First Year in Review

I’ve officially made it through my first year of PT school!  The last year has been full of firsts.  I graduated from Penn State with my Bachelor’s Degree and moved a little closer to home to start grad school at Slippery Rock.  I dissected my first (and hopefully last!) cadaver, took my first clinically relevant course, and was assigned to my first two clinical rotations!  After the busiest and fastest year of my life, here are some of the things I’ve learned:

Do extra credit!

This doesn’t come by often, but when it does, believe me you’ll be glad to have the extra few points.  It could end up bumping you up from a B to an A, or it could just give you the cushion you need during finals week when you have to prioritize your studies.

Save your notes.

Go to Target, Staples, Walmart, etc and get yourself a nice file box with hanging folders for each class.  I store all of my lecture notes and handouts from each course in it’s own specific folder after each exam so that I have it for future reference.  As much as you may want to burn your notes after a particularly difficult course, certain concepts come back in the future and it is important to stay sharp for the boards.  I found this adorable Nate Berkus box at Target for under $20!

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Make time for things that make you happy.

Life can become monotonous in such an intense program and if you don’t make time for yourself, you’ll go crazy.  Spend some time with friends, read a book, go for a run, bake something delicious, or watch a movie to take a break from all the non-stop schoolwork.  My friends and I are big fans of Friday wine nights after a long day of cadaver dissection to unwind before a busy weekend of studying.

I also try to spend as much time with family as possible during my time off.  Last weekend, my mom’s side of the family reunited in Virginia Beach for a few days.  With my three brothers living out of state and all of our insane schedules, we are lucky to get all four kids (and both parents) together at once!  We visited the Naval Base, did some shopping, and hit the beach!


Steak dinner with Derrick, Gregg, and Gary

Stay healthy.

Your mom has told you a hundred times to eat your fruits and veggies and take your vitamins, and like always, she’s right.  The busy lifestyle of a doctorate student can do a number on the immune system.  It’s so easy to grab some fast food, skip your morning workout, and drink more coffee than water.  Not to mention, the sedentary lifestyle of being in class and the library 12 hours a day with all the germs a college campus can breed doesn’t help.  Take a multivitamin every day, stay active, and eat healthy!  Read my post about healthy meal-prepping here.


I’m a very schedule-oriented person, so planning out my days in my planner helps me to stay on task.  I’ll make time for my workouts, down time, and library time each day so that I don’t get behind on anything.  Anyone else love that sheer satisfaction of crossing something off your to-do list??

I found my current planner at TJ Maxx last summer, but I love The Happy Planner (shown below) from Me and My Big Ideas.  They’re a little bit pricey at around $30 each, but they are perfect for organizing all aspects of life!  You can even buy extensions for home/fitness/budgeting (yuck)/wedding/recipes-you name it!

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Form a relationship with your professors.

Our professors are our greatest resource for our future careers in physical therapy.  Not only are they experts in the subject they teach, but most of them have practiced or are still currently practicing PT.  Their wealth of knowledge in the field is instrumental in our learning, and professors are right at our fingertips willing to help us in any way they can.   Participating in class or attending a professor’s office hours are easy ways to get to know them better and demonstrate your passion for the field.  Having a good relationship with your teachers will make learning more enjoyable and will make you more comfortable to ask for help if need be.  Additionally, it is a vital networking opportunity that could open many doors professionally.


These are just some of the many lessons I have learned in my whirlwind first year of PT school.  After a great week of much need R&R with my family, school starts back up for the summer tomorrow and I am ready to give it my all!


Keep on Dreaming,



Exam Week: How I Stay Healthy While Studying

A few weeks ago, our class had our first exam of the semester!  It was a two-part combined lab and lecture exam for Neuroscience II.  Neuro is arguably the hardest class we have in the first year of our program, so needless to say everyone goes slightly crazy the week of the exam.  Since then, we’ve had mid-terms for our other three classes one after another so I’ve been a busy gal!  In the days leading up to a busy exam week, I try to meal-prep so that I don’t have to worry about food shopping and cooking in between my bouts at the library.  I’ve recently implemented “Soup Sundays” in my apartment and it has really helped me save time during the week.  I’ll make a huge pot of soup and freeze it in individual containers, so I can just pop it right in my lunch the following week!  A few weeks ago I made chicken pot pie soup via Annie from The Garlic Diaries.  It was so delicious and froze really nicely so I had lunches during the next week, rather than having to spend time packing or spend money on junk food from the student center (because we all know I’d eat Pop Tarts every day for lunch if I let myself).

Another meal prep strategy I use is overnight oats.  My best friend Ally turned me onto this easy and healthy breakfast over the summer and I love it!  All you need is a base of equal parts old fashioned oats and milk.  Then add whatever fruits, nuts, and sweetener you like!  I like to mash up a banana and add pecans or walnuts and raisins with a little bit of cinnamon.  Other times I’ll add in a half of a cubed apple, cinnamon, pecans, and craisins.  Pop the container in the fridge the night before, and they’re ready to eat by morning!  You can eat them cold, but I’m weird about the temperature of my food so I tend to heat it up for a minute or two in the microwave.

I’m big on individually freezing soups, but I also make my own marinara sauce and meatballs from my dad’s famous top-secret recipe that I freeze in individual servings.  I can never order spaghetti and meatballs at a restaurant because this recipe is THAT good.  Every time I’m with my dad I ask him to make it for me, so he passed the recipe on to me so I could make it whenever I want!  I still think it tastes better when he makes it, but I’m getting the hang of it!  At the beginning of the semester, I made a huge pot of sauce & about 50 meatballs.  They have lasted me about three months!  I use the sauce for pasta and pizza, and the meatballs for sandwiches, soups, and on their own.

Last Soup Sunday, I made Italian wedding soup via Brown Eyed Baker with my meatballs.  I stored it in individual servings and stuck them in the freezer.  Whenever I have a busy day all I have to do is throw one in my lunch bag and microwave it!

Clearly I’ve always been a meal-prep enthusiast…LOL


I have also gotten myself into the habit of grocery shopping the weekend before a busy week.  I’ll make sure I’m stocked up on snacks, produce, milk, eggs, cereal and chicken.  Rotisserie chickens are only about $5 and can be spread out throughout the whole week.  When I get home from the store, I chop up all of my fruits and veggies so that whenever I’m cooking I can just grab what I need and throw it in.  I’ll shred up my cooked chicken and have it on hand to add into pastas, stir-fries, salads, soups, and sandwiches.

I hope these tips will help to keep your diet on track, even while you’re spending all hours studying!  In the next post I’ll post some updates about what I’m learning this semester and other things I’ve been up to this spring.

Keep on Dreaming,


Resolving Resolutions

2016 was a year of great change for me.  I applied to seven PT schools, was rejected from six, went through the motions of applying and interviewing for various jobs that I wasn’t interested in or qualified for, was accepted to PT school, graduated college, quit my awful nurses aide job, moved to a new college, and started school.  The last five months especially have been a whirlwind-from meeting a new roommate and 50 other new peers, to adjusting to the non-stop schedule of a doctoral student and the rigor and difficulty of a DPT program.

Learning to balance 8-hour school days, study time, workout time, and me-time was definitely a process of trial and error.  It took some time to get used to waking up at 6:00 AM to squeeze in a workout before getting dressed up for class all day, so that I have time after class to get all of my studying done before dinner time.  Starting around two weeks before finals, I spent about 6 hours daily in the library.  We had seven finals over the course of four days: Neuroscience lecture and lab, PT Assessments & Procedures lecture and competency, Anatomy lecture and lab, and finally, Pathology.

For 2017, I have decided to forego a resolution.  Instead, I vow to continue to better myself in all aspects of my life throughout the year.  We don’t need one day a year to start over; every morning is the start of a new opportunity to be better, and I choose to seize each and every one of those opportunities.  I will put more effort into my studies, I will not snooze my alarm and sleep through my early-morning gym sessions,and most importantly, I will be a friend to all and lend a helping hand whenever I am able.  Another new goal I have for 2017 is to learn sign language-this is something that is very prevalent in pediatric therapy so I think it would be advantageous to be fairly proficient in the language.

Having survived my first semester of PT school, I had myself a relaxing but eventful break.  I spent a weekend at my grandparents’ house in Canonsburg, PA with my dad’s side of the family.  We celebrated an early Christmas complete with dinner at the Grand Concourse in Pittsburgh and a visit to the theater to see A Musical Christmas Carol!  I went home to Warren for the week leading up to Christmas until New Year’s Eve.  We celebrated Christmas Eve with my stepdad Rick’s brothers at our house and Christmas Day with my three stepbrothers: Gregg, Gary, and Derrick.  The guys even took me out shooting at our cabin the day after Christmas!

In between all of the holiday festivities, Rick arranged for me to volunteer in the PT department at Warren General Hospital.  I shadowed there before applying to PT school two summers ago and really liked it.  The clinic has outpatient, inpatient, and home health in one facility.  I’m enjoying being able to see a lot of the pathologies and treatments that I’ve learned in the past 5 months come to life in the clinic!
I spent New Year’s weekend in Pittsburgh and got to see almost all of my friends from home.  I spent a few days back in Warren volunteering before I visited Ally and some of our other PSU friends in Philadelphia.  After that I spent a week in Illinois to visit my Dad and stepmom.

During my visit, I spent some time with my nephews and stepsisters.  We took a trip into Chicago and I had a major nerd moment when we toured the International Museum of Surgical Sciences.  We viewed exhibits on X-Rays, pathologies, medicine in countries outside of the U.S, along with many other displays of medical history.  Shown below are a few exhibits I found particularly interesting:

Once I got back from Illinois, I volunteered for a few more days and relaxed at home before heading back to The Rock for the spring semester.

Check back soon for updates on the first few weeks of the spring semester!  We’re only three days in and have already hit the ground running!


Keep Dreaming,




3 Weeks Down, 3 Years to Go

I survived my first big quiz!!! For the past two weeks, everyone in my class has feverishly borrowed bone boxes (for all you non-PT school people, its literally a box filled with plastic bones) and reviewed every landmark on every bone in the human body in preparation for the dreaded bone quiz this past Friday.  And our studying paid of!  Everyone seemed to feel fairly confident in their quizzes and a huge sigh of relief was let out by all.


If only it was as easy as the Bone Dance Miley….

In other notable experiences from the past few weeks, we also have survived two five-hour sessions of cadaver lab!  This is easily my least favorite part of PT school because, well, who actually enjoys it???  As smelly and gross as it is, I truly am learning a lot and can understand why even PT students, who won’t be cutting into patients like an MD would be, need the experience.  Pictures in textbooks are good, but it really does help to see the real thing.  Some words of advice for anyone new to cadaver:

  • Menthol cough drops and a dab vicks vapo-rub underneath your nose will SAVE YOUR LIFE.  Trust me, I didn’t understand the effects of formaldehyde until it was too late and my eyes watered until I looked like a mascara raccoon and my nose and throat burned for the rest of the day
  • Wear something to cover your eyes!  I went to Claire’s and bought a pair of fake glasses because fashion, duh, but others in my class wear chem goggles. You don’t want to know what goes flying in the air during dissection.

We also have had our pathology class since I last blogged.  So far we are going through the basics of cells, which is eerily similar to the content of Bio240W at Penn State.  I find diseases and their causes super intriguing, so I’m excited for the rest of this course!

I started working with a student personal trainer this week!  SRU’s Exercise Science program’s capstone course requires seniors to train a client twice weekly for the duration of the semester.  The program includes initial assessment, exercise prescription, and final assessment.  Between classes, open labs, and study sessions, I have been exhausted and sometimes can’t make myself get up to go to the gym early in the morning.  I decided to sign up for the personal training program as motivation to work out and make gains in my fitness level.  I consider myself to be a very fit person, but I am not motivated enough to push myself truly as hard as I can go; I know that if I have someone pushing me and teaching me good technique with equipment other than cardio machines, I’ll do much better.  I met with my trainer twice this week for the initial assessment and we start training Wednesday-I’m excited to get stronger this semester!

Since we spend practically 24 hours a day, seven days a week together, my class has quickly become a very tight-knit group.  We all went out Friday night to celebrate the end of our first big quiz and had a blast!  I’m lucky to be a part of such an awesome group of intelligent, caring people.

Some of my classmates and I enjoying a night free of studying

The second years have a bake sale coming up this week, so I’ll be making my best cookie recipe for them to sell!  I’ll share the recipe with my next set of updates!


Keep On Dreaming,




Lately: My First Days as an SPT

As of this past Friday, I am officially Elizabeth Stanek, SPT and I could not be more excited!

Bear with me as I give you a rundown of the past few whirlwind days:

Thursday: Missy and I moved into our new apartment and tirelessly decorated in the sweltering heat of no AC until we turned our little box into a homey dwelling.  After multiple trips to Walmart, Target, Giant Eagle, and our landlord’s office, we are finally settled into our new place!  Below you can see my finished room:

Friday: We had orientation at 8:00 AM.  From 8:00-12:00 we were broken into small groups of about 15 students to do team-building exercises with a facilitator from the SRU Leadership Development Center.  While I am the first person to admit my hatred for ice-breakers, this really did give me the opportunity to get to know my new classmates.  It also was comforting to know that SRU supports teamwork and wants each and every student in the program to succeed.


My team-buiding group at orientation with Rocky!

After the team-building portion, we were given a lunch ticket to Boozel Dining Hall on campus.  This dining hall is buffet-style and features pretty much every type of food you can imagine.  It even has a whole dessert station of ice cream and pastries! After lunch, we met with representatives from the student health center, counseling services, clinical experiences, and the head of the DPT program.  We also paid for and received our PT clothing for lab days.  I ordered two tee shirts, one dri-fit long sleeve shirt, one quarter-zip fleece, and a pair of basketball shorts.  I spent around $120 on these things and I would say it is a sufficient amount of gear, as we only need to wear it once per week, and can wear any of our own bottoms as long as they are black, grey, or green.  Including the tee shirt we were given for orientation, I have 3 tops and plenty of black and grey bottoms to wear when shorts weather is over.  Friday night, the second year students had us over for a bonfire and to answer any questions we may have had from orientation.

Saturday & Sunday: We worked on finishing our decorating and made sure we had everything we needed for classes this week.  Our lunches were packed, our outfits picked out, and we were ready to start our first day of classes on Monday!  You can see the rest of our finished apartment below:

Missy’s Room


Monday: Bright and early, I got ready in my best business casual attire, and I got my student ID picture taken.  After that, my day began at 9:00 AM with a 3.5 hour Anatomy lecture-with no air conditioning.  Go figure, the AC in the one room we get to sit in for 7 hours breaks on the first day!  Our professors were very nice and knowledgeable, reassuring all of us that we can and will succeed in the program!  After anatomy we got an hour for lunch and finished the day with an hour and a half long neuroscience lecture.  After class, the second year students hosted a picnic for our class to meet with our bigs.

Tuesday: Tuesdays are the one day during the week we don’t have any scheduled classes, which allows us to have the entire day to attend open labs, meetings, study groups, and occasional exams.  It also gives us a much needed break from action-packed Mondays.

Wednesday: We have both our PT Assessments & Procedures lecture and lab, as well as Neuroscience lab on this day.  This means we can wear lab attire instead of the normally required business casual 🙂  PT Assessment & Procedures lecture was really fun; this is where we will learn all of the clinical skills we will use in the field.  For all of you Penn Staters, this class also spends a lot of time discussing policies and guidelines a lot like KINES422 did!  In the afternoon, we had Assessment lab first, where we studied the basics of posture and some body mechanics.  We ended our day in Neuro lab and studied the anatomy of actual human brains!



Reppin’ our DPT gear for lab day!

If you can’t tell, I already am loving my new life as a Student Physical Therapist.  Check back soon for more updates on my first semester!


Keep On Dreaming,


The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

No, it’s not time for Christmas carols yet.  It’s back to school season, and the only thing better than a fresh pack of Ticonderogas and a pretty new planner is a brand-spanking-new stethoscope.

PT School Ready!

Slippery Rock sent all of the incoming first-year students a list of supplies we will need for the program in our orientation packet.  This list includes:

  • Stethoscope
  • Sphygmomanometer (try to say that ten times fast)
  • 8″ and 12″ Goniometers
  • Vinyl retractable tape measure
  • Penlight
  • Taylor Percussion Hammer
  • A zippered bag to hold everything

So, in true Liz fashion, I scoured the internet in pursuit of the cutest PT supplies I could find.  Cue Jaanuu: a pop-up on Facebook led me to this site that has adorably functional scrubs, lab coats, and medical bags.  I ordered the Medical Clutch in snakeskin; I had a 25% off coupon so this bag came to only about $25!

Shown with the detachable gold strap, this bag can be a clutch or can be carried as a cross-body bag

The next item on my list was a stethoscope.  From some research I had done online, I found that a truly good quality scope should cost no less than $60.  The most reputable brand is Littmann, and they have many colors and models to choose from.  Of course, I needed mine to be hot pink and found that the Classic II S.E in raspberry suited my needs and budget perfectly.

I placed an order on Student Medical Shop that also included the rest of the items on my list, at great prices.  In total, I spent about $150 on all of my required PT supplies.  My package arrived this weekend, and as soon as I opened the box I made sure to give everyone in my family complimentary blood pressure checks because, priorities.

Keep On Dreaming,


Student Loans: Uncovered

I signed my life away this week and asked the government to loan me a five-figure amount for the first two semesters of my DPT program.  *cue aneurysm*  With the gracious help of my parents for an undergraduate education, I will be paying my own way for my Doctoral degree.  With endless lending options and benefits explained in jargon that sounds similar to a foreign language to me, I have done my share of student loan research.

Here’s what I learned:

  • All graduate students qualify for Direct Unsubsidized loans through the government: up to $20,500 per academic year.
    • origination fee of 1.068%
      • i.e on every $1,000 borrowed you are charged $10.68
    • fixed annual interest rate of 5.31%
  • Any additional aid needed up to the total cost of attendance can be requested through a Graduate PLUS loan through the government, or through a private lender.
    • Graduate PLUS
      • origination fee of 4.272%
      • fixed interest rate of 6.31%
      • credit check required
    • Private lenders
      • no origination fees
      • varying interest rates based on credit score can be fixed or variable

In the end, I chose to borrow the remaining amount not covered by the Direct Unsubsidized Loan via a Graduate PLUS Loan.  I could have gone with a private lender because I do have a high credit score and most likely would have been approved for a lower interest rate, but the main reason I chose PLUS lies in a little program called the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.  If you work for a government organization or non-profit and make the minimum payment on your loans for ten years, the rest of the loan will be forgiven!  I am very interested in being a school physical therapist, so it was important to me to keep that door open in the case I do end up working for a non-profit or government organization.

I hope I was able to provide some insight on the endless possibilities for student loans!

Check back later this week for my back-to-school shopping list!


Keep On Dreaming,


Living The Dream

A few weeks ago, I received all of the long-awaited orientation packet for Slippery Rock’s DPT program!  The packet included a hand-written not from my very own second-year student “big” (much like I had in my sorority days in undergrad!), a welcome letter from the program staff, a list of all the first and second-year students, a class schedule, an orientation itinerary, and order forms for uniform lab attire and textbooks.

I was most excited for the list of my fellow peers, so that I could get to know some of the students and potentially find a roommate.  In my search, I discovered that one of my classmates is also a Penn Stater and I had interestingly enough met her at an information session for Chatham’s DPT program.  I sent her a message on Facebook and it turns out she was looking for a roommate too!

The apartment we are living in is extremely cheap and very close to campus, which is why Missy (my new roomie) chose it in the first place.  The downside is that it is a renovated dorm building, so it isn’t the nicest place in the world.  It comes with minimal furnishings and appliances.  The plus side is that I already have furniture from my house back at Penn State, which will make the place much more homey and “Graduate Student” like instead of a dorm.  When we move in mid-August I’ll share some before and after pics and an update of how they are in person.

Another interesting piece of this packet was the dress code for classes.  For lectures, we are expected to come dressed in business casual attire (no more sorority shirts and leggings everyday!).  For labs, which are typically one day per week, we are expected to wear only approved SRU DPT attire.  There is a selection of tee shirts, sweatshirts and pants, collared shirts, and gym shorts.  In addition to the approved clothing, we are allowed to wear black, grey, or green sweatpants or shorts, as long as they are mid-thigh length or longer.  I’ve never been required to wear a uniform to school before, so this is something new for me!

This week I’m working on researching and applying for loans-yikes!


Keep On Dreaming,



Beach Blogging-Odds & Ends

PSA: non-DPT related post, but equally as exciting.

I BAKED MY FIRST CAKE PEOPLE! And it. Was. Amazing.  It was my best friend Ally’s birthday last Monday, and per her request we baked a double chocolate cake.  We used Lindsay of Life, Love, and Sugar’s Best Chocolate Cake recipe via Pinterest.  It’s certainly not diet-friendly, but everything’s okay in moderation, right?!  Probably the best part about this cake was that we frosted it while it was still a little warm in the middle so it became molten when we cut into it- YUM.  Highly recommended recipe!!

The Birthday Girl with the finished product!

I’m currently blogging from beautiful Southport, North Carolina 🙂 Ally (Birthday gal mentioned above) was generous enough to invite me and two of our other close college friends down for the week to stay in her family’s vacation home.  Our trip has been filled with delicious food, good reads, warm weather, and great company.   I just finished reading Jojo Moyes’ (author of Me Before You) One Plus One.  It was such a great beach read!  I was so determined to finish it today at the beach that Ally & Becca noted it was the longest period of time I’ve ever gone without talking (gasp).

Donuts by the ocean??

On Wednesday we drove to Wilmington, NC for the day.  Becca was thrilled to visit the site of One Tree Hill.  We shopped around for a few hours and ate a huge lunch at Fork N Cork on Market Street.  If you’re ever in the Wilmington area definitely get a sandwich there; we were all stuffed from eating so much because it was so good we couldn’t stop!  We finished our Wilmington adventure with waffle cones from Kilwins-my favorite!

Friday night we drove back into Wilmington for some drinks.  We decided on the Liquid Room on Market Street-it’s a pub on the ground floor and a club upstairs!

Kate, Becca, Ally, me

Saturday was a beach day and sadly we are leaving to head back up north tomorrow.  Thanks Ally for the great vacation with even greater friends! Now we all (hesitantly) start creeping into post-grad life.


Keep On Dreaming,


College Educated, She Graduated

Good news: I didn’t trip!!!  Last weekend I completed my Bachelor’s of Science in Kinesiology.  It’s hard to believe that it’s been four years since the day I moved in to good ole East Halls, scared but excited to embark on the new adventure that was college.  Penn State was my dream school since the first time I visited when I was thirteen, so having the opportunity to spend four years in the happiest valley was everything I had ever wanted.

So, here we are- four years, 115 credits, and countless unforgettable memories with amazing friends later.  And up until a month ago, I, along with many of my peers, was wondering: what now?  I had applied to seven DPT programs the summer before my senior year.  My list of prospective schools included Chatham University, Thomas Jefferson University, Youngstown State University, Virginia Commonwealth University, Slippery Rock University, Florida Gulf Coast University, and St. Francis University.  After nine months, six rejection letters, and one agonizing job search, I received the best birthday present I could’ve asked for.  Two days before my 22nd birthday, I was accepted to Slippery Rock’s DPT program!

I graciously accepted the offer of admission, and have quite a rollercoaster ahead of me.  I am both nervous and excited to start this new chapter in my life-I am one step closer to my dream of becoming a physical therapist!  Next steps: loans, housing, roommates, and school supplies.

My cap design

Keep On Dreaming,