One day a year I stop my lecture mid class and don a bathrobe. You read that correctly…a bathrobe. I push that little black-out button on my presentation remote and halt my lecture for the day. I grab my Starbucks Americano, put on my white bathrobe and proceed to sit in the front of the class and tell them a story. It is a story about Joy and it is a story about Judy. It is each of the student’s stories. It is my story…and maybe even yours.
Like many other graduate school programs, time spent in a Doctor of Physical Therapy program is overwhelming and stressful (But there are many positive times too…don’t get me wrong). You spend most of your time in a book, rewriting notes from a previous lecture and/or quizzing your roommate on the ins and outs of the brachial plexus. You are up at odd hours practicing shoulder special tests and sit to stand transfers…you read, you memorize, you analyze, you synthesize. If you’re lucky you sometimes eat and sometimes sleep. (Ok, I may be overdramatizing a bit…but maybe I’m not). Becoming a healthcare professional isn’t easy and it takes a lot of hard work. Not only a lot of hard work, but it takes a connection to your purpose…a connection to your why. You have to have something that will keep you going.
For most of us it is the image of helping someone else. It is the image of impacting another person’s life for the better. We gruel and push to try to reach excellence…not for our own success, but because there is someone else counting on us. You see we have the extreme honor of impacting other people’s life and mobility through our knowledge and interventions. Patients that sit across from us on the plinthe are counting on us to have the knowledge to help them ease their pain, teach them to walk again, guide them to independence. That is a tall order, but we push and we strive while in school for that one patient and for all the patients we will have the opportunity to interact with. We won’t achieve their goals with each and every patient, but we won’t stop trying.
Around this time each year, I begin to see a look on my student’s faces. It is a familiar look because I approached it as well. It is the look of mental exhaustion and confusion. It is a look that communicates the inner worst fear…I can’t do this. It is a look of I don’t even know why I wanted to do this in the first place. The comes a crossroads for all of us and often if we don’t know our “why” or haven’t connected to it lately we see the path towards a completely different outcome as easier, as reprieve. It’s been said that as a fighter pilot is approaching supersonic speed, the pressure on his body is almost unbearable. The moment just before breaking the sound barrier is the worst, but on the other side is the best feeling in the world. PT students hit that feeling of pressure many times throughout their program and I believe having a strong connection to your purpose matters to ease the pressure.
I don the bathrobe to create a powerful moment of remembrance for our students. I break the script of the day to alert the students that something is different about what is going to be said…something important is happening here. I don the bathrobe to tell the story of how a patient with Parkinson’s disease, Judy, has experienced many bouts of physical therapy over the past 20 years, but her interaction with Joy, a first year PT student, was above all the rest. Judy wrote a letter explaining that although Joy had all the right learned skills; manual muscle tests, manual therapy, etc, she also had something that can’t be taught. Joy had the heart and soul of a physical therapist already, she had the ability to make a connection and care for another person in a meaningful way. Joy was able to change Judy’s view of her situation through her caring and relationship. This is why we do what we do…for others. You see Judy represents all the future patients these students will have the privilege of interacting with. Judy is their purpose.
I don the bath robe to remind students of their purpose of their “why.” I do it for Judy.
How do you break the script in your classroom?