Many people are unaware of how many areas physical therapists treat in, myself including prior to starting PT school. Even medical colleagues of physical therapy as a profession may be shocked to hear some of the settings in which we treat and diagnoses that we can intervene in. For example, this week I spent time learning at Arnold Palmer Children’s Hospital and Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies and I saw a lot of very interesting things. I thought that at this point, I have seen or at least heard of the majority of avenues for a physical therapist in pediatrics but I was proven wrong! The PTs there also provide physical therapy treatment for expecting mothers on bedrest, how cool?
The point is, I’m still learning and I’ve been submersed in physical therapy for quite a few years now so I would not necessarily expect a new first year student or an everyday person not studying PT to be aware of all of these things. That’s where education and awareness come in to play of course.
More importantly my main point here is that there is a lot to learn in PT school and as much as I did (somewhat) enjoy learning all of the topics at some point along the road I had to customize my learning experience for myself. By customizing my PT school experience I mean making sure that I learn everything possible about peds. I’m sharing this because I think it’s a helpful mindset to have in a lot of avenues. The obvious example would be for someone in or entering into a PT program but really it could be for any student in any kind of program or anyone with a job. If you want to create your own special niche, it’s up to you to create your own opportunities and get involved.
So how did I customize my PT school experience?
First, I started early. Within the first month of school I made sure to find out who the go-to pediatrics professor was and I made sure I introduced myself and expressed my interest in peds. This set me up with the knowledge that for my first year, the most involved I could probably be would be to join the pediatrics special interest group, kind of like a journal club. There it was step one! This also allowed me to meet some of the other students in my class and the classes above me who were also interested in pediatrics! If this type of group doesn’t exist for you, who says you can’t create it?
Secondly, once I survived the first year being mostly orthopedic content and my first clinical rotation at an outpatient ortho clinic, we started to study other realms of PT – neuro, cardio, PEDS! Now, (and in the first year) I focused on relating any and every lecture I could to pediatrics or to an experience I had while working as a rehab tech. This helped me stay engaged even when the content was directly about a subject I was as passionate about. It took a bit of creativity but it helped me stay focused and interested throughout the whole program!
Once I finally was in the pediatrics class (or any pediatrics lecture) I completely tuned IN. I took notes, swallowed my pride and asked questions, and did further research on my own on things I found especially interesting. It was time consuming at times, but I really feel like I retained this information and that’s proved true as time has passed. I know studying isn’t for everyone but when you want to specialize you have to be eager to learn and competitive with yourself to make sure you are the best you can be.
Outside of the classroom I sought out as many opportunities to observe pediatric PTs. Seeing it all happen in person made things click. The notes I took in class started to come to life and the time I spent with my nose in a book felt 100% worth it. I had super cool opportunities to observe in elementary and high schools, hippotherapy, NICU, acute care, and outpatient! Each time I was with a different therapist which means I could see everyone’s own little tweaks to their approach. I like to think that I’ll take little pieces of everyone I’ve looked up to in creating my own special treatment method!
Lastly, I fought and hoped and prayed for pediatric clinical rotations and I sure did get lucky! I have two pediatric clinicals coming up starting this month which means 16 weeks of hands on pediatric time before I cross the stage. I have seen the reactions of PTs and I know I’m very lucky to have the two rotations because sometimes people don’t even get one! In any other case, I think it’s important to seek out a mentor. Find someone in a similar place that you dream yourself to be in and pick their brain, study their habits, watch them in their element!
All in all, I think I sought out as much pediatrics as I could from my time at UM. I still have until May to really soak it all in before I’m out in the real world but I’m so grateful for my own ambition that first month of PT school to get the ball rolling. But if you’re reading this and you are a bit later in the game don’t be discouraged. It’s never too late to learn more or to make your dream come true (cheesy, but I believe it!)