So you want to be a Physiotherapist!….Year 2

So, you have made it through your first year of university and you got some great grades along the way, learnt a lot about human anatomy and physiology and was introduced to some basic physiotherapy concepts in year 1.

I was told by many people, including my head of year 1, that the second year is more ‘full on’, in terms of both detail and quantity, and they weren’t wrong! Although different universities have different syllabuses to teach, what I was told my friends was all the same – you hit the ground running in year 2 and it’s pretty relentless and therefore time management and discipline is incredibly important.

This blog will discuss the experiences of my second year at university and will hopefully address some questions you may have. First things first..

You will feel like quitting.

I wanted to highlight this first because it happens to a large majority of people, and you are not alone in thinking it. I’ll admit, towards the end of my second year I thought about throwing it all in. Not because I hated the degree or my career choice but simply because it felt relentless, and if I wasn’t revising I was on placement, taking exams, looking up topics I wasn’t sure about. And I think, to be honest, even those who didn’t voice the same feelings as me, I’m sure felt it at some point.

This feeling is totally normal so don’t feel ashamed or disheartened as it happens to a large majority of us. On one placement I was speaking to a band 6 musculoskeletal physiotherapist about my second year. He was incredibly talented and very knowledgeable about all aspects of MSK physiotherapy. We were talking about my experiences of my second year to which he replied ‘I felt exactly the same’, to the point where they had their resignation letter written, printed, and ready to go. It then dawned on me that this was something everyone felt at some point.

My advice to you is, if you feel like this, speak to someone. Friends, family, colleagues, lecturers they are all there to help you, and you are certainly not alone.

Keep on top of the workload

As already mentioned the work comes at you pretty thick and fast. At King’s, our second your was heavily focussed around neuroanatomy – some really heavy stuff to try and get your head around and if you didn’t address it quickly, you could find yourself overwhelmed. So, keep on top of your workload and read around topics you don’t particularly understand in order for subjects and topics to click into place.

Placements

While our first year placement was extremely beneficial, it did not count towards our overall grade. In the second year, not only did we have two to complete at the end of the academic year, they now counted towards our mark. I have already written a blog about my placement experiences which can be found here. But do bare in mind that the topics that focus on clinical reason and treatment are now heavily weighted compared to communication and professionalism.

Prior to starting your placement have a read around the area you will be working in as a refresher, and have a look at some evidence / guidelines that you could refer to and discuss with your educator.

Always think about what you are doing and why you are doing it as, although this be one of your first placements, if you can get the hang of examination, differential diagnosis, creating a problem list and think of possible treatment options based on clinical evidence, then you will be well on your way to develop sound clinical reasoning skills.

Biopsychosocial Model

At King’s we were introduced to this from day 1, with lectures every week throughout our first year, and it wasn’t until our first placement we gained an insight that holistic care is so important for us. Yes, there may be a biomedical reason for their admission, but with that they also bring their own thoughts and feelings which can ultimately affect treatment. If we don’t address these issues then our interventions will not make the impact we would want.

Our second year we were introduced to more psychological paradigms that covered the human lifespan, from children to older adults, and how at each stage of our lives were are faced with certain challenges.

Yes, we all like to do the practical side and perform manual therapy techniques but in the clinical word the psychosocial side is vitally important and a thorough understanding of this topic will make you a great clinician.

Exams

Sadly, there is no escaping them! In our second year we had 3 exams and 2 OSCE’s, and it doesn’t matter that we had done them the previous year, or that we had more hands on physio experience under our belt, everyone was still extremely nervous (although some people have the ability to hide it better!).

My advice to you is that they are not trying to trick you out. They are looking for your ability to assess, clinically reason and treat with appropriate manual handling skills and ultimately that you are safe. It’s always a good idea to book practice rooms throughout the 3 years and organise a group of you to run over some practical aspects. Like anything, practice makes perfect!

Try to remain calm, as the more you panic the earlier you start to forget things and then you begin on a horrible downward spiral!

Statistics

Urgh, I hear you say! My thoughts exactly. In our second year we had a statistics module which was honestly very difficult to understand. Most of the work that is carried out is performed on a piece of software called SPSS, but we still had to understand the different tests, when you would use them, how to interpret them, etc.

Although difficult, and I still struggle a little to this day, it really is an important aspect for us as autonomous health care professionals. Why? Because we have to stay up to date regularly with the latest evidence base to ensure what we offer our patients in terms of treatment is evidence based practice. How would you know that a paper that you have read is of high enough quality to implement their intervention into your working practice. By understanding whether or not the paper is at risk of bias, type 1 or type 2 error or whether the randomisation of the groups was blinded or not will allow you to formulate your own conclusion about the quality of the study.

Essays

This links on to the previous point about statistics, as all three essays involved statistics. Two papers were systematic reviews around a particular topic that was given to us, and the third was to actually run a statistical test based on figures collected by the whole group.

If you read my year 1 blog, found here, I discuss that, even though statistics may not play a part in your first year, start reading some systematic / Cochrane reviews to get a feel for how they produced the paper, search criteria’s etc as getting an understanding early on will help you when it comes to actually performing your own systematic review.

Second year is tough, there is absolutely no denying that and it is a real test of character. But I can assure you that not only does it pass you by in the blink of an eye, when you get to it you will really start to feel as though you are on the home stretch as you are about to enter your third and final year.

This will be the focus in my next blog, year 3, where I will talk about my experiences, dissertation work and placement amongst other things, as well as thinking about applying for your first job (!!).

See you next time.

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