Preparing for Battle: On the Front Lines of a Certification Exam

Monday, July 20, 2009

Today, Adele gets put to a test.

I've been a practicing physical therapist for eight years, which puts me three years past the average burnout rate. As an incentive, the American Physical Therapy Association offers a reward to older physical therapists in the form of a credentialing examination to become board certified as a clinical specialist. To sit for the exam, you must have a minimum of five years of clinical experience and a strange desire to sit through a seven-hour exam.

For some reason, this seemed like a good idea to me. Good enough that I managed to talk my co-worker Kyla into taking the exam with me.

It took us a few weeks to fill out the 23-page application. It seemed remotely similar to an FBI background check.

I sort of knew why I was taking the exam. But Kyla seemed pretty sane. I couldn't imagine why she let me talk her into it.

We made it through the application. Paid our $1,200 exam fee. And waited to see if we would be approved to sit for the exam.

We both were.

Kyla was surprised we made it through the approval process. After all, at Walter Reed, we haven't rehabbed a torn ACL or rotator cuff in years. Do multi-limb loss and traumatic brain injury really count as standard physical therapy?

We started a somewhat haphazard method of reviewing everything we had learned in and after PT school. We began, randomly, with The Elbow.

I thought I would enjoy studying for the exam, but instead, as the exam date got closer and we were still agonizing over The Elbow, it started to seem less like a good idea and more like a guillotine hanging over our necks.

I never realized how draining my job was until I started taking it home with me every night in the form of detailed notes on various lower extremity fracture patterns and spinal cord injuries.

Kyla wasn't getting much studying done at home either, so we took to carrying our books into the clinic every morning. During the mandatory 7 a.m. staff meeting, the morning military huddle, we'd hide in the back and try to get through a couple of pages.

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