Any PT student can probably agree that the first semester is known for the grueling gross anatomy class. This is the class that as a first year you hear all the warnings about. “Make sure you study a ton for anatomy!” “Don’t fall behind” “You should know everything, verbatim!” Or maybe it’s the class you get warned is used to weed out students. It’s not easy by any means, but how could it be easy to learn about every square cubic centimeter of the body via a cadaver with complete strangers and first-year-PT-student-anxiety?! Now I’m no expert on every program, but I sure know how University of Miami anatomy goes. It may or may not have scarred me for life, in a good way.
Now to paint the picture for those who don’t know, you can enter a PT program with any bachelor’s degree, literally anything! So even though we all are required to take some sort of anatomy course in undergrad, everyone has a varying degree to the level of exposure they had. Mine, was minimal. I had very little time with a cadaver in undergrad and our exams just scratched the surface of what was expected in PT school’s gross anatomy. Best part is, I had no idea of this. I thought I knew just as much as the next.
I briefly spoke about the first day of anatomy lab in one of my previous blog posts but overall the word I’d use to describe it was overwhelming. For one, the smell of formaldehyde that lingered around with you. And of course, the awkwardness of standing in a lab with a bunch of dead bodies, face down in a tarp with 60-something alive bodies that were total strangers. Then there’s the long list of OIANs on the white board that are to be memorized, and this is just a tiny fraction of the amount of OIANs that will be given throughout the semester (OIANs are four pieces of very detailed information about each muscle in the body, their origin, insertion, action, and nerve innervation… aka torture.) And lastly, how could I forget the shiny little scalpel placed in my hand, time to get messy!
As anatomy progressed, I expected to get less and less nervous. I thought I’d ease into it, be more comfortable, I’d learn it naturally…nope. Actually, as anatomy progressed, what little confidence had gone down the drain. I felt like I knew less than any other given person in the room, my response time to answer questions felt sluggish, my flashcard memorization of OIANs was spotty, and I was just mentally & physically exhausted. Before the blink of an eye, exam one was here. I barely slept the night before, I listened to a recording of myself repeating the OIANs over and over and over again. I woke up and tried to give myself a pep talk and avoid throwing up before heading to the lab. Here I was, waiting outside the room with my pencil and clipboard, about to sink or swim.
My memory of the exam is absolutely blank, the second I got outside I couldn’t remember a single question that was asked or answer that I jotted down. I was reassured by everyone else being just as nervous about getting their grades back as I was so I joined the planned fun for a class pool day. That night, word got around that our exams had been placed in our mailboxes in our building so at the pool I hopped in the car with some friends and made it to the Plumer building, wet bathing suit and all. I couldn’t even unfold my exam to look at the red marks and big number on the top, my heart was pounding and I wanted to cry before I even opened it. Then I unfolded it. There it was, me just receiving a passing grade…by the skin of my teeth.
I wasn’t even slightly relieved that I hadn’t “technically” failed, in my eyes I had! I was not a C student in undergrad and I surely wasn’t proud of earning a C as the first grade next to my name in PT school. Was this what I had worked so hard for? No! I bawled my eyes out that night, talked to my parents and best friends (of course they were reassuring), and then bawled my eyes out some more. I was so disappointed in myself, all of the studying I did do didn’t pay off. I knew what I had to do… it was time to turn it in to overdrive. From this point forward, any free second to myself was spent studying. I couldn’t take it lightly anymore, I didn’t even realize I was taking it lightly.
At some point along this extreme studying method, my confidence started to build up. I began answering questions in lab, being quicker with my answer time, knowing my OIANs word for word. My study habits were maturing and building the type of balance between motivation to succeed and fear to fail that would take me through the rest of PT school. This course really was a make or break course, it highlighted my weaknesses and didn’t leave any place for them to hide. So all I could do was strengthen them! It was more than just anatomy, it was the course that reminded me that PT school is no joke. Getting in might have been tough, but that was the easy part. It was more than just anatomy, it tore down all of my confidence just so I knew what that vulnerable feeling was and then built it back up. It was more than just anatomy, it was the first time I ever cried over passing a test… yes, happy ending, I passed the last two tests. I actually did better on the second and even better on the third and I lived to see the end of gross anatomy, wait… but anatomy never really stops in PT school! So that’s to be determined after taking my boards next year!
My point is, whatever that big daunting class or exam is for you, it’s doable. It’s more than doable, it’s conquerable! I can almost guarantee there’s a lesson to be learned from whatever it is and for me it was “this is more than just anatomy.”