Full Interview with Danielle Cooper

Background:

Cooper:I went to Bradley as an undergrad. I started here in 2006 and I did summer classes along with college credits I earned in HS I graduated with a bachelors in health science in 2009, and started the program that summer. I will graduate from the DPT program this coming May, 2012. I am excited that this is my last classroom semester. It’s kind of nice.

Clinicals:

Cooper:I have 2 clinicals back to back coming up. I have completed 3 clinicals so far. Two of them have been outpatient orthopedics, and the third one was in acute care. I think I would like to get a pediatric clinical and something with a little more of a neurological emphasis for the last two.

Eller: What challenges have the clinicals posed for you?

Cooper:The clinicals are easier than the class work. I mean there are times when there has been a difficult patient and I feel like I need to come home and study more or read about their diagnosis, and plan more for their treatment, but even so that’s getting a little easier now that I’ve worked along in the curriculum. It’s always a challenge getting used to a new environment. Every place does things a little bit differently, so there are differences in like basic documentation styles between places. Sometimes it’s written, but most of it is done electronically. Trying to find my way around some of the bigger hospitals and clinics is always a little difficult that first day.

Eller: You said that the class work feels more difficult. What’s your class load like?

Cooper: I have class 3 days a week, MWF. But, it’s kind of a wrap up of the last two years, trying to put all the processes we learned together and put them into practice. The hardest one is probably differential diagnosis. There always feels like there’s something that could use more study.

Eller: What’s differential diagnosis?

Cooper:When the patient comes in, sometimes the symptoms don’t always match up with what the doctor has written down. I mean, we can’t really diagnose medically, but we need to be able recognize signs and symptoms that might not match up so we can communicate that to the doctor. The way the profession is moving now things are set up so that you have to have some kind of physician referral before you can get treated, but it’s moving toward a situation where we would be more like primary contact providers, where the patient will come into our clinic and not have to go see their physician first. That’s really what this course is preparing us for.

Eller: Most people see their doctor maybe once or twice a year, but you could easily end up seeing your physical therapist several times a week… right?

Cooper:Yeah, we get to know our patients really well. That’s kind of one thing that I really like about this. I mean, I’ve always liked healthcare, but getting to know your patients and spending more time with them is what really drew me to physical therapy.

Eller: So what about the DPT program specifically at Bradley. Was it because you did your undergrad here, or was there something else that drew you to it?

Cooper:I think one of the major factors for me was that I did my undergrad here and I felt comfortable. I really like all the professors, and I knew them really well. I kind of came to Bradley as an undergrad more or less expecting that I would just stay here. I like the smaller class size. That was important to me, you know, I went to a small high school and a small grade school, so I felt like I might get kind of overwhelmed in a bigger atmosphere. It’s close enough to home, which is Springfield, so I could go home if I needed to, but also far enough that I could live here, at least until May.

Eller: What are you doing after May?

Cooper:I’ll get a little bit of a break between the time I graduate and take my state board exam. This will be the first year that you can only take it on five dates throughout the year. So I will probably aim for the testing date that’s on either the first of July or the 31st of July, and then I’ll probably be working at that time. So once I get the letter that says I’m approved to take my test, I’ll start working as an assistant to a physical therapist. Then once I pass my test, I can start working full time. So, by this time next year, I should be making the big bucks [laughs].

Eller: The exam itself, what’s that like?

Cooper:It’s a 4 hour examination on the computer, multiple choice, and it basically covers everything you’ve learned in three years of graduate school. The questions are also not just basic recall questions. They’re really looking to see if you can apply that knowledge, you know… questions about treatments of patients and examination of patients – evaluation, prognosis, diagnosis, pretty much anything is fair game. I mean, they all have to come from some textbook somewhere, but there’s a lot application involved.

Eller: What’s been your biggest challenge in this program as a whole?

Cooper:Finding that balance of work and personal life. I got used to taking it a little easy [the last semester of undergrad] and then I hit that first summer and fall semester of being in class so much. And then, a lot of these skills that we’re trying to learn… trying to find time to practice them, and trying to find time to study, and then also trying to have fun and take some time out. That was hard at first. But now that I’m here and getting close to the end, it’s gotten easier.

Eller: To that end… Any advice for future entrants into the program?

Cooper:Hmm… advice… let’s see what I can come up with. Don’t be scared, you’ll make it [laughs]. Those first practical exams are scary. That’s one thing. They’re hands on skills. Showing your professors that you can perform the skills you need to. So that was a lot of stress for me and some of the others, but we all got through it, and you just take a deep breath and keep going.

Eller: Okay, every physical therapist I know has a story, like a story about a place they’ve worked or a patient, or some crazy thing they never thought they’d run into, so what’s your story?

Cooper:Last summer at my clinical I was working with this patient. He was an older gentleman, and his wife always came with him to the appointments and they were just the cutest couple. Always laughing and they loved to tell me stories about their grand children. He ended up having surgery on his back. He’d had a lot of complications before that and there were a lot of different things going on there, and at first they wouldn’t do surgery for various reasons. So, they finally found someone that would do it, and he understood all of the risks going in and everything, and still decided to do it. When he came out of the surgery he started doing so much better, and it was just great to see. And then at the very end they were both very upset to see me leave at the end of my clinical and they made me this handmade card with the nicest saying in there, and then at the very last appointment his wife looked at me and asked: ‘Can I give you a hug? You’ve been so wonderful’ And you know, it just brings chills, to know you’ve really made a difference in someone’s life, and that you’ve done a good job.

Eller: Is that part of the reason you decided to become a physical therapist?

Cooper:Yeah, I also like teaching people how to make themselves better, and how to prevent things in the future – like if they experience the same types of pain in the future, I can tell them, ‘try this’, you know, kind of help empower the patient to be able to make those life changes and do it on their own.

Eller: So, one last question, what is one crazy thing the world doesn’t know about you?

Cooper:[laughs] Oh my gosh… I once wanted to be an astronaut.

Eller: What changed your mind?

Cooper:I don’t really know [more laughter] I guess I really just wanted to do physical therapy more.

Eller: Is there anything else you would like to add, maybe something I didn’t ask or something you really just think people should know about what you do in the DPT program?

Cooper:It’s just a great program. It’s intense, but great, great people and everything. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who wants to be well prepared for working with patients and really learning how to make a difference in people’s lives.