Preparing for a Career in Physical Therapy
Coming into Hamilton, I was strongly interested in the health professions—from public health to physical therapy to medicine. I knew I wanted to help people, I enjoyed the sciences, and I knew there were many opportunities within this vast field. However, I had many academic interests, such as sociology and education, that I didn’t have the opportunity to explore in high school. Hamilton’s open curriculum gave me that independence and opportunity to explore and learn about other subjects outside of the hard sciences.
As a first-year, I was a member of First Year Forward (FYF), currently named the Joan Hinde Stewart Career Development Program, which gave students career-related resources, knowledge, and opportunities. Through FYF (and the awesome stipend incentive to participate in a career-related experience), I volunteered at NewYork-Presbyterian / Columbia University Medical Center in a cardiac step-down unit and at NYU Langone Health in the food and nutrition department over the summer. I saw many days in the life of a doctor, nurse, administrator, nutritionist, and more. The one that stuck out to me the most was the physical therapist (PT)! I saw physical therapists consistently work one-on-one with patients to increase their physical activity, decrease pain, and improve quality of life using movement as medicine.
Being a runner throughout high school and at Hamilton on their cross country and track and field teams, like most athletes, I got injured. I recovered with the help of a physical therapist and by simply reading about different treatments online. I found myself understanding and experiencing the injuries that came along with athletics. I became fascinated by the biomechanics of running and how to become a better athlete, through strengthening muscles to preventing injuries. Eventually, I began applying my knowledge to help my friends when they felt any muscle pains or discomfort. I also enjoyed learning about the human body through the anatomy, physiology, and kinesiology courses I took at Hamilton. Physical therapy was a neat blend of my academic and personal interests and values!
As I looked into applying for doctor of physical therapy (DPT) programs, I noticed a requirement for physical therapist (PT)observation hours, which are either paid or volunteer time spent with a physical therapist. Through my observation hours, I directly observed how PT’s interact with patients and asked questions on evaluating, treating, and educating patients about interventions for future injuries. I also gained a broader sense of the field because when most people think of PTs, they think of helping athletes and treating sports injuries. There are different settings (inpatient or outpatient) and populations (general, women, sports, pediatric, geriatric, etc.) that PTs work in. I made sure I had a variety of experiences to reflect this—especially when it came to applying to DPT programs. For example, some experiences I included: volunteering at the Hospital of Special Surgery, an outpatient hospital clinic where I observed treatments for the general orthopedic, geriatric, and hand injury population, and at Masonic Care Community, an inpatient nursing facility for the geriatric, neuromuscular, and cardiopulmonary population.
In addition, I became more interested in education and public health through my coursework at Hamilton. I studied abroad with DIS Stockholm to learn more about global public health systems and participated in extracurricular activities, including Let’s Get Ready as a math coach and Project SHINE as a volunteer. I also interned in Kenya for a summer helping teach English and math while also training alongside some of the fastest runners in the world.
After graduating in May 2019, I received a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) to Taiwan. Currently, I am teaching English to elementary school students while living abroad, which has given me a new perspective on culture, education, and communication. I learned how to motivate others, adapt plans and communication styles, and overcome language barriers (similar to how a PT has to individualize treatments for patients according to the situation, and how a PT has to teach patients proper movements and exercises).
This goes to show that no career path is direct or linear; everyone’s path is unique. Be open-minded and flexible to different opportunities that come your way because the experiences are what you make of it!
Starting at the end of summer 2020, I will begin my journey to becoming a physical therapist. In the future, I hope to combine public health and physical therapy, improve access to rehabilitation services in underserved communities, and evaluate rehabilitation clinics around the world. If you are pre-PT or interested in physical therapy, there’s so much growth and opportunity in the field. It’s fascinating to me how movement is medicine. Okay, enough about me because this is getting quite long!
Here is some advice I have for pre-PT students:
- Most DPT programs have different prerequisites in order to apply, from observation hours, coursework, recommendation letters, GRE scores, and GPA minimums. Almost all programs require anatomy and physiology, biology, chemistry, and physics with some requiring psychology and English (writing). If you are planning to apply, make an Excel spreadsheet of all the prereqs.
- Track your PT observation hours and have the PTs’ email or contact information for future reference when you begin applying to DPT programs. Take notes on what you observed or learned. It might come in handy when writing essays and interviewing during the application process.
- When it comes to the personal statement, have many people read it over. I reached out to Leslie Bell in the Career Center for help and an objective point of view on my draft. Make sure that the reader gets a sense of who you are and why you want to become a physical therapist. It’s called a personal statement for a reason!
- Most programs require an interview. This is important for many reasons—for you to get to know the program, students, and faculty and for the faculty and students to get to know you. It works like a matching process, to help you pick a program that is the best fit for you and where you will excel. Some program interviews are more laid back and conversational while others are more traditional. Before the interview, practice some questions such as: Why PT? or Why this program? and scenario-based questions about being in a clinic or working as a physical therapist. You want to be able to demonstrate your best qualities that will make you a great PT, your knowledge of PT, and of the program. Also, be sure to have questions prepared for the interviewers, too!