Katie is a travel physical therapist who has a passion for working in pediatrics. She graduated with her Doctorate in Physical Therapy from University of Maryland Eastern Shore in September 2018, and has been traveling as a new grad since December 2018. She was born and raised in California, and has only accepted travel positions in California so far, however has dreams of working in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington. After work, you can find her pursuing her hobbies of rock climbing, hiking, camping, photography, painting, and eating cookies.
Note: You should consult with your doctor or physical therapist for recommendations on treatment. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of Katie and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of OnlinePhysicalTherapyPrograms.com
What inspired you to start My Road to PT
I initially became interested in physical therapy during my junior year of college at UC Berkeley. I tend to over-analyze and research every big decision in my life (thanks anxiety!), so I found a couple blogs that were created by physical therapy students and read every single blog post they ever wrote. What I found was that there wasn’t one helpful site for pre-physical therapy students like myself, as those blogs focused on grad school. I have also had a passion for computer graphics and web design since middle school. I decided to start my blog in October 2013 to help other pre-PT students like myself, and to explore my artistic hobbies.
What do you hope readers get out of your posts?
My biggest goal in starting the blog was to help other students navigate their way through the confusing and stressful PT school application progress, to continue helping them through the stress in PT school, and to one day help new grads with the transition from school to pursuing their dream career. When I was applying to PT school, I only knew one other student who was also applying. Although I had a small support system from that classmate, my family, and my friends, I felt pretty alone when I was applying. I didn’t have anyone to ask questions about the application process, I didn’t know what it would be like to go to PT school all the way across the country from all my friends and family, and I was worried about how I would manage being a new grad and not knowing 100% what I wanted to do with my career. I truly hope that I can help guide other students and new grads, and be their support system to help answer questions and make this whole process a little bit less stressful.
What were the most important things you did to stay organized in school?
I am a huge advocate of finding a way to become organized for yourself, and to keep up with this organization throughout each busy semester. Not everyone is organized, and not everyone organizes in the same way, so try to find what works best for you. For example, I had one binder where I kept all of the documents I need for clinicals (CPR, vaccinations, Tb tests and Flu shots), and I had another binder where I kept all my receipts for car maintenance/repairs (so I didn’t have to stress when something came up). If I wasn’t sure how to organize for a certain class, I would usually look around at my classmate’s notes and see if someone was organizing their info in a way that would work better for me (typically in the first several weeks of the semester). Here are some other tips you can try:
Before the semester starts, take a look at each class syllabus (if available). Order books if needed, or share with other classmates. Get a large binder for some classes (anatomy, orthopedics). For other classes (community health, orthotics/prosthetics), I either relied on a notebook/small binder for each class, or I had one large binder with dividers for all those “smaller” classes where I had fewer papers.
Once you have each syllabus, organize all due dates and exams into a planner, spreadsheet, piece of paper, etc. Figure out what works for you. If you’re only going to organize one thing, please organize your due dates and update them as needed.
Make sure you look into exam dates and due dates every week, and plan your study schedule accordingly. Don’t plan a ton of weekend adventures if you have exams coming up in 2 weeks. You could start studying a little bit earlier to avoid any extra stress.
Keep track of your grades for every assignment. Not every professor of mine would upload our grades onto the online Blackboard system, so I kept track of every assignment using the iStudiez app on my Macbook. It kept track of my GPA for each semester and my total GPA. This was also helpful for helping me plan my studying for finals, so I knew which classes I should study extra hard for, and which I would be okay with studying a little bit less.
Keep your notes in the same location. For every journal article I read, I took notes on the actual article and then typed those notes onto my laptop. It saved me time when I tried to study again as all my notes were in one location, and I didn’t need to carry around 20+ articles with me whenever I wanted to study. If I had printed handouts (powerpoint slides, pictures, anything), I took photos with my phone using the Camscanner app, and sent them to my computer. I was also able to reference all my notes whenever I needed, and didn’t need to take extra binders or notes on my clinical assignments.
For clinical affiliations, I brought a notebook every single day and took a lot of notes. A couple times a week I would try to type my notes onto one document and organize it a little bit, such as by new diagnoses, treatment ideas, things I wanted to learn, things I wanted to research, and questions I had for my CI if we had a long break one day.
Keep your resume updated and organized. After every part-time and full-time clinical, I tried to update my resume and add any unique treatments or patient populations that I observed, as well as the EMR that I used. If you know that you want to use a CI as a reference, get their contact information while you are still their student, rather than a year later when you are applying for jobs. This was REALLY helpful to keep up-to-date, especially when I started applying for jobs.
What was the most valuable part of your physical therapy education?
This is a tough question to answer as there were so many valuable parts to my education. I personally loved that I had a small class size (around 32 students), so I had the opportunity to learn from every single classmate. Everyone was in the same class (unless we split into 2 groups for some lab classes), so we had many opportunities to work with different groups of people and had different partners to practice with. I was able to learn how to work and communicate better with different types of people and different learning styles. I also liked that we were able to get a lot of personal instruction from the professors, as there weren’t too many students for each professor to handle.
What aspect of your PT education surprised you the most?
I was surprised how much my communication skills and confidence levels improved throughout my 3 years of PT school. Growing up, I was a huge introvert and felt awkward in most social situations. I hated small talk, giving presentations, and meeting new people. During PT school, you have to meet a new group of people on day 1, and learn to communicate well with them. We had many part-time clinicals, so I was able to slowly improve my small talk and learn to build better rapport with patients, without judging myself so harshly. These soft skills are indirectly taught during many classes, so I wasn’t necessarily expecting to get significantly better with them, but I am so thankful that I vastly improved these skills.
You have mentioned on your blog that you are interested in travel PT- what about this area of PT interests you?
I haven’t updated my blog since I started my career, but I have actually only worked in travel jobs since graduating! When I first graduated, I was stressed out because I didn’t know where I wanted to live and I didn’t know what type of job I wanted to pursue. I have a lot of career interests, and was also itching to travel and see the world, so travel PT was truly the best fit for me. I love that I am able to try out different physical therapy settings, live in different areas, and interact with different patients and their families. The most important thing I have gained, however, is the ability to learn from many different speech therapists, occupational therapists, physicians, nurses, social workers, etc. I truly think it’s invaluable to continue learning, especially as a new grad, and travel can be a great place to do that.
What advice do you have for future PT students?
Keep your grades as high as possible in college. My GPA was lower than average, and although the rest of my application was good or better than average, I think I was given denials or waitlists because of my GPA.
Shadow other therapists as much as possible. I’d recommend that you try to shadow in as many different kinds of settings as you can. You should also shadow speech and occupational therapists, even if you aren’t interested in those fields. You network with those therapists in many settings, so it’s essential to understand their scope of practice and when you should refer your patients to them. I recommend continuing to shadow during PT school and also as a new grad.
Network as much as possible. Even as a pre-PT student, you can attend local physical therapy conferences and events. Start to join Facebook groups online, or get involved on Instagram or Twitter. There are so many interesting conversations and people to learn from, so get yourself out there! It can feel incredibly forced and awkward when you first start, but it gets so much easier the more that you practice.
How about those with an interest in travel PT?
Before jumping into the travel world, you need to be prepared and know what you’re doing. Travel jobs and contracts are completely different from permanent positions, so you need to truly understand the lingo that is used. I highly recommend that you join Facebook groups to learn from other travelers. If you’re a therapist, the “Travel Therapy Therapists” group is essential to join. I recommend that you read the tax laws from traveltax.com and start to become familiar with them. If that website is confusing, reach out to them by calling or emailing. I would recommend finding several mentors, either from blogs or other forms of social media, particularly those that have been traveling for several years. I’d recommend attending TravCon in Las Vegas (held annually in September), so you can learn by attending courses and meeting other travelers. I would also recommend contacting Nomadicare to find recruiters that work well for you, and to be a bit cautious finding recruiters at local/national conferences or by word-of-mouth. Traveling isn’t as scary as it initially seems, and you really get into the hang of things with your first couple of contracts. It might be a great fit for you, but traveling isn’t for everyone, and can definitely be more challenging as a new graduate.