also helps the proctor figure out what your thought process was during the practical.  Thanks again for posting something that I was able to relate to so closely!  Good luck with the rest of your schooling.

Marie Morrissette March 3, 2015 9:18 PM

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