My Top 10 Tips for Physical Therapy Students

Finding balance during physical therapy school can be tough! Here are a few tips that can help you conquer your studies and make it through PT school with a little more sanity.

If you want more questions answered, check out my YouTube channel for 2 Q&A’s with Steve (my husband and also a physical therapist). In part 1, we talk about why we each got into PT, our experiences in PT school, tips for getting the most out of clinical rotations, what we expected PT to be vs. what it was actually like, the direction we took for our careers, and recommendations for jobs before or during PT school. In part 2, we dive a little deeper and talk about our thoughts on taking boards before/after graduating, how to choose/what to look for in your first job, burnout in the field of physical therapy, if residency/fellowship are worth the time & money, and if we think the student debt really worth it.

1. You will mess up and that’s okay.

Use mistakes, no matter how big or small, as a learning opportunities. Then, move on!  As long as you try your best and keep safety in mind, that’s all you can ask from yourself.  If you dwell on things, it can impact your ability to help another patient down the line. 

2. Prioritize some movement in your day.

Whether it is an actual structured workout, playing sports with friends, or biking to class something is always better than nothing.  During exam weeks, I would bike to class vs. completing a structured workout since I was a little tighter on time.  Doing small things like this add up and will make you feel better.  Consider listening to lectures while working out, reading notes or quizzing a friend while walking, or using working out as an intentional break from studying or while between classes.

3. Don’t forget about networking!

There are tons of learning opportunities outside of course work.  Find one that’s interesting to you and go for it!  In my program, we had opportunities to help pro-bono patients, engage with the community, participate in fundraising, etc. This is common in PT programs.  Building relationships can help you down the line, whether you’re looking for a job, needing a second opinion for yourself or your patient, or trying to find a PT in a different location/specialty for a family member.  It can also bring you more business down the line, whether you’re looking for more clients or associates!

4. Learn as much as you can on your internships.

Practical experience is arguably more valuable to your future career than textbook info.  Create good habits, learn to be efficient when treating, look up things outside of the clinic, and ask all the questions.  You never know how you’ll end up getting your first job.  Even if you don’t like your rotation, there is always something to learn…even if it’s what not to do!

5. C’s get degrees.

I know you’ve probably heard it before, but I tend to attract perfectionists, so I’ll stay it again!  Seriously, as long as you pass your boards and are safe, you’re good.  Don’t stress about getting top grades!  This is definitely easier said than done looking back on it, and I 100% still tried to get good grades. I feel kind of like an idiot for it.  There were so many more beneficial things I could have been doing vs. studying.

6. Do things that make you feel good.

The basics are so important!  Prioritize sleep as best you can, eat nutritious foods/meal prep if you can, get outside, etc.  Sleep is so important regardless of how much studying you could be doing…Jessica (my friend and virtual assistant) said she was in bed by 10pm each night during PT school.  And I’m pretty sure she did a lot better than me at managing life/stress during school!  I didn’t learn this lesson until a lot later (after a year or two of practice), when I started sleeping more after an injury and realized how much more productive and pleasant I was.  If you need additional justification, our brain processes information when we’re asleep. So, sleeping will help with retention when it comes to test time! Also, make sure you spend time with family and friends to help de-stress and bring you back down to earth!  Sometimes being around people can get your mind off things for a bit and those times are needed!

7. Learn how you study best and take advantage of it.

You may not study in the same way as a classmate and that is okay!  Learn what way you study best to retain the material. This could be through group study, recording lectures and listening back to them, individual study, and even things like study intervals. Play into your strengths, but also understand that working on your weaknesses can pay off too!

8. As you’re working out, apply what you’re learning.

Studying doesn’t always have to look like studying!  Apply your knowledge to yourself, a family member, a friend, etc.  Quiz yourself on what muscle you’re working in the gym. Saying the origin, insertion, innervation, and action applies your knowledge in a practical sense and can help you retain the information better.  If you’re into the cardioplumonary portion of your studies and you’re doing cardio, consider quizzing yourself on heart rate zones. You can quiz yourself on blood pressures that require monitoring during exercise, that are contraindicated for exercise, etc.  Be creative with your studying!

9. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!

No, you’re not dumb for asking…despite one of my coaches always saying “there is no dumb questions, only dumb people who ask questions.”  To be honest, if you have a question, likely others have the same question or aren’t understanding either!  I personally didn’t really ask questions in school because I couldn’t really think of any, but I always appreciated those who did because it showed a different way of thinking about it.  Sometimes, without the practical or clinical experience, it can be hard to come up with questions because you “don’t know what you don’t know”…so to speak. Minus the guy who asked the question because they weren’t listening or didn’t do the assignment…don’t be that guy.

10. Working on yourself will help you be a better therapist long term.

We all have our own personal battles. Working on those can help improve your own quality of life and help you in your career long term.  Things like listening to self development podcasts, reading books, etc. can give you a break from studying while still being productive.  Personally, I started my IG page for accountability to workout more (no, I had no intentions about it being what it is today), and I listened to podcasts to help me improve my relationship with food, etc.  These things helped me to improve my confidence overall, and this has translated to the clinic. It’s allowed me to help more patients.

Feel free to let me know your thoughts on these tips, ask any questions in the comments below, or shoot me an email!  I’m here to help!

I’ve hopped on the phone with current students before just to chat and give my two cents…I’m happy to do that as well, just shoot me an email! Or if you’re looking for an outpatient ortho job with a great company that will give you lots of good mentorship and lots of opportunities for growth (speaking from experience), let me know and I can chat with you about my experience and/or get a call set up with one of the people in charge of hiring!

Remember, no one is perfect, and that in itself is perfect!

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Remember: this post is for informational purposes only and may not be the best fit for you and your personal situation. It shall not be construed as medical advice. The information and education provided here is not intended or implied to supplement or replace professional medical treatment, advice, and/or diagnosis. Always check with your own physician or medical professional before trying or implementing any information read here. 

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