An Open Letter to Physical Therapy Students

Thursday, December 4th, 2014

I recently spoke with some NYU DPT students about my view of physical therapy and where I'd like to see the profession as a whole headed in the future. While I realize this post may not be as applicable to all of my readers, I still felt it important to reiterate some of the points I made during that chat, as some of you are recent grads, may be considering a career change, or perhaps just want to learn more about physical therapy. Now, my words are by no means gospel (though I like to pretend that they are) but I've been through the grinder and come out safely and successfully on the other side. So, that should count for something.

The main point I wanted to share with you is this idea that PT school is supposed to teach you everything you can learn about physical therapy. Now, right as soon as you read that sentence I bet you said to yourself, “that's impossible!” You're absolutely correct. And yet, when you're in school, nearing the end of your 3rd year, burdened by endless presentations and tests, you tend to forget this.

Given the significant number of things we still don't understand about human body (pain, for starters) and the fact that there is always new research being published, there is no way in hell PT school could ever even dream of filling your PT toolbox within three short years. But that is why the profession has set forth standards requiring that physical therapists maintain proficiency by taking continuing education courses.

Current DPT students often report that what is taught in PT school is not what they're seeing being used in the clinics or the hot new techniques they're reading about. Of course it's not. While I'd love for that to be the case, the goal of PT school is to provide you with the foundations to become a SAFE practitioner and enable you to pass the boards. For those of you in PT school feeling like there is no end in sight, questioning why you're learning such dry material that you may never use again, I repeat my previous statement: The goal of PT school is to provide you with the foundations to become a SAFE practitioner and enable you to pass the boards.

Yes, society at large is currently battling the idea of the common core and standardized testing, but it still very much exists throughout academia. PT schools need students to be able to pass the boards in order to demonstrate the efficacy of their programs. Unfortunately, the boards do not test the hottest new techniques or trends in PT. The boards exist to demonstrate competency and proficiency.

Now, some schools offer more “electives” that can give students exposure to new and different techniques. Others offer more clinical time, which could in theory allow you to learn more from practicing clinicians; a bonus if you score a good clinical instructor. These may be things that you want to weigh and consider when applying to PT school.

If you want to learn different things, new things, cutting-edge things…read. Read everything you can get your hands on. Social media has allowed for such amazing exchanges of ideas and information, all with just the click of a button. You can subscribe to list serves, follow people on twitter/FB/Instagram, read blogs. You don't just have to endlessly scroll through boring journal articles with questionable methods and mediocre results. Heck, you can even get crazy and start your own blog!

I encourage all of you out there, DPT students and non-PT folk alike, to continue to challenge yourselves and dedicate yourselves to learning. I am not here to demonize PT school or campaign to get DPT programs to change their curriculum. School is just the beginning, and what you choose to learn is not limited to the books on the class syllabi. Read often, question everything, and don't get jaded. Your future patients will thank you.

Join the family!