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If I had a dollar for each time I’ve heard the phrase “I could never go back to school after taking time off,” I could probably pay for a semester of school. But while this refrain is common, I don’t actually think it’s valid.
As an applicant I worried that admissions committees would look down upon my status as “second career” since I studied psychology as an undergrad at Cornell and then went into journalism. It was only after one admissions representative told me that my choosing to take chemistry after college could only make me seem more serious, that I realized my path isn’t so unique.
While my first-year DPT class does include many students straight out of college, there are also a few with at least 10 years between them and their college days. Most students, however, fall somewhere in between. Some knew they wanted to attend PT school right off the bat but took time off to work, while others, myself included, quickly left their first careers.
Rather than the stint out of school itself, I think the biggest challenge that accompanies taking time off is that usually the person with a gap before physical therapy school is switching careers. Oftentimes these students are coming from completely different backgrounds.
My classmates include former marketers, teachers and others from an array of fields. While we all took the necessary pre-requisites and worked in physical therapy settings, many of us second-career students didn’t spend four years studying exercise physiology, kinesiology or other classes geared towards future physical therapists. I believe that this, rather than the time I took off, made my first semester slightly extra challenging.
I remember in anatomy lab one day, while studying the hip muscles, a friend who had been pre-physical therapy as an undergrad complained, “Damn, I used to know all these muscle attachments, now I’m going to have to relearn them.” Meanwhile, my own thoughts were more like: “Piriformis? Obturator? I thought only Glut Max was back here.” I imagine that I had to spend a few more hours learning what the muscles were even called, what they did, and where they attached, compared to her having to relearn things she had previously studied.
But while I probably had to put in a few more hours each week studying, the two years off I had were well worth it. I had the opportunity to live abroad in Israel as a journalist and the time away gave me the chance to think deeply about my future.
The period away from school also allowed me contemplate my study habits and adapt some helpful new routines. While the part of me that struggled to memorize the brachial plexus wishes I were a third year student alongside other members of the undergrad class of 2010, I wouldn’t trade the experiences I’ve had since college for anything. I know that when I’ve been a PT for 30 years and another person my age has been one for 32 years, the experience gap will be indistinguishable.