Health Care Professional Students on the Front Line

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Students entering the field during the pandemic are faced with extreme challenges.

By Stephanie Nielsen, PT, DPT, and Hope Clauhs, SPT

Everyone loves a booming economy. Booms are inevitably followed by slow-downs, recessions, or downright depressions.

When the economy falters, consumers tighten their belts, businesses cut non-essential expenses, and even the government is constrained in hiring. Stephanie, a third-year physical therapy student from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, is only one of thousands of physical therapy students who have personally felt the damage of COVID-19 through worldwide shutdowns. Of course, everyone wants to know which jobs are going to save them from these economic ups and downs. One of the biggest pillars that many physical therapists rely on is the fact that the job entails security and financial stability. When envisioning the possibility of financial hardships, one may feel very secure as a healthcare professional. Physical therapy is an essential part of healthcare, and therefore there is understanding that the need for physical therapists will be there regardless of lack of funding. As a profession we are notoriously humble and resourceful. This often leads to lack of lobbying for ourselves and the necessity of our services.

Stephanie chose a career in physical therapy after seeing how it positively impacted her mother, adding years onto her life. She plans on specializing in pediatric physical therapy upon graduation and hopes to pass the boards in April. She has persevered through three years of difficult PT school, but now is presented with her biggest challenge yet. Stephanie describes her uncertainty of how closures and social distancing will influence privately-owned physical therapy companies.

“We know eventually the same people will still need physical therapy, but the financial hit that companies are taking will likely have an impact on their decision to hire. Companies are making decisions about whether they can afford the employees that they already have, let alone take on the expense of training and adding on new employees. While physical therapists can take solace in knowing that eventually our patients will need our services and our business will come back, I imagine many things will be postponed.”

COVID-19 is affecting the health of people around the world and close to home. This is a stressful time for all. Many feel unsure, uneasy, and unsettled with changed timelines and deviations from original goals and plans. Despite the disruption, Stephanie maintains a routine since COVID-19 in the United States has begun. She keeps to a schedule, especially with studying for boards.

“It can be difficult with everything else going on to get distracted or do nothing at all, but that is a hard hole to come out of.”

To help her succeed, Stephanie offers these tips to students pending graduation:

  • Schedule regular virtual play dates with friends and family for some fun and social interaction.
  • If you are having a hard time studying due to stress, find some good videos to watch instead of having to read. Embrace the interactive learning process. Stephanie recommends PT Final Exam and the PT Hustle that share video learning opportunities to make studying more engaging.
  • Find ways to support your peers as we continue our journey to join the physical therapy profession.
  • Make time for joy and fun, get outside if possible, open the windows, and create art.

We must continue to build each other up, encourage one another, and provide support where needed. APTA’s mission statement calls us to unite, now more than ever, “Building a community that advances the profession of physical therapy to improve the health of society.” 

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Nielsen and Clauhs

Stephanie Nielsen, PT, DPT, is a third-year student at UW-Milwaukee University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She plans on going into pediatric physical therapy when she graduates. She can be reached at snielsen@uwm.edu. Hope Clauhs, SPT, is a student volunteer on the Impact editorial board. She is a third-year student at Neumann University in Aston, Pennsylvania. She can be reached at heclauhs@gmail.com.