In September 2013, I got the happiest news of my life. I had been accepted to the Doctor of Physical Therapy Program at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. It was, by far, the biggest accomplishment of my entire life. In May 2014, I began classes. I was tested, stressed beyond belief, and hit with the reality check that I just might not be able to do this. After summer classes, I was put on “academic probation”, which simply means I didn’t have the minimum 3.0 GPA required to continue in the program. I couldn’t believe myself; I had never received less than a “B” on anything in my entire life until this point. After midterms of fall semester, it was clear that while I was trying my hardest, there was no way I was going to get my GPA up to where it needed to be. In January 2015, I was dismissed from the program for not meeting the academic standards required. Although I knew it was coming, I still don’t even have the words to describe how I felt that day.
Two days later, I met a woman who is now one of my biggest role models, and my first words to her were, “Hi, I’m Shannon and I just got dismissed from PT school,” with a shaky voice and tear-filled eyes. I was embarrassed and ashamed of myself, yet she was somehow still able to make me feel comfortable and assured me that everything would be okay. That’s when I decided I wanted to be just like her someday.
Because of this woman, I was able to come into the PTA program as a transfer student in September 2015. After my first day of classes, I went home and cried because the material was so easy. I felt like I was wasting everything I had worked for. Again, I found myself disappointed because I had let myself down.
My classes are in the same building, on the same floor, as my old classes. I walk by my old professors, the ones who deemed me incompetent as a future physical therapist, and my old classmates on a daily basis. In the beginning, it was hard to look them in the eye.
But things got better. Material got harder, and my professors challenged me. The difference from grad school was, if I was wrong or had forgotten something, I wasn’t embarrassed. I just went home and studied more. I learned the material thoroughly, which is a skill I realized I had never learned until this point. In grad school, I was so afraid to make mistakes that I wasn’t even willing to try certain things. Now, I’m different. I’m more comfortable with myself and more importantly, I am confident in my abilities as a care provider. And I don’t care who I have to walk past in the hallway anymore.
My professors don’t know this, but they’re a huge reason I have succeeded in the program. They knew where I came from, and didn’t judge me because of it. They believe in my abilities, which is something I unfortunately didn’t have when I was in grad school. My classmates are also a huge part of my growth. I’m now in a program with people who aren’t even remotely alike. I’ve learned how to work with different people, and also that I actually really like people that are different from me. I am also fortunate enough to be in the program with my best friend, who I absolutely could not have gone through this without.
The most hurtful thing that happens often to me is people asking, “How are you doing…?” with evident pity in their eyes and/or voice. It’s as if I shouldn’t be happy where I am now.
Something I would like everyone to know is that while I will always be disappointed that I was unable to complete my doctorate degree because I expect better of myself, I am in no way unhappy with the way my life has turned out. I needed this experience to grow as an individual and I will be so much happier as a PTA than a PT, regardless of my salary or letters behind my name. I’ll still get to do what I love. I’ll get to work with people who were hopeless like I used to be and help them regain confidence in themselves again like someone did for me, and I don’t care what degree gets me there.
A year from now, I will be graduating from a technical college with an Associate’s degree after receiving my Bachelor’s degree three years earlier. The thing is, I will be so much more proud of myself for this degree than I was for the first one. And honestly, that’s really all that matters.
“Success is not built on success. It’s built on failure. It’s built on frustration. Sometimes it’s built on catastrophe.” – Sumner Redstone