Student Post

How CE 1 Helped Me Get My Spark Back

Callan is a second year student, originally from Silver Spring, MD. Her background before school was dancing professionally and teaching pilates. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, biking, climbing and traveling.




Clinic, that magical place that we dream of as students, where we get to actually treat patients instead of fellow students and paper cases. After almost a year of grad school, Monday through Friday 8-5 pm, (which I started two weeks after finishing up 3.5 years of undergrad) I could not wait. I needed to be back in the real world, interacting with people outside of my class. Long story short, PT is my second career. I had danced and taught for a number of years prior to school. I needed to remember why approximately 7 years of school was a good idea in the first place as I had developed a serious love – hate relationship with PT school that was unfortunately going towards the latter more and more. This was frustrating to me as I love to learn and had really enjoyed undergrad. The more the year of dragged on, the worse place I was in. What I realize now looking back, I was missing context. CE I gave me this context.

I was placed in inpatient rehabilitation at Littleton Adventist Hospital. At rehabilitation hospitals, every patient needs to be able to tolerate at least three hours of therapy a day from at least two of the three disciplines of PT, OT and SP. The patients I worked with generally fell into one of three broad categories: someone with a neurological problem/incident, complex orthopedic (think non-weight bearing on at least one limb) or medically complex (people who had many comorbidities as well as what had brought them to the hospital this time). In this case, the PT’s job was first and foremost functional mobility, starting with how someone was going to move in their bed, transfer safely and get around. This starts with compensatory strategies mostly (assistive devices, etc.) and moves towards remediation. The blessing and the curse of this setting, is that it is a beginning step on people’s path to recovery. So you will likely never see someone return to their prior level of function, but you will get to see people make incredible gains in a short amount of time. Some went from being barely able to take a few steps with maximum assistance, to being able to ambulate with a front wheel walker (moderate assistance) in the span of a week or two.

Which leads to all that I learned from my time there. While I had volunteered extensively before school for different PTs in different settings, but nothing is quite the same as “being” the therapist. This change in roles as well as all the encounters I had with patients during CE I started to show the larger picture, giving me context to all that we had learned in the classroom over the past year and why “it depends” was the most likely answer to any question. A few snapshots of the many unforgettable moments are the following. One of my very first patients really wanted to go home from the hospital, but kept saying “I don’t want to” to the simple proposition of standing up, a task they were unable to do for very long. Facing someone who was apraxic and aphasic, trying to figure out what they understand and are capable of, which contrasted with teaching someone who is toe touch weight bearing on a lower extremity and fearful of injuring themselves further how to ambulate with a walker. Or when I walked into a patient’s room to do an evaluation and they needed to use the restroom and got out of bed even though I had just asked them to wait for me to grab the gait belt and equipment to keep them safe. I had patients use obscene language with me and be so dismissive that I questioned what I had done wrong. These are a few of the many situations I found myself in during my first clinical, and while some were more pleasant than others, I would not change any of them (well, except maybe what I did during these situations).

This all leads back to that idea of context. All of a sudden, the Brunnstrom Stages were not just a list of things to memorize, I had a visual right in front of me. I was able to actually know what spastic, rigid, or flaccid limbs felt like to move. I saw what true weakness looks like – people who cannot tolerate standing for more than a minute without their respiratory rate going up and needing to sit down. I learned the importance of monitoring vitals so you can safely help build up people’s tolerance to physical activity. I learned that the numerical pain rating scale is subjective, one patient may report a 7/10 as they are calmly doing exercises, while another may report a 3/10 through gritted teeth. However, despite how subjective scales can be, it is necessary to have a standardized objective measure to be able to communicate to another PT, other healthcare professionals, how the patient is responding to treatment, as well as to justify your care.

My three big takeaways from clinic that I would like to share are the following:

One, communication, in all forms, is important – from body language to written documentation. Find your own style, but figure out how to be as clear and concise as you can be. Direct what you are saying to your target audience. Don’t just say everything you know. This means you need to be listening to yourself and have the self-awareness to cut yourself off if you are droning or to elaborate/explain more if you are getting a blank stare from your patient. Be diplomatic when you ask questions and always thank people for feedback, positive or negative, as they took time out of their day to help you improve. Basically, all the things we are told about communication in school need to come to life when you have a real patient in front of you. Don’t try to always say things a certain way just because that way is what works for someone else. Own what you say and how you say it, so that you are able to adapt it to your patient. Become comfortable with it so that you don’t have to think as much about what you are saying in the moment. It’s okay to be a little “structured” in the beginning to make sure you remember to say everything or ask all the questions, but make sure it is in a way that makes sense to you.

Number two, be nice to everyone. This is a big one – from fellow therapists, to different personnel of the clinic, to patients and to their families — everyone. A smile, a hello and an introduction go a long way. Everyone deserves this kindness, regardless of whether or not you will see them again, or of how they treat you back. This seems obvious but it is easy to forget this when you are trying to provide the best technical care you can or make sure you have taken the best history you can, or are rushing from one patient to another to stay on top of your schedule. Remember, patients are putting up with you learning as a student in a time when they are vulnerable, clinicians are giving their time and wisdom to help you improve, and so many other exchanges are occurring. This does not mean you are Pollyanna all the time, but just acknowledge people with kindness and you never know how you may affect them.

The last one is figure out how to make corrections early. Be proactive and don’t take a “wait and see” attitude. This is where I went wrong with school, and what I knew I did not have the luxury of doing at clinic due to limited time. In my experience, my clinical instructors (CI’s) were always very positive with their feedback and I felt they were holding back. My first week I was actively asking for corrections, telling them what I thought needed to improve, asking their opinion and always thanking them for corrections. After the first week, when my CI’s and I were reviewing how things were going, I told them that I thought they were holding back with constructive criticism. Some of it comes down to style. My CI is a naturally a positive, polite, and diplomatic person while I am a little more direct, so we had different expectations. While I would always prefer to receive mainly negative feedback, they were not going to do that, so while this was not really resolved, we at least both understood each other and the difference in personalities going forward. So if you are not happy with something because it does not make sense or it conflicts with something else you learned, be proactive. Try to find an answer or a solution that you can live with, which may be as simple as asking a question or looking something up online, or it may require you to adjust your expectations. You are not going to change the system in a day, but simply doing nothing will only frustrate you and leads, at least in my case, to disinterest, which we have all worked too hard to accept.

So now, as I head into the end of this clinical and get ready to go back to school I am happy to report I have regained much of my enthusiasm for school. This is still what I want to do and I still think I will be good at it (eventually anyway).

Post written by Callan Curtis 

Post published by Rachel Troup

Faculty Interview

Lauren Hinrichs

Lauren Hinrichs, PT, DPT, OCS is a lab instructor at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. She assists with the Musculoskeletal track courses, Examination and Evaluation, Foundations of Intervention, and the Sports and Advanced Manipulation electives. In addition, Lauren works as a clinician at Cascade Sports Injury Prevention and Physical Therapy in Arvada, CO.

Where are you from?

I am from Belleville, IL, which is a suburb of St. Louis.

Where did you go to undergrad and Physical Therapy School?

I went to the University of Miami Ohio for undergrad and studied Exercise Science and Athletic Training while taking the prerequisites for pre-med/physical therapy. I received my Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from Northwestern in Chicago, IL.

What are your hobbies?

I enjoy hiking/snowshoeing, endurance sports and CrossFit. I try to do a race or two per season. In addition, I love to cook and bake whenever I can, which everyone knows about at Cascade. Most recently I started to blog for Cascade Physical Therapy.

Favorite places to eat in Denver?

Stoic & Genuine
Euclid Hall

Favorite book/blog?

Right now, I really enjoy reading Dean Summerset’s blog: I also visit Barbell Physio a lot to get information on exercise prescription. I can use a lot of this information for all types of patients.

What made you interested in physical therapy?

When I first started undergrad I was debating between exercise science or actuarial science. I ended up deciding on exercise science and athletic training. While working for the school’s football team as an athletic training student I had the opportunity to shadow the team’s physical therapist. Having never experienced PT before, this shadowing experience showed me that I wanted to pursue physical therapy.

What was your first job after graduating from PT school?

Right after school I wanted to move out to Colorado. I found a job at Northern Colorado Rehabilitation Hospital in Loveland, CO where I worked both in and outpatient rehab as well as long-term acute care. Northwestern has a strong neuro track, which helped me feel comfortable working with this population. I really enjoyed the job. Already having an athletic training background I had the opportunity to expand my knowledge and work in a setting I hadn’t really done before.

Most students know that you were one of the first physical therapists to work at Cascade. What led you to work there?

I loved working in inpatient, but realized outpatient orthopedic was where I truly felt at home. At the time, I was living in Denver, and after a long time searching I finally found a private practice clinic in Denver. This is where I met Justin. Justin was doing a lot of on field soccer tournament coverage and sport injury prevention programs. With his schedule growing more and more busy, he asked me to assist with weekend coverage. After doing this awhile, an opportunity arose to lease the perfect clinic space, and he invited me to work for him. I began by working part time at both clinics and eventually became full time at Cascade.

What are some of the benefits and hardships of working in a private practice clinic?

To start, I love having the scheduling flexibility, which allows me to work as a lab assistant here at CU. I also have total autonomy to treat based on my knowledge and prior experiences. Some clinics, unfortunately, do not value autonomy and employees are told how to treat. A hard part of private practice is marketing and getting people in the door. However, marketing has been good for me to learn and the community has hopefully benefited through the education and injury prevention seminars we provide.

When did you start assisting at CU?

I have been helping out at CU for 4 years. Every year the opportunities and responsibilities have increased. I first started helping out for the musculoskeletal course lab content, and have since assisted with exam and eval, the sports and manipulation electives, and most recently foundations of intervention. I also have the privilege to assist with the CAPE experience. All of these opportunities have been wonderful experiences, and I have enjoyed helping out at all of them.

What should students look for in a PT program when applying?

Look into the research that is being published and it will give you an understanding of the strengths of the program.

What is some advice you would give new grad physical therapists?

Look for how the clinic facilitates growth. Don’t just look at critical thinking and skills, but also leadership growth and mentorship. At the first private practice I worked at, we had monthly in-service or journal clubs. People were using this time to learn new things and critically think through new ideas. I would also recommend spending a day in the clinic so that you can get a sense of the culture of the clinic.

Do you recommend new grads doing continuing education/residency right after graduating?

I think it’s important to reflect on who you are as a learner. For me, I waited two years to do a residency. In school we get into this mode of feed me information; tell me what to do and I will internalize it and try to make it my own. But I think that until you are in clinic and making decisions on your own and seeing the consequences of those decisions, whether good or bad, it’s hard to say you have internalized the info and understand your potential.

I believe you students know so much more than you think you know if you ask yourself the right questions. So, in regards to devoting time and money to a residency, I would recommend waiting in order to self reflect and understand what you need to grow in. If you jump from one educational setting to the next you may find yourself leaning on others to give you the information vs going out and seeking the information yourself and taking ownership of what you learn.

Having two years of clinical experience gave a deeper richness to the residency. I was able to attend journal clubs and have deeper conversations based on real experience. It made it much more meaningful.

If anyone is interested in doing a residency make sure you are doing it for the right reasons. That’s the most important thing. Taking a few years off won’t cause you to lose the student mentality. You have motivation behind your decision.

Where did you go for your residency?

A few years after graduating from PT school I completed an Ortho residency through Temple University. It was their second year of being accredited, and was still small. This was a remote residency allowing me to work full time in Denver while attending 6 weekend courses. Paul Mintken was actually my mentor through personal relationships at Temple. I became an OCS in 2013.

What do you believe differentiates a good therapist from a great therapist?

Ultimately, constant curiosity. In addition, being able to think outside the box and see each patient as an individual instead of falling into a standard protocol. Treat the person wholistically and view every patient as an outlier.

Additionally, if you are working with a special population, it’s important to know the sport and knowing what they can and cannot do because they are going to respect you for it. I try to educate myself on the language and nomenclature of the sport in order to better help my patients.

Where do you see PT going in the future?

The students graduating are really skilled, but if you ask a 1-3rd year on how to progress a person through an exercise they look at you like you are speaking a foreign language. I believe we need to take back ownership of being exercise specialists. I think other professions are doing a better job at exercise selection. Blogs I follow are more gym and sports related to get exercise prescription knowledge, but this can be applied to all areas of PT. We’ve taken exercise out of PT because it is hard to study and treat and is very individualized. Right now there’s not a lot of research out there on exercise in the PT world. A lot is very general exercise knowledge.

Interview done by Elysse Marcuccella and David Treichler

Student Post

5 Things I learned In My First Clinical Experience

David Treichler, SPT Class of 2017
Hometown: Minneapolis, MN
Undergrad: Iowa State University

Congratulations! You have made it through your first year of coursework. You’ve learned how to measure with a goniometer, complete a basic lower quarter screen, and how to properly perform a PASSIVE straight leg raise (not active, as I was corrected during a practical).

With all this newfound knowledge, you are now headed off to your first clinical! As you prepare for your first day you may be feeling a whirlwind of emotions: excitement to work with patients, curiosity on how you will handle the daily patient workload, and maybe a bit of nervousness to prove to your clinical instructor, professors, and yourself that you didn’t just forget everything from the first year of classes. So, to help prepare you for your first day here are 5 things I learned after completing my first clinical.

1.  Do not expect to know everything

This is something most students burden themselves with, especially in the first clinical. We have spent the better part of the first year of school soaking up information from our professors, much of the time in sheer awe of the knowledge they have concerning physical therapy. Remember this: our clinical instructors and professors have spent years honing their craft, learning and growing in their knowledge of PT. They have seen thousands of patients but still experience times of uncertainty. Strive to learn as much as you can, but know PT school is just the beginning of a lifetime of learning.

2.  PT needs to be fun for kids

Physical therapy can be a scary place for kids. They are at your clinic most likely due to some sort of injury or post-surgery treatment. They are worried about being able to get back to their previous level of function. Make therapy fun. Kids are active, so keep them interested during the treatment session. Make games that help achieve therapy goals. I was able to watch my CI create innovative ways to help children perform exercises in a way that was fun. Use your imagination to maximize the child’s ability to recover.

3.  If you give 10 home exercises, your patients will pretty much only adhere to icing

Patients do not want to go to therapy to be given a grocery list of home exercise programs to be performed twice a day, every day. Remember, in addition to going to therapy, your patients have jobs, kids, activities, errands, meetings, etc. Give your patients exercises that will clearly help with any limitation they have and explain to them the need for it. I learned not to give more than 3-4 exercises to a patient. This helped keep them focused and increased their willingness to do their exercises at home.

4.  Strive to be an advocate for physical therapy and prove to your patients you can help them

I can remember a few patients coming back from their initial evaluation appointment with a look of amazement on their face as they explained, “I left the last appointment thinking physical therapy will never work, and you know what, I was wrong! I did the home exercises and they have actually helped!” Patients often come to physical therapy as a final resort because everything they have tried before has failed. Others are there because their doctor told them to go. It is our job to advocate for the physical therapy profession and prove to our patients the value in our work. Strive to positively impact every patient that comes through the door. Create patient buy-in the very first visit so they have proof to know we can help.

5.  Relax

Remember, this is your first real experience with patients while in school. Your professors and clinical instructors believe in you. They want you to succeed. Work hard, trust yourself, take a deep breath, and enjoy your experience.

Student Interview

Running the Boston Marathon While Tackling PT School

It’s not just a marathon. For many distance runners, it is THE marathon. It’s Boston. 26.2 miles. A timely and tiring training regime is involved in preparing for race day, which is held on Patriot’s day, the third Monday of April. This is the oldest annual marathon in the world. For many years this race has been the stage for many running pioneers.  Kirsten and Michelle are two brave classmates of ours who decided to take on the feat of tackling the Boston Marathon all while attending physical therapy school full time. I got to ask Kirsten and Michelle some questions about their running career, training experience and found out some fun facts about each of them before they flew out for race day. Check it out below if you wish!

Background/history of your running career

Kirsten – When I was a wee little tyke, I enjoyed our fitness sessions at the end of soccer practice… Yes, I was that kid. So I decided to try out for the cross country team in high school. From there, I continued to run collegiately at the University of San Diego in both cross-country and track. I told myself I would never run a marathon… But here I am running my 5th marathon. I blame my head coach from college who told me that I should try longer distances.

Michelle – I have been running for the last 10 years. I ran cross-country and track in high school and for Trinity University, a small college in San Antonio, TX.

Is this your first time running the Boston Marathon?

Kirsten – No, this will be my 4th time running the Boston Marathon. But it is my classmate Michelle Oberndorf’s first and I am so excited for her! 🙂

Michelle – Yes! I just realized last night that busses drive us 26 miles out of the city and drop us off at the start so that we can run all the way back in. Not too sure where I’m being dropped off, but it should be fine.

What made you decide to run the Boston Marathon while in PT school?

Kirsten – Purely so everyone would ask me this exact question… Just kidding. I blame my lack of judgment on insomnia… Only kidding again. Truthfully, there is something about the Boston Marathon that just makes it worth every 4 AM run or 10 PM workout. The crowd and support of every town and city along the 26.2-mile course is something truly remarkable, which makes all the hard work worth it! Also, I am going for the record of 50 consecutive Boston marathons 😉

Michelle – My friends and I met up to run the Chicago Marathon last year and qualified for Boston 2017 together, so I didn’t want to miss out on having the chance to race with them again!

How do you balance training and PT school together?

Kirsten – It is quite difficult. If you ask any professional runner, serious training for a marathon takes about 4 hours of your day. Not including the 9-10 hours of sleep you need and additional time to intake copious amounts of calories throughout the day. So stating difficult is actually an understatement. I have taken to listening to a lot of lectures through podcasts to get in some studying while on longer runs throughout the week and weekends. I highly recommend “Medical Conditions II” with entertainment by Dan Malone.

There are also many long days where I find myself waking up at 4:15 AM to get in workouts and then end the day with an easy run at 10:30 PM. To balance the social life I typically do destination runs to social and program events. I will also admit that I have run to the CU Anschutz Medical Campus from Englewood, which is a lovely 21-mile jaunt on the High Line Canal Trail.

Needless to say, I think it is more like juggling a 3 ring circus when it comes to training in the midst of PT school, but it is only preparing me for any future chaos life throws at me.

Michelle – There were definitely days that I felt like I didn’t have the time to train, but overall I feel like running balances well with PT school. It’s something that I can do everyday to reduce stress. Also, PT school is a huge priority where we all focus a lot of our time and energy; I really like that running can provide my life with some balance because it gives me other personal goals to work towards!

How has training for Boston been going for you while in clinic and being on campus full time?

Kirsten – This is a tough question for me to answer. I would have to say that training now that I am back in Denver has been a relief… During clinical, working 10 hour days made for some very early mornings or really late nights, either out on the ice and snow or on the treadmills of Fraser Valley Rec Center.

Also, I thought I was being smart by choosing a higher elevation for training during clinical… However, I chose to be in Tabernash, CO where the temperatures would remain at -20 degrees for roughly 3 weeks. When temperatures warmed up to a scorching -10 degrees you better believe you found me out there getting in the miles equipped with: ear warmers, beanie, headlamp, short sleeve shirt, long sleeve shirt, half zip fleece, windbreaker, 2 pairs of tights, tall socks, 2 pairs of gloves, and a skiing gator… Bikini weather in my book!

So being back on campus has given me some better running weather, freed up some time for sleep, and I get to run with The Run Krew again during every lunch: Jenny Whiddon, Paige Williams, Emily Osga, Mark Andersen-Nissen, Jessica Tietjen, Jo Volz, Elodie Kruk, and the infamous Michelle Oberndorf!

Michelle – Getting myself to run after clinic when it was cold and dark took a lot of motivation, so training was easier after returning from clinic because I had classmates to run with!

What do you eat before race day?

Kirsten – Usually I choose the sustainable, high carb, low fat Chick-Fil-A nugget meal with waffle fries and Powerade, but Chick-Fil-A doesn’t exist in Boston and it’s also a Sunday the day before marathon Monday so… I resort to the generic pasta carbo-loading. I will admit that I have had a Boston Marathon tradition Samuel Adams 26.2 beverage at the giant pasta party the night before the race.

Michelle – The day before: whatever I want. Race day: oatmeal.

Any tips or tricks you rely on to motivate you for those longer runs after a long day in class?

Kirsten – Convince someone to go with you! I thankfully have an awesome classmate (Jenna Kaspari) who enjoys pacing me on a bike during a 20-mile run. Or have roommates (Hayley Taylor, Cassie Zahn, Meredith McGuire) who encourage you every day and tell you that you are awesome! Helps to have the support! 🙂

Or make sure you have some afternoon coffee and then you feel like the energizer bunny!

Michelle – Usually I tell everyone I know that I have to do a really long run, because it’s difficult for me to run 20 miles when I’m the only person holding myself accountable. Then I reward myself with chocolate milk, my true motivation.

Mostly I feel lucky to have the opportunity to race in an amazing event with my old teammates, which keeps me motivated.

Do you have any training or race day superstitions?

Kirsten – Doesn’t everyone! I definitely have the lucky race underwear and sports bra like every other female runner. But I also motivate myself on race day morning by writing 2 sayings with a marker on upper extremities. The first is the words “GO TIME!” on my wrist to inspire me to press through the 26.2 miles. The second, I write “For G-PA” on my left arm in honor of my biggest fan who passed suddenly in August of 2013. He was my number one supporter and would call before and after every race since I was freshman in high school. His last phone call to me was a message he left after my first marathon where I qualified for Boston in June 2013. He is the reason I continue to challenge myself at each and every race.

What’s your favorite pump up song before a race?

Kirsten – It’s nearly impossible to choose just one…  But I would have to say “The Fighter” by Gym Class Heroes followed by an inspiring song “Good Life” by OneRepublic.

Michelle – I don’t want to be judged, but Taylor Swift is an important source of many pump up songs.

Written by: Courtney Zwetsch

Student Post

What Makes A Good PT Student: A Personality and A Dream

Matt DeStefano, SPT Class of 2017
Hometown: Glen Head, Long Island, NY
Undergraduate: SUNY Albany
Degree: Psychology

What does it take to get into PT school and become a PT student? Well that would be: good grades, PT experience, worldly experience, letters of recommendation, interest in physical therapy, certainly good interview skills, and other traits akin to what makes a good candidate to any other medical program. Throughout PT school I have been beat down many times by the stress and rigor of medical school, but a common thread is weaved throughout the fabric of my student being: I have continually picked myself up from my lowest places and turned distress into eustress. I want to share with you what I believe MAKES a great PT student.

Getting good grades is great. The feeling of mastering a concept makes you feel like you’re becoming one with the cosmos (OK everyone is different). But here is one lesson I have had to accept: you can’t learn everything! And you certainly won’t remember everything you’ve learned in school. Instead of hopelessly trying to remember every vibration that enters my auditory canal, or every photon that graces my retina with its presence, I have begun to focus most of my attention on the exact things that make me most excited about PT, and the things that are most related to my area of interest (Outpatient Orthopedics – Sports PT). I understand that we are working towards a degree as a PT generalist in order to serve our future patients in a variety of settings. Here is my student life-hack: Instead of trying to remember everything, which is impossible, I focus more intently on the things that make me tick as a PT student. This helps me retain the information way easier, and it also adds to the positive feedback loop of learning through excitement. If you’re stoked on what you’re learning about, it doesn’t really feel like work, and it reminds you why you came to school in the first place. In addition, by focusing on these things that interest you, it helps to add context to your education which is a HUGE bonus, which makes retaining the information a whole lot easier (“Why did Paul Mintken tell me in lecture to put my hands here again?” – Duh, because if you actually put it into the clinical context, you’ll remember that any other hand position simply hurts!)

Another question I ask myself to stay motivated is this: Why did you come to PT school in the first place? For me, I was interested in athletes and sports physical therapy. When I take a step back and remember why I’m excited about PT, and I start filling my time reading and learning about sports-related topics, student life seems to make more sense. I also notice my stress levels decrease. PT school is a daunting road, but when you take the time to focus on things that actually make you smile, you’ll find it’s a whole lot easier to travel down the road and continue learning 🙂

Finally, I wanted to talk about another aspect of my academic career that has allowed me to survive and prosper as a PT student.

School consumes your life. There is no questioning that. Sit in class for eight hours per day, five days per week, read papers on your bus ride home, get home, eat dinner and maybe eat your papers too. There is ALWAYS something to do as a PT student, most of which is self-directed study, and because of this can make a student anxious to always be studying. I want to encourage all of you when you get in this state of anxiety to remember you are not defined as a student, but a complex individual who has many passions. For me, I have a passion to climb.

I’m a climber. I love to climb and I use it as a release from school. It keeps me sharp, clears my head, and keeps me from burning out. As a successful student, it is imperative that you have an activity that you enjoy, UNRELATED to school, that you can turn to a few times per week to unplug and show yourself some love. For me it’s climbing, but for you it might be hiking, mountain biking, or maybe just reading comic books. Whatever it is, make sure you completely disconnect from your student brain, and fully engage in your extracurricular activity. And DO NOT let yourself feel guilty for taking some time off.

I’ll be honest with you, I probably take more time away from schoolwork than most students, but my mental clarity is top notch as a result. There have even been times right before a comprehensive exam or even a final exam when I have dropped my books, grabbed my climbing shoes, and headed for the climbing gym, only to feel very confident in myself leading into the test. And it has paid off every time! You’ll be surprised how beneficial some “you time” can be, especially in those stressful moments of “Oh no I need to cram for this exam!” Put the book down and go have some fun! You deserve it, and your brain will thank you too.

You might be asking, “But where do you find the time?” The answer is that the time is always there, you just have to make it. Because school is so time-consuming, you have to hold yourself accountable by telling yourself, that you will have x, y, and z finished by a certain time or date in order to go play. By doing so, you can then enjoy your activity guilt free, and reap the majority of the benefits. However, sometimes I don’t meet my self-administered deadline, but I still go play. Trust yourself. Your brain needs it, and your body needs it. Go have fun and all is well. Don’t sell yourself short. Throughout my whole academic career in PT school so far, I have promised myself that I would climb at least twice per week, and I have held myself to it with excellent results.

What does this look like? I have a routine to climb in the gym a few times per week or I make plans to go climb outside on the weekends, and take trips to various climbing areas around CO, UT and CA. By making climbing a priority, I’ve become a more efficient student, but if nothing else, I’ve become a much HAPPIER student. I also share my passion for climbing with my girlfriend, so taking time for myself also affords me time with the person I love, adding a double bonus to my extracurricular life. Do what makes you happy and do what you love.

The bottom line to all of this is simple: follow your true interests within the PT curriculum, and make time for yourself to let loose from school and have fun. We are human after all, and it is not healthy (at least for this human) to bury yourself in school work all the time without taking time to get out and play. It’s a delicate balance, but it is possible. You just have to tell yourself it’s possible, and that it’s important, and everything else will fall into place. In school, we are feeding our brains, but don’t forget to feed your mind, body and soul. You’ll thank me later.

Thank you for reading 🙂


Matt DeStefano

Instagram: @basebklyn1 & @theclimbingpt

Where is Matt now? – I wanted to share a little extra information related to my musings above. All of my extracurricular attention to a sport that I love, has really started to pay off. I am currently collaborating with two other students to partake in an independent study elective looking at rock climbing injuries and PT interventions related to climbing. Additionally, I have started to teach some injury prevention classes at local climbing gyms in my area. I am also using my business project assignment to research how I can make a personal dream come true: To become “The Climbing PT”. Before starting school, I worked at a climbing gym in San Diego, and my dream is to return there as the in-house PT. By allowing myself the time to climb during a stressful curriculum, I’ve been able to dream big and put my education in perspective related to my future. I have fostered the energy and the determination to put my education to work for me in setting the foundation for making a dream a reality. PT school is not all about the books. It’s about finding yourself and paving a road that YOU want to travel. Follow your passions and make time to have fun!

Faculty Interview

Robyn Gisbert

Robyn Gisbert, PT, DPT is a core faculty member at University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. She teaches Neuroscience and Psychosocial Aspects of Patient Care and is a lab instructor for the Neuromuscular track courses.


Where are you from? Where did you do your undergraduate education?

I was actually born in Alabama (which most people don’t know), but my family moved to Colorado when I was young. I went to undergrad at the University of Colorado and then went to PT school at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. Paul (Mintken) was in my class – we graduated in 1994 with our master’s degrees. I received my transitional DPT from the University of Colorado as well, which was part of joining faculty here.

What has been added to the DPT curriculum that wasn’t part of the Master’s curriculum?

For one, there are earlier and more robust clinical experiences. Some research and EBP components were added, as well as content related to pharmacology, radiology, leadership skills, and case reporting.

What made you interested in becoming a PT?

During high school I was active in Tae-Kwon–Do and had a knee injury that resulted in tearing my ACL. This led me to physical therapy. Working with the therapist – the teenage girl in me was like “I like her, so I’m going to do what she does.” So that’s how I came to physical therapy – I didn’t really know what PT was until I had my injury.

What was your first job out of school?

My first job was in skilled-nursing/long-term care. I wasn’t there too long, and then my second job was with the University Hospital system in the outpatient clinic. I was fortunate to be there with Sharon Jordan and Jenny Rodriguez and many other CU PT faculty icons! Our motto at that time was Practice What You Teach.

You mentioned in class last semester that you also worked for a Montessori school. Can you tell us more about that and how it fit into your PT schedule?

Yes, my son was one year old when I graduated in 1994. When he was a toddler, I would see patients in the morning, drive to his Montessori school over my lunch hour, and work as a teaching assistant until the end of the day. I was able to get half-off his tuition, which allowed me to spend more time with him. It was so fun. I loved it! Montessori education is child-centered, much like our profession is patient-centered.

What is some advice you would give to new graduates in finding a job?

One of the most important ingredients for first employment is having mentorship. Whether it’s a formal residency, a supervisor, or another team member, those relationships serve us well in the end.

Where do you see PT going in the future?

There are some exciting things happening in rehabilitation-applications of genomics and regenerative medicine research for example. Times are a changing and the role of physical therapy will likely morph with the times. I hope that we continue moving toward a more collaborative form of care while continuing to grow our role as primary care providers.

What was the biggest adjustment for you transitioning from being a PT student to being a practicing clinician?

I had a unique situation being a new mom as I started my career. Having my son invited me to re-evaluate myself and realize that I didn’t have to be perfect and always know the right answer, but instead that I had to understand the concepts, be observant, and listen carefully to be a good clinician. At the time I was just eager to work and have some autonomy in the clinic. We didn’t get as much clinical experience before graduation as students do now.

What recommendations do you have for students (and clinicians) to maintain work-life balance?

Maintaining balance is a nebulous thing. We all say we’re supposed to do it, but what does it look like? It seems we also have to lose the balance to improve the balance too. The practice of reflection and self-assessment can help you identify what blend of activities (including work) are in alignment with your personal values, and what blend gives the most meaning to you life. Finding meaning in your own way will help you find balance.

Any last thoughts or suggestions to students?

Be kind to yourself. It will help you be kind to others.

Favorite Quote: The only journey is the one within. ― Rainer Maria Rilke



Robyn and her son, Nile, circa 1995

Interview done by: Rachel Troup and Victoria Borbas