Letter to Physiotherapy Students - What I Wished I Knew

There are so many things to learn and grasp as a physiotherapy student. From learning about the names of every nerve and blood vessel, to programming exercise and rehabiliation programs. Leigh Martel is a recent graduate from the University of Otago School of Physiotherapy and here she shares some tips to think about as a new graduate looking back on her time as a student

1. Move around and get out of your comfort zone. 

Besides the benefits of physical activity that you will all know about, trying new and different sports or activities puts you back into a learner’s position, which is usually where your patients are when you ask them to do x, y, z movements for the first time.  Exercises and home exercise programmes are likely components of your management plan. 

Try giving yourself three exercises to do multiple times a day. 

  • How did that go- did you do them? 
  • When you’re doing a new activity, what makes the experience enjoyable rather than intimidating? 
  • What cues did the instructor or coach use that turned you from gumbie into a coordinated pro? 

Implementing changes and challenging yourself is a good way to appreciate what it feels like to be on the other side of the plinth and to respect what goes into building habits or changing daily routine. 

2. Get hands on. 

It’s likely that your peers in labs at physio school are a sample of youthful, non-injured folk.  That being said, you have to start somewhere, so begin building your tactile awareness of what the range of ‘normal’ tissues feel like.  Physio is a practical professional, so while hitting the books for theory is two thumbs up, no amount of reading or listening is going to build your practical or hands on base.

Additionally, if you ever have a moment in a lab where it feels a bit like the blind leading the blind, 1) go back and forth with your demonstrator practicing on a peer, and ask your peer to give feedback regarding what feels the same or different, 2) ask to practice on your demonstrator- this method usually gives you some very direct and helpful  tips for improvement.

3. Think beyond uni and start organizing now. 

Yes, you’ve got to get through your papers and exams to get your piece of paper, but take advantage of the time and resources you have as a student.  You probably won’t be surrounded by so many physio brains for such an extended period of time with so much information available to you- from your placements, to lectures, to labs, assignments, readings… 

Start organizing all your notes in a way that you’ll be able to use later.  Weeks or months after starting work, you probably won’t remember that the piece of information you are looking for is from Week 6 Lecture 4.  People have found various success with reorganizing their notes from PTHY10000 into condition or population-specific folders.

4. Maximise your resources. 

Besides organizing your information, make sure you seek it out.  Take advantage of being able to access articles and journals for free.  Those things are expensive on the outside and if you think you know the feeling of frustration when you finally find the resource you need for an assignment only to have that unable to access message pop up… imagine that x10.  Evidence-based practice never goes out of style. 

5. 4th Year Placements

If you had no idea where you wanted to go when you started physio, this is going to be such an informative year for you.  Try to get a good variety in your placements and remember that even finding out you don’t particularly enjoy a certain sector is part of figuring out where and what you do enjoy.  The best advice given to my class by a lecturer was ‘regardless of the people and circumstances, find a way to get something out of the placement…  and after that if you’re still hanging on by just a thread, always remember it’s only 6 weeks.’  If you have an idea what you want to do, maximize your networking and volunteering.  Other thoughts- stay flexible, soak everything up, and keep up the self-care too!