Volunteering Versus Couch Time: The Extracurricular Battle
2LT Katie Finn, SPT
The Balancing Act
It’s no surprise to anyone that physical therapy school is challenging, time-consuming, and sometimes mentally draining. The mere thought of trying to put time and energy into extracurricular activities such as a job, volunteer service, and even relationships can induce heart arrhythmias in most students. It seems unfathomable to have a healthy balance . . . is it possible? Although the answer to this will differ from student to student, and it’s important to understand that, mustering up the extra energy to do some volunteering seemed to work out well for me and maybe it can for you, too.
My name is Katie Finn and I am a second-year DPT student at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I also am the student liaison for the Federal Physical Therapy Section (FPTS). My job in the FPTS is to advocate for the student population interested in federal physical therapy and to increase awareness about federal physical therapy jobs, including those in the military, Department of Defense, veteran affairs, and public health service.
I came directly to physical therapy school on an Army active duty education delay after I commissioned as a lieutenant from Reserve Officers Training Corp (ROTC). Translation—the Army let me go for a few years to get my degree, and I will go back on active duty as a physical therapist when I graduate. When I came to physical therapist school as a civilian, with no one to report to, I knew that I was going to miss the military culture and camaraderie that I was used to. So I decided to see what I could do for the Army ROTC program at Temple University. It turned out that with the support of the battalion commander, LTC James Castelli, and his staff, I was able to develop my own volunteer service that greatly benefited both the battalion and me.
During my first year of physical therapist school, I used my knowledge from my exercise science degree and my experience in community wellness to teach classes on nutrition and injury prevention to the cadets in the program. I also was able to serve as a mentor to the female cadets as there were no other female staff members. This year brought something a little more exciting (which comes with the territory of being a second-year student—being a little calmer and having a little more time)!
Through observation and getting to know some of the cadets in the first year, it was evident that they needed more thorough education on safe training practices and nutrition. I decided to offer nonmandatory one-on-one health assessments, which consisted of measuring vital signs and body composition, followed by individualized discussion about nutrition and exercise habits. I would do one-two assessments per week, totaling about three hours of time each and the write-up.
(Side note: Let’s be honest here, if those three hours were not spent volunteering, they would probably be spent on the couch watching the food network or, worse, The Bachelorette. Couch time is important for sanity and it holds a special place in every student’s heart, but we could all spend three hours per week doing something a little more productive!)
Throughout this process, I learned a great deal about the cadets and their physical and emotional struggles with fitness, nutrition, and stress. I also learned a great deal about myself, and I was able to identify my strengths and weaknesses in addressing difficult issues with individuals, which will definitely help me in future clinical situations. The experience proved to be invaluable, and every minute I put into it was worth it.
Making a Lasting Impact
Throughout these assessments, the one thing that I held in the back of my head was, “What if every student was able to do this for 10 people over the course of their education?” As our profession moves closer to the ultimate goal of preventive care, it is extremely important for physical therapists and students, especially, to identify one way that they can impact their community by promoting healthy living to reduce the incidence of chronic diseases, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
This can be as simple as putting together a small presentation on diabetic management at a local community center or as challenging as advocating for physical education classes at the state level. It should be something that you are interested in, something you will enjoy, something that will contribute to your professional development, and most importantly, something that leaves a positive, lasting impression on those you work with. If you have been thinking about doing something like this, allow me to be your final nudge! You will gain so much more than you expend, and your community will thank you.