Writers Choice Blog Post: Physical Therapy School Year One

I have chosen to use this assignment to reflect on my first year of physical therapy school at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Summer anatomy was a LOT of fun. I was really well prepared, and looking forwards to the class. The gift of learning through dissection is hard to describe and find the words to relate it to people who haven’t experienced it themselves. Anatomy made me think about how med students go through their schooling. Taking one class at a time, focusing on it intensely and going very in depth.

But then fall semester came…A full semester of courses that I’ve had no particular background in. The last time I was taking a semester of new classes was probably 2009. That made me a bit nervous. I may not have liked some of the content, or particular styles of learning for the courses, but I see how each are important to me becoming a physical therapist. It was really odd going into my first Kineseology lab. I had prepared for that lab specifically like I would for old school Chemistry labs. In order to get into the chemistry lab, one had to show their lab notebook with adequate instruction for them to complete the lab, without any other aid. The goal was to know what you’re going to be doing, and just go perform the experiment. I thought that is what our labs would be like. Just going in, having a brief overview/review of the content, and for us to spend the time practicing the measurements, probably being forced to rotate partners, and even a possible skills check. It was the exact opposite. The whole lab is actually taught to the students. While I like learning things on my own, I understand that they want to ensure we learn things their way. I struggled the most with time management. Driving back and forth was and still is obnoxious (though I’m sure with the pandemic traffic would be considerably less). Trying to be efficient with maintaining the house to an acceptable extent, figure out food for each week, and how I was going to study were almost the entire challenge. I can learn, but need time. I need to get my head clear and into a mode to focus on a specific thing, while being able to put out of my mind the 10 million other things I have to do and/or could be doing instead. I would lack more and more sleep throughout the week. And if there was a day off, my body would sleep in. I worked every Saturday as well. It was only a single shift, but it felt like it was taking up my whole day. Often I’d go into work at noon, work until 5, and then I’d eat dinner. The drive to work is 30-40 minutes. I would be up by 10:30 to get ready for work, drive to work, work, eat something, and then drive back home (or drive home and eat). I would be getting home by 6:30. It felt like that was taking up roughly 8 hours of my day, when I could have been sleeping, studying, eating, eating while studying, etc. Finals week was a grind. I just studied and studied, and barely slept. Then when all was done, slept gloriously. It’s so odd it still feels like just yesterday I was sitting in Micro.

Spring semester schedule looked amazing, and it kind of was a great schedule. Fridays were days off, unless going out for a clinical. I definitely feel the back to back days of lectures on Neuro and MSK could have been a Mon/Wed or a Tues/Thurs to have a night to look back at the content taught, and the next night a chance to prepare for the next lecture. Other than that I couldn’t complain. This semester was weird. It just was good and bad staying home during the ongoing pandemic quarantine. I used to be inside a lot, play tons of hours of video games, and not think anything of it. I was like, this should be easy. It was not. I don’t care how much I can do from home, I just felt not physically going to school and being quarantined took something out of me. I had an even harder time sleeping. Besides online zoom lectures and labs, I had no other schedule. And nowhere to really go. No gym. No basketball. Some days I would go outside just to stand in the sun. There were some serious positives though. I will say, not waking up extra early to commute was fairly nice. Not having to prepare food ahead of time, or go buy food on breaks was great. I was very appreciative of being able to continue with school, greatly in part to the whole staffs ability to transition to teaching as much as possible online. They went through multiple contingency plans to get all of our classes to where they are today. I also didn’t have to work since I was furloughed on April 2nd. I felt being at home allowed me to have more time. Though I seemed to fill that time with the same amount of stuff. Say I would normally have 2 hours to study, but now I have 4. Sometimes I think my body just fills the time I’m given with the task. I find I do that A LOT, and with most EVERYTHING. Which is great, for everything but trying to get more done in a day. Slow but purposeful is what I’ll call this. Because I get things done, but in a less rushed way. When finals came, I found I still did the same thing: studied for hours on end, and sleeping less and less. I overslept my alarm by an hour on the day of the last exam. My body was starting to give out, thankfully my mind was with it just enough to get through. I’ll get better with that for sure, but I also like the struggle/challenge of those weeks.

I really hope to go back to school this fall. I know it might be safer to have most university lecture classes hosted online. I think it would be smart for all universities to try their best to keep online offerings. Labs are the only thing I want to be able to be in person for. From what I understand, we get into more of that this coming year. I don’t mind if we have a strange convoluted schedule, time consuming protocols to help with safety, and/or online lecture/in-person labs, I would would be grateful to just continue. Who knows how things will progress. Fall may see a resurgence of COVID-19 on top of the flu. We will all just keep doing the best we can with what we’re allowed to do; in the end, we’ll get there.


The Human Pain Experience

This is one of the few more painful things I have thought about over the years. I’m sure it would be rated pretty high on the VAS pain scale. Seriously, its bound to be excruciatingly painful. That wooden spike has to be hammered up into you enough to where you can be ‘posted’ upright upon it.

Imagine the start of the spike being lined up just before someone uses a mallet to start pushing it through you (a real pain in the perineum). Slowly and painfully, inch by inch, the gravity of the world brings you down to your death. Leading up to and the start of the spike going into you is the beginning of the human pain experience…your death being the end of that pain experience.

Imagine this being you living through a pain experience; with one caveat: after the ‘death’ of your pain experience….you as a person do not die, and continue on. You have full remembrance of what you just went through. We all have our own spikes that ‘impale’ us. Sometimes when we look back, we realize that huge wooden spike that when experienced, you wished nothing but for it to end, was just a splinter stuck in your finger.

There are sometimes physical identifiers of pain. Like the giant wooden spike going through you (yet somehow not managing to kill you, this time), there would be broken bones that healed and scars abound. Some would be superficial and some (like well healed broken bones) can be hidden deep within. No matter how much one represses the memory, a part of it remains. Your body should know just enough of it, to hopefully have that never happen again.

Alive or dead, share a splinter or a spike.


Think of one (yourself or one you know) who has been through a pain experience: did they have scars or broken bones? Name one.

Then also remember, that they were someones patient. And each patient we have, will come with their own pain experience whether they show it or not. And we all have been and/or will be someones patient too.


Clinical Education I: Values

I don’t like writing, or reading most anything besides a few specific topics that I randomly enjoy. I tend to want to read technical writings, like some of MIT’s Technology Review articles, or textbooks. My favorite things I have written are my undergraduate engineering lab reports, and a required 15-page paper on a topic of my choosing: nuclear power. Feelings, values, and subjective writings are not my forte. I had to google what a blog post is: ‘a piece of writing or other item of content posted on a blog’ says Oxford dictionary. That being said, this is my first blog post.


For some context, I am making this post as a part of a clinical education course in a doctorate of physical therapy program. The point of this post is to reflect on a document I had to complete that had me ranking values from a list of 21 different values. The following values were listed to be ranked: achievement, aesthetics, altruism, autonomy, creativity, emotional well-being, health, honesty, justice, knowledge, love, loyalty, morality, physical appearance, pleasure, power, recognition, religious faith, skill, wealth, and wisdom. There were 4 steps to complete this exercise: 1 – with each values listed, indicate its degree of importance (not very important, important, very important), 2 – list your 5 least and 5 most important values from this list; 3 – complete the Five-Sort Value Inventory (selecting the most important value out of a list of 5); 4 – use the Five-Sort Value Inventory and the Value Inventory Rating Summary to ‘find’ your top values.


Health, honesty, loyalty, religious faith, and wisdom were my top 5 values from part 2.

Achievement, creativity, emotional well-being, power, and wealth were my bottom 5 values from part 2.


The tallying of points associated with rankings within 21 groups of 5 of the 21 values by using the Value Inventory Rating Summary yielded the following:


Faith: 25, Wisdom: 24, Health: 21, Honesty: 19, Loyalty: 19


The above listed are the top 5 highest ranked values. The top three values being faith, wisdom, and health.


I am not really surprised at any of the above listed values. They seem pretty basic and strait forward as would a lot of the other listed values. These are the results of a point system associated with forced rankings within groups of listed values. A full version of this test would have 20349 questions so that each possible combination could be listed once because there are that many possible combinations of 5 items from a list of 21 (order doesn’t matter and terms cannot repeat; formula is n!/[k!(n-k)!] where n is 21 and k is 5). I think love, knowledge, and skill are other values that should have been ranked about as high as honesty and loyalty were ranked. I have no idea if there are any values that I could think of that weren’t listed. Before this exercise I might have had to google a list of values if someone had asked me to list 21 of them. A time I think of when possibly having to go against a value is when lying to someone to be kind to them. It can be awkward being brutally honest in certain situations. It is just a judgement call. I’m not sure of whether or not someone’s values not being the exact same as mine would impact me. On the contralateral-hand let’s say they would…my patient is a customer. At first thoughts, the general idea is that the customer is right. If it came up in conversation, this would be one of those ideal times to lie and just agree with the patient. On the rare occasion, if they are a respectable human being, agreeing to disagree about something is probably optimal.


Professional Bio

Walter Buffkin is finishing his first year of the Doctorate of Physical Therapy program at Virginia Commonwealth University. He started on a path to become a physical therapist when he received extensive physical treatment for his shoulder while trying to clear MEPS on his way to become a naval officer. This lead Walter to go back to school to complete required courses and gain admission to a physical therapy program. Walter has a passion for staying active by training for and playing intramural basketball, and enjoys playing computer games with friends.