Should Physical Therapy School Curriculum Include Strength and Conditioning?

Should Physical Therapy School Curriculum Include Strength and Conditioning?

As I finish my last few weeks of didactic course work for Physical Therapy School, while simultaneously studying for my practice NPTE board exam, I am blown away by how much I have learned.  Topics ranging from Acute care to advanced sports, pediatrics to geriatrics, Integumentary to Cardiovascular Pulmonary and everything in between.  However, there has been one glaring hole in my educational experience; that being Strength and Conditioning.  I have had to try to fill this knowledge gap through other avenues.

Although we claim ourselves as “The Movement” and “Prescribers of Exercise” experts; when I think about the best movement and exercise prescribers, most are not Physical Therapist but instead individuals in the Strength and Conditioning world.  The Sad truth in Physical Therapy, more often than not Physical Therepist are still under loading our patients using 3 sets of 10 and therabands for every exercise.

"But we are Doctors?"

Yes and we should be proud of that!  But we need to leave our letters and egos at the door.  We need to understand that compared to other professions we are uniquely qualified to help highly complex patients, due to the depth and bredth of our education.  However, as a profession we are dropping the ball in terms of being the “movement” and exercise prescription expert.

How Can We Improve As A Profession?

In my opinion, I feel the curriculum at each and every Physical Therapy School should include an entire course on Strength and Conditioning.  I understand many will point out that this may be linked to my orthopedic and sports bias.  However, I would argue that learning the science behind strength and conditioning and evidence based loading principles would be beneficial for every population to drive meaningful adaptation.  Not only will this be meaningful learning to better us as clinicians, but if the school prepared you for the CSCS exam, it would set you up to have a marketable certification that is widely respected not, not just in strength and conditioning but throughout the entire healthcare field.

Expand the Reach of Physical Therapy

As i talked about a few weeks ago in my blog “Does Physical Therapy Have An Impending Unemployment Crisis? ” The Physical Therapy profession, will not offer the job security it has in the past. Instead, more and more programs are being created, current programs are expanding and the job opportunities are growing at a slower rate.  This will  leave about 10% of Physical Therapist unemployed in 10 years. In the article mentioned above, I discussed possible solutions to this dooming problem.  One of which, was expanding our reach as a profession to play larger roles in other sections of health care.  One of which would be serving as primary care doctors in Emergency Rooms and taking the lead on all Musculoskeletal injuries.  However, I believe taking a larger role in “personal training” “wellness coaching” and Strength and Conditioning are other areas in which our profession may be able to expand and maximize our influence.  Another benefit of including Strength and Conditioning coure is that it will prepare students for their CSCS and give students a strong foundation to lead in these areas.

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Feature Friday with University of Lynchburg DPT Class President, Davis Tarkenton:

“You have to work hard in the dark to shine in the light”.

Kobe Bryant

This is a quote that I know Davis lives by. Having the opportunity to be roommates with Davis during my Junior year of Undergrad, gave me a life long friend and someone that i know will always be my hype man. Proof of this was during this interview I wanted to mess with him and asked him “Whats the best and worst part of living with me?”. Instead of getting on me about how messy or loud I was, his response was…”Not entirely sure how to answer this, but on a friendship standpoint, living with Tommy is full of knowledge and inspiration, and has always been a close friend of mine. The worst part? It would have to be not inviting me on that cruise where he participated in a belly-flop contest…”

Quick look at that Belly Flop Contest

Professionally I have never been more proud and excited to see where someone will take their career. Davis worked relentlessly throughout undergrad to achieve his goal of becoming a Physical Therapist. One time I asked what drove him; his response blew me away. “Every time I was either a patient or working as an aide, being in a physical therapy atmosphere felt natural, expressing my joys and curiosity. Being able to connect with individuals of all ages and backgrounds, is nothing short of a blessing to help get them on their “hands and feet” again.” Since Undergrad, I have enjoyed seeing Davis’s growth, as he is now at University of Lynchburg and became the class of 2023 President. As president, Davis represents his cohort, attends biweekly faculty meetings, hear out members of his cohort with questions and concerns for classes, distribute information from faculty to his cohort, and meet with other elected council members to discuss updates and ideas.

Applying to Physical Therapy School:

What were you looking for when you were applying to PT school? What made you decide on attending Lynchburg’s DPT program?

What I was looking for in a PT program was faculty and students that displayed an unconditional care and desire to cooperate and succeed. The University of Lynchburg was actually my first school I looked at all the way back in high school to pursue their DPT program! Once I was filling out my application for PT schools, my top choice was always Lynchburg, because it was a part of my beginning of physical therapy graduate school pursuit.

What was the biggest struggle of the process of getting into PT school?

One of the biggest struggles of getting into PT school in regards to the application process would be making sure all of your information is transferred in its entirety, including all of the required classes. Sometimes, this process can be tricky, so don’t hesitate to reach out to PTCAS, they help a lot! For undergrad, the biggest struggle for me was the uphill battle to get excellent grades in my sciences, since my freshman year was not the “hottest” start.

What was the weirdest question you got during your Physical Therapy interviews?

From my physical therapy interviews, I never felt a specific question was “odd” or “weird”. When I participated in my first group interview, it was a scene I never expected. The people I was grouped with had been working full-time jobs, out of college, and were able to tell numerous stories of their work experiences and successes. Me, being fresh out of college, didn’t have near the amount of hours (more like days, weeks and months) that these individuals possessed, and it left me feeling on a lower tier due to my circumstances of coming straight out of college.

What is your biggest piece of advice for someone who is currently going through the Interview process?

My biggest piece of advice I have for those going through interviews would be to visit the school(s) you want to attend! A few points here:

  1. Gives you an idea of the surrounding area
  2. Provides insight on current students, faculty, and the building
  3. Meeting with admissions coordinator, to indicate you show a real interest in their program
  4. The eye test becomes real, not virtual

Transitioning to a Doctorate Program During a Global Pandemic:

How has the transition to PT school been during a global pandemic?

The transition to PT school during this pandemic has been full of surprises to say the least. Thankfully, my program worked together with us as students and ensured we received the information and were open after class to answer questions and concerns. At the end of the day, my cohort and I were all on the same mission of following the guidelines to keep our program open during these unprecedented times.

What have been the biggest challenges of this modified learning environment?

The biggest challenges of this modified learning environment would have to be limited in-person time. Due to this pandemic, it makes interacting with your peers and faculty more difficult. On the bright side, I’m grateful for technology to have video cameras and audio.

What made you decide to get involved as Class President?

I would say throughout my undergrad years, I was pressed for time, spending most of my days in the library. I didn’t want to take on a variety of positions that might result in me losing focus. During my last few weeks of undergrad, I realized that I was ready for the next big chapter in my life, and I had a feeling it was going to be another incredible journey. As I met my PT peers and faculty, my passion was overflowing, and I was intent on taking a role to further fuel my desire to take action. It is a true blessing to represent my cohort, and I can’t thank them enough for entrusting me with this opportunity.

How do you typically study?

I tend to first seek to understand the material by myself, writing questions and jotting down points I can relay to my professors and/or classmates. Once I attain a good base on the subject, I group up with some classmates to dissect (no pun intended!) the information. Most of the time, my studying hours are after my afternoon workouts!

Davis’s Views on The Physical Therapy Profession:

How do you view yourself as a physical therapist in the future?

I view myself as a dedicated professional who will make lifelong relationships with patients, colleagues, and other health workers, in order to promote excellence and passion for the profession. Wherever I am, I will bring an energetic and optimistic spirit, as well as seeking to understand my patients perspective before I jump to conclusions.

How do you think as a physical therapy student, we can help generate positive change in our community, and profession?

I think we as students are catalysts towards positive change in our communities and profession. I strongly believe that if we populate and educate social media platforms, continue to host events for communities, place an emphasis on the value of forming relationships, we can generate a vastly positive change among various communities and our own profession.

How do you think physical therapy can improve?

As a first year student, I am still learning more and more about the field. From what I have perceived, two big points stuck to me:

  1. Better communication (i.e. patient feedback and team reporting) leads to better results
  2. Time management/efficiency with patients

What do you view as the biggest problem in physical therapy?

The biggest problem I have viewed in physical therapy is the limited time with patients. From my experiences, both on a patient and “therapist” side, I can see how it can be frustrating to only get 10-15 minutes with your therapist, then they move to the next person. I can see the stress that builds in a therapist having to juggle multiple patients within a frame of an hour. This all leads to unhappy patients, and overworked therapists.

Where do you see the physical therapy profession heading in the future?

I envision the profession of physical therapy to continue to expand and be a significant part of every recovery process. The profession is in a period of transition towards direct access, which will attract more individuals into our practices without referrals from a physician. With more states passing laws for direct access, physical therapy will boom across the country, as more private practices are established. As upcoming physical therapists, we will continue to utilize our skills from hours of experience, and collaborate with current physical therapists to create new methods and strategies for new injuries, and refining techniques of common injuries.

Fun Facts:

“I hitched a ride on a runaway donkey to the top of Santorini, Greece”

-Davis Tarkenton

Favorite muscle in the body? 

Serratus Anterior: Reminds me of the fancy Adidas logo!

How do you decompress after a hard day of class? 

When you have hard days, always give yourself a pat on the back. Most of the time, I treat myself to some movie theater popcorn and some soccer (Go Spurs!). Working out has also been a great way to ease my stress, and transform that “stressful” energy into that good soreness of achievement.

Favorite exercise?

Shoulder Pulleys! This comes from personal experience with terrible shoulders, it is incredibly relieving.

Favorite health/physical therapy Instagram accounts?

Who was your most memorable patient you have ever had?

My most memorable patient I’ve ever had was when I was shadowing my physical therapist, who worked with me when I fractured my humerus (among other complications). On the first day, a teenager the same age as me came in with injuries almost identical to mine. He looked nervous, afraid, and could only muster a few words. His mother, who was in need of more tissues for her eyes, gazed at my arm. She began to ask what happened, and afterward, she wiped her tears and smiled at me and said “you are just what my son needs, he went through the same ordeal, and I’m beyond thankful for you”. When I sat next to the boy, I showed him my scars, and he looked at me and said “we can do this, together”. A very powerful moment for me, because I knew that feeling, and I could relate to his mother’s emotions, since my mom was the same way!