Physical therapy (PT) students who have been there, will tell you that one of the most important ways to stay on track, as you begin PT school, is to get, and stay, organized.
This means organizing all of the resources and information for your courses, including:
- Class lecture notes (PowerPoint slides and your handwritten/typed notes)
- Lab activity materials
- Textbooks and lab manuals
- Handouts from your professors
- Articles and research
- Charts, pictures and graphs
In addition, PT students need to keep track of:
- Health forms, which you’ll need for the beginning of school, and then about two years later for your internships
- Student loan documents
- Transcripts and other academic records
- Continuing education certificates
- American Physical Therapy Association documents and information
On top of that, there are the other kinds of documents and papers that all of us need to keep track of:
- Bills (utility, car, cell phone, etc.)
- Insurance papers (car, health, renters, etc.)
- Lease/mortgage documents
You may already have a system for your bills and other papers; if so, great! You may just need to expand it to include all of your physical therapy school stuff.
In case you need some ideas, here are a few.
Set up your study area
First, make sure you have a dedicated area to keep all of these materials. A quiet area set aside for your stuff, and your studying, will be the foundation for success.
Make sure that area has a desk, and if possible, a file drawer or small file cabinet. You can also use a file box, which has the added benefit of being more portable than a file cabinet. Most of the papers you accumulate can be scanned and stored electronically, but there are originals that you’ll need to keep, like official transcripts. So, having a single file area is important.
Also, get a bookshelf. You will accumulate a ton of books in PT school, and unlike your previous undergraduate experience, you will hang on to those books. You’ll need them to study for the licensure exam, and as a reference when you start to practice.
Scan, copy, rinse, repeat
Next, get a scanner if you don’t already have access to one. I recommend an all-in-one scanner/printer/copier, which you can pick up for under $100.
You’ll need the ability to print things that have to be brought to class, like lab activities and lecture slides. Set yourself up to skip the fight over the school printer five minutes before class starts.
You’ll also appreciate having the ability to make copies in the comfort of your own home. It will allow you to practice multiple times when you make copies of, say, a femur that you are going to draw all of the origins and insertions on. (Learn more about these bone drawings here.)
If you have the ability to scan papers, it will significantly reduce clutter and help keep you from giving up on your organization half way through the semester. Scan handwritten lecture notes, drawings, diagrams and anything else from class. If you are a visual learner, you will accumulate things like hand-drawn pictures of the brachial plexus, sections of the brain, bone markings, and more. Scanning them ensures that they won’t get lost or destroyed. Plus, most scanners have the ability to produce color images, so anything you do in color will be preserved.
Once you scan those documents, you need a place to put them. I highly recommend some type of cloud storage account, like Dropbox or Google Drive, for all of the things you scan.
Life in the clouds
A cloud storage account will stay intact even if your computer crashes. Imagine that you have saved all of your PT school charts, graphs and notes to your computer’s hard drive. Then, one day, your laptop gets stolen, or the machine just crashes. You would have no way of getting that information back. Save it all to the cloud, and all you have to do is sign in to your account and there it is. Forever.
Also, having your stuff in the cloud means you can access it from virtually anywhere and from any device. You can download a Dropbox or Google Drive app to your tablet or phone. This will give you the ability to do things like access clinical information during internships, and have everything organized when you go to study for your licensure exam.
Make a folder in your cloud storage for each course, and put everything in there. I would even keep the syllabus, and scan all of your quizzes and exams if your faculty let you keep them.
Bind it up
In addition to the online folder, it is helpful to have one three-ring binder for every course. Be sure to label the spine of the binder so you can find it easily on your bookshelf. In the binder should be everything you need for the course – the syllabus, lecture notes, lab materials, study materials and handouts.
I am amazed at how many times I went back and referenced my binders, especially in my first year of practice.
Plan it out
The last piece to organize is your schedule. As soon as you can find out the schedule of classes, build a comprehensive schedule around it. Start with at least one to two hours per day of study time that you schedule like an appointment to yourself. Include everything you can on this schedule – workouts, grocery shopping, even laundry and cleaning.
When you get your syllabus, you can further refine it. You’ll see where midterms fall during the semester, and maybe buy some extra groceries the week before so you can minimize your load when you need to study the most.
It really is true that people don’t often plan to fail, but they do fail to plan. Without a plan, things in PT school can very quickly get out of control. But, if you plan ahead, organize and stick to your schedule, you’ll perform better and with much less stress.