Top 5 Tips for Physical Therapy Students During COVID-19

May 2, 2020
14 min read
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Physical therapy programs across the nation have transitioned from traditional lecture and labs, to online learning. For some, it hasn’t affected them much; but for others, it has been a hard transition. Before I give my top 5 pieces of advice for a PT student, I’ll let you in on how this pandemic has affected the PT world around me.

PT students Covid

As we are all aware, we are in the midst of a crazy crisis called COVID-19. Throughout the past few weeks, all PT programs across the nation have transitioned from traditional lecture and labs, to online learning. For some, it hasn’t affected them much; but for others, it has been a hard transition. Before I give my top 5 pieces of advice for a PT student, I’ll let you in on how this pandemic has affected the PT world around me.

The Transition

The shelter in place orders went into effect right before spring break. I remember talking to some classmates about it when it didn’t turn into a whole big deal yet, and remembered hearing things such as we may not be able to travel back home for Spring Break, and that when we start classes again after our week break, classes may even be all online. At the time, I did not think our school would transition every single class online; just didn’t sound something doable for us.

How would we do labs? How would we communicate with our classmates and professors the same way we have been doing so for the past year and a half? There were so many rumors and talk going around, I did not know what to believe or feel.

Then, at the end of our finals week and right before our Spring break, it was announced to us that although we could travel back home for break, we were going to transition our classes all online for the majority of the semester until further notice. I had faith in our faculty and school that it would work out one way or another. However, not everyone felt the same way about transitioning to online learning. Some of my classmates felt uneasy about it; some did not know what to expect out of it, which was understandable. This was something new for all of us, even the faculty, who did not know how long or how exactly every detail was going to work out.

The Faculty

The faculty at our school has done an amazing job adjusting to online education. Although there are some minor bumps in the road, which is expected for something as new as this, the faculty have done a great job. Even things like faculty office hours have been converted to a Zoom format! We were given a schedule of times certain faculty will have their “door opened” for us to come in and ask questions; but instead of their door, it is their Zoom camera on for an hour, and we can log in to ask anything during that time.

This has been such a valuable tool I utilized and appreciated that our school kept for the online format. Our faculty only had one week (while we were on spring break), to change everything they had for their course to the Zoom format, learn how to use it, and manage it all in that week. It has been a major adjustment for them as much as it has for me and my classmates.

Although our faculty or directors do not know the exact date we are coming back, they do have back up plans in place depending on the time length of this pandemic. Whenever we do end up coming back to campus, labs will most likely be made up on weekends or some nights. Although it is not ideal, this is just something we will need to adjust with for the time being, and both faculty and students are doing their best to do just that.

Clinicals

For some of my friends going on clinicals, this added a whole other layer of complexity to their schedule. While some of my friends ahead of me in school were able to have their clinicals moved around or adjusted if theirs got cancelled, some of my friends did not have that same luck. Some of my friends at other PT schools had their clinicals completely halted until further notice, which means that their graduation date would be delayed until they can finish their clinicals. With this, there was frustration and uneasiness, as expected, not knowing what was going to happen, and now not having anything to do at this moment when they were supposed to be on clinicals working.

Graduation & The NPTE

Then we have the group who is JUST about to take the NPTE, and graduate within the next couple of months. As I am typing this, from what I have seen, the NPTE was postponed a month, switching around students’ test dates and such. In terms of graduation, this is where I have found where students have been disappointed the most.

Unfortunately, due to the circumstances, as most of you are probably aware, all graduations have either been cancelled, or transitioned to an online format. For our school, an online graduation will be taking place. This has been frustrating, upsetting, and disappointing for our 3rd year PT students I have talked to. They have worked so hard to earn their Doctorate of Physical Therapy degree, and were looking forward to not only earning that degree on a stage in front of their family and friends, but reuniting with their classmates one last time after not seeing most of them throughout their clinical year.

“They have worked so hard to earn their Doctorate of Physical Therapy degree”

Reduced Tuition

This also calls into question another topic that has been talked about by many of my classmates and schoolmates in other programs, and that is if we should get reduced tuition because of online education. This could be a whole other debate in another article, but this has been something thrown around by many students, mainly for the reason we aren’t getting the exact education we were promised when we agreed to pay our tuition.

White Coat Ceremonies

For me personally, although I am not graduating yet, we were supposed to have our white coat ceremony in about a month. As anyone could imagine, this also has caused disappointment among my class. Since PT schools vary in when they give their white coats out, I will explain briefly why ours is given at the end of our 2nd year.

The reason for that is, it is the celebration of our whole class finishing our didactic work, and moving onto the clinical world. I like to think of it as a “pre-graduation,” where it is another opportunity to share a special moment in our life with the ones we love, and the people we have had the pleasure of calling classmates the past 2 years.

Although disappointing, as I was extremely looking forward to this, our school is planning on us not only having an online celebration at that same date, but also an official white coat ceremony in person next year sometime right before our actual graduation.

This is just a short description of the environment around me currently as a PT student in the midst of COVID-19. This is a time where it can be hard to deal with everything as a student right now, and some of you might not know where to begin. Some of the things you read above might have resonated with you, and you might be wondering how you can handle it.

These are my 5 pieces of advice as a current PT student to help you deal with all the craziness of this going on:

1.Utilize zoom or another platform for study sessions/catching up with classmates

You may be the type that loves to work with other students in your class usually to study together. During this time, you may find it difficult to do so now, thinking you can’t be physically next to people at this moment.

However, zoom or another similar platform is a great thing to utilize, and just like using it for class, utilize it for study sessions for yourself and other classmates! Treat your study session virtually just like you would as if you were in person. It also gives you that sense of community within your class still while we are all going through this. Even beyond just studying, utilize zoom to socialize with other classmates or others on the weekends. Whether that is eating a meal, or just talking.

We are lucky to live in a world filled with this kind of technology. I have utilized this and have actually connected with people over zoom I haven’t talked to for a long time and might have not had the chance to catch up with those people if it weren’t for a time, we are having such as this!

2. Find somewhere in your house right now to focus on class

It is easy to lay on the couch and get comfortable in your own home doing online classes. I’m guilty of it. Act like you are sitting in the front of the class, so you do not get lazy, not pay attention, and not participate.

This is still education you are paying a lot of money for, and just because it is online right now, does not mean there is no opportunity to learn and apply just like being in class in person. Be adaptable, and do not make excuses that you cannot learn anything just because the routine is a bit different for the time being. Our jobs as physical therapists will require us to be ADAPTABLE in our future job, and this is a good test as students to see how much we actually are.

“Our jobs as physical therapists will require us to be ADAPTABLE in our future job”

3. Keep yourself engaged with other hobbies

In trying to keep your mind straight in the midst of all this craziness going on with adjusting to online classes, moving your schedule around, and being cooped up in your own house, it can be easy to let yourself do your classes, and then sit on the couch for the entire rest of the day, and do nothing.
Try to keep yourself engaged physically and mentally, just as you would if you weren’t in quarantine. If you used to go to the gym, find a workout you can do at home. I have already done a ton of workouts in my own house, and have broken a sweat from all of them, without the use of any equipment. Or, use this time when you aren’t in class to find a new hobby or something to do you have always wanted to do! Be creative and do what makes you happy.

4. Practice your manual skills on family members, spouses, and friends

I have seen this already being done, and some schools are requiring this, but it is something useful if you do not want to lose your manual skills for your class. With so many videos on YouTube and help from the web, it is possible to practice manual skills without physically being in a lab with your whole class.

Will it be the most perfect skill if it is your first time doing it with no physical assistance from a professor? Probably not. But is it better than not practicing at all? Yes. Grab a family member you are cooped up with and practice your hands-on skills on them for the time being while not being able to practice on any other bodies. Maybe even use your pet for a soft mobilization (yes, I have seen that online as well).

5. Stay focused, and keep the end in mind

I know many students across the country, as well as professors, are all adjusting to online learning and having to make huge adjustments. I can speak for my school, and I am sure other schools, but some of our students’ classes will have to most likely be made up on future weekends or nights when we are allowed to be on campus again. For some, this is causing lots of stress and anxiety about their PT school journey. My biggest piece of advice is, think about the end in mind.

“if you prefer to use this time just to relax and get your head right during this crazy time, that is more than ok too.”

If you are on hiatus because of not attending a clinical, and do not know what to do with your time, use that time to better yourself in some way, so that you come out of this pandemic with either sharpened knowledge, or new knowledge. This could be keeping up with PT related knowledge on your own before going into the clinic, a totally non-related PT skill that you always wanted to learn but did not really have the time until now, or just bettering yourself physically or mentally now that you do have the time. Or, on the flip side, if you prefer to use this time just to relax and get your head right during this crazy time, that is more than ok too.

I have seen lots of postings on social media lately telling people you pretty much “have to” come out of this quarantine with new knowledge or pushing yourself ahead. While that is my personal goal through this quarantine, it may not be YOUR personal goal.

Everyone comes from different backgrounds; some of you may have kids, where that is consuming most of your time for instance in your life. So while I do feel that if you are searching for something to do or you want advice on doing something during this quarantine, I would advise you to use the time you have to do something that you will look back on and be proud that you did in that moment, that will either push your career forward, or create new knowledge.

However, it is important to acknowledge the fact that you are allowed to feel disappointed if you had important dates or clinicals pushed back, and I want to personally tell you that instead of saying get over it, or that there are worse things that could happen to you. It is not my job, nor anyone else’s, to tell you how to feel during quarantine, or how to spend it.

“It is not my job, nor anyone else’s, to tell you how to feel during quarantine, or how to spend it.”

So those are my top 5 pieces of advice adjusting as a student in COVID-19.

So those are my top 5 pieces of advice adjusting as a student in COVID-19. This is a crazy time for all of us students right now, and I know it is harder for some people than others, especially those getting clinicals and such pushed back. Just know at the end of all this, you will be graduating as a Doctor of Physical Therapy, and this minor setback or adjustment will be a thing of the past once graduating.

I am not saying this is easy; but what I am saying is it will be OK, and will work out one way or another, even if it is not how you had it planned out exactly in your head. Every single PT student in the nation is in the same boat right now, and we are all in this together. Keep pushing through; we will get through this.

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