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Concerned about starting PT school online

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I'm glad you brought this topic up. I share the same concerns with starting school online in the fall (although I have not been accepted to a school yet). If I do get accepted, I honestly do not want to start school online in the fall semester. I am a face to face learner and I feel I need that environment to be successful. Online courses do not provide this same atmosphere and I always struggle with these online courses. I genuinely feel like our education will suffer from this heavily online based learning. At the end of the degree, we only have 3 tries to pass the PCE to practice in Canada, so we don't have much room for failure from online learning deficits. 

It's important to consider that online instruction may continue on into the winter semester or longer... Will this mean that we will have to complete another full semester online without any in-class instruction? When will we get this in person experience? PT is a hands-on profession, so how are we supposed to learn this online? Then what about the clinical components and structure? The clinical structure will likely be compromised, as we may have to perform multiple clinical sequences in a row, instead of spaced out throughout the degree. I know that in-person classes are likely to resume in the winter, but we have to consider this possibility. No one knows when a vaccine could be available - so this could last for a long time.

These are some of the learning deficits that we may encounter from online learning but another huge deficit for me is the lacking social component and the entire experience of PT school. I was looking forward to entering a PT program with a group of hard-working like minded individuals. Sharing a common goal and working together to become a physiotherapist for two years would build many friendships and a strong community between us all. With the online learning in the first semester we are going to miss the most critical period of time to build friendships and relationships with out classmates. Surely we can all meet over zoom, but that is not going to build a true, strong social connection. As everyone knows, PT school is very difficult, and trying to get through this on our own without a strong social network between classmates will make it even harder. 

The ideal situation would be to request a deferral for next year. However, I highly doubt any universities will grant a deferral because of simply COVID-19. If they don't grant a deferral then we are stuck with either accepting a school that will delivering online education for at least the fall semester (maybe longer) or declining an acceptance and applying again next year. Applying is expensive and time consuming and I definitely don't want to go through that process again. ( I know the past two sentences I may have been being slightly unreasonable - I just need to get a rant out there haha).

I worked so hard to get to this point, and I do not want my education (the entire framework of how we are supposed to practice) be compromised from online learning. This could have a detrimental effect on our abilities to practice. I know this seems like a longshot, as likely only one semester will be online, but when you consider the domino effect it may have on the program structure it can be detrimental. 

I know I haven't been accepted to any schools yet, but I still can't help to think about the future lol. 

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As a current PT student I'll share my two cents. I understand why there may be some concerns however the PT curriculum can be very flexible and they will shift learning that can be done through lecture and online modules to the beginning so you are not missing out on in person hands on learning. My school already had a lot of content they were delivering through online modules and interactive online videos that were very effective and well done so I would not worry about the quality of the content being impacted by online learning. On top of this I already know we have discussed returning using a blended model which would have smaller groups going in for hands on and theory being taught online in the fall. In terms of the "hands on" nature of physical therapy yes its very hands on but the whole degree is not in lab, there are many ways they have worked around this as we've been doing online school for roughly 2 months already and its been relatively smooth. If anything as the incoming class you guys have it best, placements will not be impacted and the curriculum will purposely be organized to ensure flexibility where the current students are the ones who will be graduating late and have drastic shifts to the organization of the program.  Personally I would not decline an offer just because of this situation, I don't believe the education will be as impacted much as you think it will and you would regret it if you didn't get in again. In terms of the PCE I wouldn't be worried, the schools livelihood relies on ensuring students are properly prepared to pass these exams and one semester of online learning or blended learning should have very minimal impact on your overall knowledge of physiotherapy. 

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First off, I want to say that all your fears and concerns are completely valid. I too, share many of them. I have always been a pen-and-paper note taker and I hated the online classes we had to do for the last part of the semester. I was also looking forward to becoming part of the PT student community with all the other new students. The lack of predictability and especially the lack any kind of control makes our situation particularly hard. 

However, without sounding too pollyanna-ish I think it is important that we all take some time to consider that there are numerous ways that this could all play out, and they're not all bad. You've both brought up some possible scenarios that you are worried about and I wanted to point out they are just that: possible scenarios. We are all prone to emphasizing the negative and it can be very easy to catastrophize when things are unpredictable and there are major factors at stake (our professional futures!). This is why I think it is important to sometimes force ourselves to consider other scenarios. For example...

1. It is possible that classes will only be online for the fall semester and go back to in-person in the winter. It is also possible that they may even be able to do a blended delivery where classes are online but some of our lab components will be in-person with some added safety protocols. Maybe the school will have provided the profs and students with better resources in order to handle online classes better so the experience won't be so bad as we imagine etc. etc.

2. The social aspect will certainly look different, but that doesn't mean it is ruined forever. Maybe if we get to back to in-person learning in the winter, we'll already have developed a strong bond over all having gone through something difficult and somewhat traumatic. While the weather is nice there is still opportunity to meet people in outdoor spaces and maintain physical distancing. This means we could still meet up in person in small groups and maybe even study together while still being safe.

3. I dont know about your province, but in my province physios are allowed to return to practice with increased safety and hygiene protocols. This makes me think that our clinicals will still go ahead. The schools know we must have that clinical education piece to become competent practitioners so I expect they'll be working very hard with clinical partners to make this happen.

4. If the education we receive is truly subpar, it is possible there may be some adjustments to the PCE. I very much suspect the schools will try their very best to make sure this doesn't happen though, as the above poster stated.

It is very difficult to let go of the expectations you have for PT school, especially since we've all been thinking about this for years. For me its been a bit of grieving process to let go of some of my preconceived notions of how this experience was going to look, but it comes and goes. For myself, I decided that the anxiety that comes along with declining and enduring another application cycle far outweighs my anxiety at starting school in this unknown climate, so I will be staying the course. You may decide the opposite is true for yourself. Either way, just make sure you've truly thought about ALL the ways this could play out, not just the worst case ones before you make your decision. 

If that all sounds like vapid BS then ignore my lengthy post. Those are just some of my perspectives, hopefully they help.

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Thank you both for providing your input! @OntarioPTstudent1996 Thanks for sharing your perspective from a current student. I have to agree with you that the incoming class may have it better than current students. 

@rehabhopeful I appreciate your optimistic outlook compared to my negative outlook :lol: There are plenty of positive ways this could turn out as well. We should hear more about some universities decisions and plans in the upcoming weeks which will help us make a decision. 

I'd love to hear any other prospective or current students thoughts on this matter too! 

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Wow, thank you to everyone above who replied and shared their thoughts! I'm glad to know I'm not alone @FuturePT2020 with our worries. But thank you @OntarioPTstudent1996 and @rehabhopeful for providing your insight and framing the situation through another lens. You're right that by the fall, even if it's online, it will probably be running even smoother than it has been since campus closures began, as instructors and programs have had time to troubleshoot and figure things out (I'm glad to hear it's been going well for you online btw! That's reassuring to know). Thank you for the reassurances regarding PCE passing/failing when the time comes if it appears education has been impacted negatively, they may adjust. And it's a good point that all schools will work hard to make sure we are still ready to be successful on it, no matter what.

I feel better just by sharing my thoughts with you all, so again I really appreciate these comments. I personally do think I will very likely stick to my acceptance and grind it out, whatever ends up actually happening this year. I will have faith that we will all be able to support and learn from each other adequately as learners, despite social distancing. The process of applications has been exhausting the last couple years and I just want to get my foot in the door started towards a career and have the hard work I put in during undergrad pay off (I'm 2 years post-BSc now, and turning 25 in the fall also). I just personally hope we find out more information soon and I'll try to let go of overthinking the worst case scenarios for now. :wacko:

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  • 2 weeks later...

Hey all, looking to bring this thread back now that acceptances are (I believe) all finally out! I'm curious if anyone has reached out to any schools and would be able to provide updates on deferral policies in light of COVID-19. I've emailed Dal and Western over the past week but haven't heard anything back yet, I'm sure they're both swamped with the volume of emails related to acceptance offers being released recently.

I echo a lot of the sentiments mentioned above. Despite all the uncertainties, I'm sure that schools will do excellent work in adapting their curriculums and delivery of material, and that many people will thrive in spite of the changes. The unique challenges this situation presents will also provide a lot of room for growth and relationship building between students who are going to share these experiences together, imo. However for me (and others I'm sure), another piece of the puzzle is varsity athletics. Though nothing has been confirmed at this point, I feel it is unlikely that many, if any, USports sanctioned sports will have the go-ahead to proceed with regular competition come the start of the fall semester. Participation in varsity athletics (at least for me) represents over half a lifetime of hard work to get to where I am, and has provided me with unique opportunities for leadership, personal and professional growth, and community involvement among other things. I'm sure I would still have a wonderful experience studying PT this upcoming year without that outlet, but I know that I wouldn't be getting the full value from my time assuming varsity athletics are cancelled for the upcoming school year (ftr I have two years of USports eligibility left, and am hoping to be able to compete throughout the two years of PT school).

Is anyone else in a similar position, and if so how are you weighing your options? And again, does anyone have any information regarding deferral policies for PT schools at this point?

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I completely understand where everyone is coming from, I have concerns too, and I think that the way in which schools plan to adapt their programs to this pandemic might be a large factor in admissions and deferrals (if allowed). Does anyone have any specific information on how each PT program is planning to adapt?  As PT programs generally have such a strong hands on focus, I worry it might be more difficult to modify their programs, so any specifics people are willing to share might be helpful for those of us looking to make admission decisions over the next few weeks. 

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Just addressing the few comments around "hands on learning" from a current students perspective, yes physio does incorporate hands on learning for manual skills but i would say this falls in the lower half of what you learn in school. So much is based on skills that can and are currently being taught virtually, and again this is just one class at most schools ie "clinical skills" within this class I can tell you, you will learn lots of skills that are not manual skills just some examples are; pain neuroscience, exercise prescription (current idea is tele rehab is here to stay for the PT profession teaching someone exercises over a online medium is something you need to learn), watching movements and picking up any "irregularities", motivational interviewing, graded exposure/ graded activity, lifestyle management strategies I can go on and on. My point is the curriculum has enough content so that if you can't return to modified in person labs in the fall (which I doubt will be the case but depends on the province) you will have material to learn.

Its important to note i have only touched on the clinical skills class as that is what seems to be the most worry, but you learn research (need to do a thesis), rules and regulations of the profession, anatomy ect which can all be taught online easily. Who says one can't fast tract and move ahead in the curriculum for the research material (as an example) and save more hands on skills for lateral in the program? 

Schools will and have adjusted accordingly example: we fast tracked our research projects cause that was easy to do online and will have a more hands on focus when we return to modified in person labs. 

I totally understand peoples views on worrying about online learning but schools will and have adjusted and will continue to do so as Canada moves forward. 

Best of luck to all those starting in the fall! 

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