I still remember the first day of PT school like it was yesterday. I left my new apartment – which was only partially organized at the time – a whole hour before the first session of orientation week was to start in order to make the 7-minute drive to class. Anxiety, excitement, and nervousness filled me. Despite having gone to bed by 10 p.m. the night before, I had barely slept. You know that feeling you have as a kid on Christmas Eve? When you’re counting down each nerve-wrecking minute with giddy anticipation of what’s to come? That’s exactly what I was experiencing. It was still somewhat surreal that I would be spending the next 3 years as a student in a program ranked among the top 10 in the nation. I entered the building, and followed the signs that directed 1st year students to the proper classroom. A few other students were already there, and I greeted them politely as I scanned each numbered table that I passed for the placard that bore my name. As I neared the back of the room, I spotted it on the table marked “12.” Four other name cards, accompanied by blue folders, were on this table alongside mine. I took my seat and explored the materials in front of me, mostly excited by the lanyard that was attached to my new ID card that proudly boasted “Duke Doctor of Physical Therapy.” I eventually learned that the people who were sitting beside and across from me at the table were the members of my TBL (“Team-Based Learning”) group. Having toured the program and participated in interview day, I had a general idea of what to expect from this style of learning. This was the group that I would sit with everyday, complete group quizzes, tests, and assignments with, etc. I was looking forward to trying this approach, especially since the practice of medicine is team-based. Nevertheless, I still had some reservations. Like many of you, I’d participated in more than my fair share of group projects in the past, and consequently, was all too familiar with picking up the slack when others didn’t do what they were supposed to. What would happen if I found myself in that situation within this group? Especially since we would all be working together for the next two years. Or what would happen if one of my teammates was bossy and wouldn’t listen to other people’s input on team assignments? The fear of working with an unfamiliar group of people left me feeling slightly uncertain. However, I was still optimistic and eager to finally be studying content that would put me one step closer to my dream of making a difference in patients’ lives.
The room buzzed with chatter and anxious excitement as students continued to arrive and the clock ticked nearer to 8am. This would be the moment that made the late nights and early mornings, the constant stress and occasional tears, the numerous clinic hours and countless supplemental essays, the pricey application fees and every other sacrifice that I had made to reach this point ALL worth it. I couldn’t believe it was finally happening, but I was ready.
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Fast-forward 10 months. Once again, the classroom is buzzing with chatter, nervous energy, and excitement. However, this time, things are a little different. As I make my way to Table 12, I warmly greet the now familiar faces of my peers and TBL group-mates. I’m no longer worried about what the dynamic of our group will be like; we’ve become family. We’re all comfortable with one another and familiar with the expectations, pace, and workload of the program. We’ve survived gross anatomy, biomechanics, physiology, and neuroanatomy, which were no easy feats. We’ve already demonstrated basic skills in clinic as we assessed patients under the guidance of our CIs (clinical instructors) and assisted with treatments. We’ve learned to diplomatically work through differences within our TBL groups, and I’ve discovered that everyone is more than willing to uphold their portion of group assignments. We’ve also skillfully juggled multiple exams, quizzes, and graded assignments in the same week. Despite feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and ready to pull my hair out at times during these more stressful weeks, I think that I have become a better student because of them. I had to learn to manage my time well, begin studying weeks before a test instead of cramming the night before, and know when to ask for help.
As I sit here at Table 12 - in the same chair that I claimed on my very first day no less - I am surrounded by the likes of Captain Hook, Tinkerbell, Peter Pan, & Wendy Darling as I anxiously await my turn to make a selection. Time has flown, and I cannot believe that my first year of PT school is a few weeks shy of being over. Today is perhaps one of the biggest days of my Duke DPT career. It’s Match Day - the day that we select our 3rd year clinical rotation sites where we will apply what we’ve learned in the classroom and refine skills that will mold us into competent doctors of physical therapy. I managed to draw the very last selection number (lucky me), which has left me with some time to prioritize which of the remaining sites are most appealing to me and reflect…on all that has happened this past year and on what is to come. This time next year, I will technically have learned all that I need to know to pass the licensure exam. Crazy, right?
I look around the room at my peers and future colleagues dressed up as the cast members of other Disney movies such as Finding Nemo, Cool Runnings, and Cars, and feel grateful to claim a place amongst them. We’ve studied together, struggled together, and succeeded together. They have helped me grow this year in ways that I didn’t expect - both academically and personally – and I honestly couldn’t imagine this journey without them.
Slowly, site after site is being claimed by classmates and removed from the list of rotations. Luckily, my top choice is still available though. There are only a handful of students left who still need to make a selection, and then it will finally be my turn. Keep your fingers crossed for me please!