Which is harder: the First year or the Second year? DPT student Michael Hunt shares his experience

Author: Michael Hunt, second year DPT student

The most common question that I am asked by DPT-1 students is whether the first or the second year of PT school is harder. Guess what…. “it depends.” I wanted to share this blog post as a tool for DPT students who are asking this question, want some clarity about how each semester generally flows, and to offer my own advice. All opinions and claims made are 100% original and do not represent those of Campbell University DPT.

During the DPT-1 Spring semester, the main goal of the program is to acclimate students to graduate level classes and expectations. Long gone are the days of pulling all-nighters to cram for an exam! However, this is the semester that you build confidence in yourself as a professional student.

Then the DPT-1 Summer semester hits…. In the words of our former POI and Exercise Physiology professor, the great Dr. Bunn, “the Summer semester is like drinking from a fire hose.” The best you can do during this semester is to “just keep swimming!” I had a difficult time during this semester because balancing Anatomy (a 5 credit hour class) with other intense courses was exhausting. The benefit of this semester is that you come out on the other side a more resilient student, which will be needed for the Fall.

The DPT-1 Fall semester is a similar daily load compared to the Summer semester, but you have 16 weeks instead of 10 weeks. This semester is the first that you begin to incorporate information from all of your previous classes together. It also has the first MSK course in the curriculum! My least favorite course this semester was Pharmacology because I have a hard time memorizing all the names of drugs. Good thing there’s an app for that.

After DPT 800, the DPT-2 Spring semester starts. This semester is chaotic because it’s the first that Dr. Michelle Green starts to melt your brain. If she asks you anything, ANYTHING, the answer is “the trunk.” This is a challenging semester but having a sense of humor will certainly help your chances of not getting bogged down when you are having retrospective realizations that you probably didn’t do anything meaningful during DPT 800. It’s that great?!

The DPT-2 Summer semester is another doozy. It reminded me of the DPT-1 Summer because of the rigorous nature of each course. By this point you have all but accepted defeat, you likely won’t care about grades anymore, the finish line is only a few months away, Dr. Myers has made you question everything you have ever known, and you are still wondering if PT was the right choice for you. Also you’re tired of group work because the neuro group weekly assignments are TOUGH. The good news is that the entire Summer is spent working with real patients in Pediatrics and as a part of the Neurowellness program.

I am currently 4 weeks in to the DPT-2 Fall semester as I’m writing this post. So far, so good, but there was clearly a conversation behind closed doors where all of the faculty members unanimously agreed to answer every question with another question. Similar to the DPT-2 Summer, we have a ton of facetime with patients this semester. Expect to have your mind blown every day in lab watching the simplest, most minute alterations completely change the task that you are asking a patient with neurological dysfunction to perform. This semester is full of projects and group work; make sure you find groups early because the deadlines are very spread out!

So, which is harder? It depends on your abilities as a student to adapt. Every professor has a unique perspective and will approach the same material from a different lens. Consequently, as you learn more terminology and gain a deeper understanding of the human body, the main goal of PT school shifts from performing well on exams to being a critical thinker. You will be asked to consider every professor’s unique perspective while also developing your own. In my opinion, the first year was harder because I’m not great at memorizing large amounts of information without application, and the second year has been easier because I have a learning style that favors discussion, debate, and hands-on activity.