Thanks for sharing your story, Dr. McDermott!
Brooke McDermott, DPT, is a VT alumna who is currently working as a licensed physical therapist in Roanoke, VA. She graduated from Virginia Tech in 2017 (HNFE major) and attended Radford University to pursue her Doctor of Physical Therapy degree. She recently graduated from PT school in May 2020 and now works in a skilled rehab facility.
1. What led to your interest in Physical Therapy (PT)?
“I knew from a young age that I wanted to go into the health care field because I got to see first hand through my mom’s work as a nurse and various professionals who helped take care of my grandma after her strokes (PT, OT, MD, nurses, SLP, etc.) and had an appreciation for how much positive impact these individuals could have on someone and their family’s lives. I knew going into college that I would pursue a degree in health care, but it wasn’t until I started my shadowing experiences that I chose PT.
I fell in love with physical therapy for many reasons, which are also reasons why I love my job now. I love that as a PT, I am able to spend a great deal of time 1 on 1 with my patients and that helps to tailor treatments to the needs of the individual, not just based on their diagnosis or primary problem. I love that every day is different and that I have to be able to think quickly on my feet to meet the challenges of each new day. I also appreciate that I have the ability to work in a variety of settings throughout my career (outpatient, hospital, skilled rehab, home health, etc.) with a variety of specialty areas (geriatrics, pediatrics, cardio, orthopedic, neuro, etc.)”
2. What did you major in and what inspired you to choose this/these areas of study?
“I was a Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise (HNFE) major at VT and I chose this because I always had a strong passion for not only human anatomy and exercise science, which are what a lot of schools offer as majors, but HNFE also had nutrition courses which I had always been interested in learning more about. Additionally, HNFE had many of the same degree requirements that my pre-requisite classes had for physical therapy school (biology, chemistry, anatomy, physics, etc.)
Of note – Most physical therapy programs do NOT require a specific major. In fact, it can serve to your benefit to have a major in a completely different area because this shows other interests and makes you well-rounded. Most PT programs only require you to have taken pre-requisite courses (see above) and as long as those are fulfilled, you can have had a completely unrelated major.”
3. What activities did you participate in as an undergrad that shaped your preparation for PT school?
“I was active in two groups: College Mentors for Kids and Pre-Physical Therapy Club
Both allowed me to improve leadership skills and manage time more effectively, to interact and network with other students/organizations/programs, and to enhance my application.
College Mentors for Kids is an organization that connects college students with local grade school students and gives the kids an opportunity to learn about higher education and careers, culture and diversity, and community service
Pre-PT club is a student-led group that allows students who are interested in applying to PT schools to connect and learn about different programs, the application process, and how to strengthen applications. I served as the club’s Historian for one year and the Vice President for one year.
I also worked 2 part-time jobs during college, which helped me to manage my time effectively.”
4. Do you feel that you were prepared for PT school interviews? What preparation advice would you give?
“Start by doing a Google search for “PT school interview questions” and “medical school interview questions.” This will give you an idea of general questions you should expect to be able to answer.
Practice answering these questions out loud (alone or with friends to get feedback) – important not to over-prepare or sound rehearsed. Just have a general idea of what you think is most important to say.
The most important advice I would give – don’t be afraid to ask for a moment to gather your thoughts. No matter how much you prepare, there will likely be at least 1-2 questions they will ask that you couldn’t have seen coming (situational, ethical dilemma, etc.). My best advice for this is to say, “that is a good question, would you mind giving me a moment to think about my answer?” – The interviewer will expect this and will appreciate you waiting to give the best response. I did this twice in one interview and once in another interview.
Take a notepad and prior to the interview, write down some key points you want to touch on during your interview (experiences, questions, etc.) that way you can reference your own notes if you get stuck. Also, come prepared with questions for the interviewer as well.”
5. What do you enjoy most about Physical Therapy?
“I enjoy the challenge that comes along with meeting/evaluating every new patient and determining the best plan of care that meets the needs/goals of each individual patient.
I love that no two days are exactly alike. Even if I have the same patients on my schedule two days in a row and have a set plan for treatment options that day, I have to be able to think quickly to re-plan treatment sessions based on how each patient presents that day, and I have to be comfortable deviating from the original plan when plan A doesn’t work out.
Working alongside other health professionals – I am lucky to have a very supportive and experienced team of colleagues to work with every day and bounce ideas off of. I value the ideas and input from the other team members (OT, SLP, nursing staff, etc.)”
6. What was your favorite undergraduate class outside of the PT school prerequisite classes?
“Travel and Tourism Management, Human Sexuality, Abnormal Psychology, Classical Literature, Agricultural Economics”
7. How many schools did you apply to and what criteria or resources did you use to select these schools?
“I applied to 4 programs – Radford, VCU, ODU, and Mary Baldwin.
I applied to these programs because they were in-state and had good licensure pass rates. I was accepted into all 4 programs, however, I ultimately chose Radford to pursue my DPT.
What made the PT school you chose the right fit for you?
As above, I applied to 4 schools that were all in-state and I would have been happy to attend any of them. I toured all of the programs so that I could get a feel for the program’s atmosphere, staff-student relationships, etc. What made Radford my #1 choice was due to its location and small class size allowing for close relationships with staff and students.
8. Did you have to change any of your study habits when you entered PT school?
Yes. The courses I took in undergrad mostly required me to study in order to repeat the information for the exam, which only required memorization for the most part. My study habits had to change in PT school because the exams require a deep understanding of the course material and require you to thoroughly explain the concepts (for written tests) or demonstrate, perform, and verbalize thorough understanding of the material (for practical/competency exams)
Additionally, the material builds upon itself throughout PT school, which means you can’t think of each class individually and compartmentalize the classes. It requires you to continue to recall and demonstrate understanding of concepts that may have been covered in coursework 3 semesters prior in order to be successful throughout the program.”
9. What kind of financial aid did you need to pay for PT school?
“I utilized federal and private loans. The majority of my private loans were used during undergrad because in grad school, FAFSA covers the majority/all of the cost of tuition. I received $3,000 in scholarships and thankfully my family was able to assist me for cost of living/rent during school so I only took out loans for education. I am comfortable sharing my student loan debt – I completed both degrees totaling ~$114,000 in federal loans and ~$32,000 in private loans for a total of ~$146,000 of student loan debt. ”
10. Did you have any fears going into Physical Therapy?
“I felt like I was always afraid of not being successful. Originally when I decided to go to PT school, I was afraid that I wouldn’t get in. Once I got in, I was afraid of failing out of the program and throughout the program I was afraid that I wouldn’t pass my licensure exam in order to actually practice as a physical therapist. What helped me to manage the stress/fear was realizing that I was accepted into the program because my professors believed that I would be successful, that my classmates were feeling the same way, and that the fear of being unsuccessful was actually driving me to work harder and harder to ensure success.”
Dr. McDermott writes: “I have responded to a few of the interview questions, but if you have any additional questions (PT related or otherwise), I would be happy to serve as a resource for you!”