2 Days in the Life

With the advent of the new DPT@USC hybrid program, which began this summer, there are now two educational paths that ultimately converge into a USC doctor of physical therapy degree. In this issue, we asked first-year residential DPT student Cheri Chan DPT ’21 and first-year hybrid student Maya Acocella DPT ’21 to chronicle two days in their lives as USC DPT students to show how similar (and, in some cases, how different) the two educational paths are.


Cheri Chan DPT ’21, Residential DPT Student


6:55 a.m. Wake up and open Headspace. I start my day with a five-minute meditation.

7:52 a.m. I greet my classmates and chat about the weekend before opening Notability and reviewing my notes for my pathophysiology quiz.

8 a.m. Pathophysiology 509: I listen to Dr. Dieli-Conwright lecture about the asynchronous material as well as the questions we answered on our own. Since the class is split in half, there is a class discussion regarding this material with about 47 other students. A majority of class time is spent working in small groups on the week’s patient case, where we answer questions regarding their pathophysiology and ways physical therapy can be used as an intervention for that disease.

9:25 a.m. With two hours to go before anatomy, I head to the patio to get some studying done. I pull out my iPad and start to review last week’s anatomy lecture material.

11 a.m. I meet with my evidence-based practice group to film our coaching sessions, where we take on the roles of coach, patient, and videographer. Each session consists of the coach asking the patient how the week’s mindfulness practice went, what obstacles were present and how can things be improved for the upcoming week.

11:30 a.m. Musculoskeletal Anatomy 514: I listen to Dr. Salem give a lecture on the joint of the day. His favorite thing to do is draw, so we draw a few figures each class. I draw the blood supply, the nerve plexus, the ligaments and transverse cross-sections of muscles.

2 p.m. Lunch: It’s always a race to the microwaves since there’s only about nine for 95-plus students. I like to keep my meal prep simple during the week, which is usually rice, chicken and veggies.

2:45 p.m. I head to the locker room and get ready for cadaver lab, suiting up in scrubs, shoes, gloves, eyeglasses and a disposable gown.

3:10 p.m. Musculoskeletal Anatomy Lab 514L: There are 25 cadavers with four people at each. Lab is run simultaneously with lecture, so today’s focus is on the area we just covered in lecture. For the most part, I’ve gotten over the fear of skinning and work with my lab mates to complete the day’s dissection. The fun part is seeing all the muscles — where they originate and insert — and what nerves and arteries run to innervate and supply those muscles. The human body is completely fascinating, and this class makes learning easier, more effective and fun.

4:50 p.m. I start to clean up the tools and close the cadaver for the day. I head to the gym to get my Olympic lifting training or accessory work in for that day. I look forward to this time of the day because it is my mental break from a long school day.

7:15 p.m. I eat dinner while planning what to study that night. I make sure I don’t forget to give myself mini breaks throughout the night so that I don’t burn myself out.

10:15 p.m. I lay in bed and spend up to three minutes working on breathing to transition me to sleep. I end my day with a five- to 10-minute meditation.


6:20 a.m. I wake up and open Headspace to do a five-minute meditation to help put my mind to ease before I start my day.

7:29 a.m. Small talk with friends and classmates, while opening up the lecture of the day on Notability.

7:30 a.m. Patient Management 521: I listen and try to absorb Dr. Andersen’s lecture about the joint of the day — and why it’s important. As he explains how to gather all the subjective and objective information, range of motion tests, what special tests to do, I figure out how to organize my studying this upcoming weekend.

9:04 a.m. Transition to patient management lab. I listen to faculty members demonstrate different techniques of the skills we are about to learn for the day before we break up into small groups. I think, “OK, I need to practice these skills on top of all the other skills weekly to make sure I understand what and why I am doing this.”

12 p.m. The best part of the day is finally here: an hour to relax and chat with friends, but more importantly, it’s time to eat. After eating, I open Notability and study for my upcoming gait quiz. I look around and see many classmates acting out the gait cycle and realize how silly we must look to someone who doesn’t know what we are doing.

2:15 p.m. Movement Analysis 582: I listen to Dr. Powers give a lecture on the objectives and critical events during the gait cycle. After each section, he asks if we understand what is going on.

3:15 p.m. We transition to lab where we film each other walking and use the Hudl Technique to analyze each other’s gait. I then compare my analysis with my classmates before we discuss it as a whole class.

4:45 p.m. Class is over for the day, and it is time to go to the gym. I limit myself to 60 minutes because I know that I need to get some studying done.

6:30 p.m. I heat up some pesto chicken pasta while I prepare the night’s study agenda.

10:30 p.m. I open up Headspace and end my day with a five- to 10-minute meditation.

Maya Acocella DPT ’21, Hybrid DPT Student


7:45 a.m. Wake up and do some meditational breathing. I recently started biofeedback therapy, and some of the techniques I have learned really help me center myself before my day starts.

8:15 a.m. Drive to my physical therapy appointment. My chronic back pain started flaring up, so I started to receive treatment.

9 a.m. Arrive at my appointment and discuss what was affecting me that week, in addition to talking about and practicing techniques I have learned in Basics of Patient Management 521L. We had recently learned in the asynchronous material about the lumbar spine, which was right up the alley of what I was being treated for.

11 a.m. I stop for Starbucks on the way home. I didn’t really drink much coffee before I started grad school, but it definitely helps me prepare for my upcoming activities for the day.

11:40 a.m. I arrive at home and walk my dog, feed my cats and begin to prepare myself lunch.

12:10 p.m. I begin doing my asynchronous content for Musculoskeletal Anatomy 514L. On the LMS (learning management system), the Unit 13 material is listed to take 2:41:10, so slightly less than three hours. This is the final unit of the semester, which focuses on the pelvis, head, and neck. This material is fairly new to me because I never learned about pelvic-floor muscles or deep-neck muscles before. The first few sections of the material are on the pelvic floor, so I watch some recorded lectures, then intermittently answer some questions based on the material I just watched.

2 p.m. Review some of the material I had prepared for the Basics of Patient Management 521L class that I have at 3 p.m.

3 p.m. In today’s Basics of Patient Management 521L class, we are discussing lumbar spine examination and evaluation. In this unit, we learned the subjective and objective aspects of lumbar spine pathology, as well as the six different ICF (International Classification of Functioning, Disability, and Health) categories for low-back pain. We start class by answering some poll questions about our new material and then proceed in class by talking about the answers to the poll questions. We then proceed by discussing a patient case for the rest of the class.

6:30 p.m. I grab dinner that my father has prepared, and I call my boyfriend who works in Virginia. We watch a few Netflix shows over the phone and on the computer together. It’s a nice way for me to unwind from all the work I’ve done today.

8:30 p.m. I finish the rest of my Musculoskeletal Anatomy 514L material. It takes me about four hours to work through the whole unit, from pausing the videos to take notes to answer the questions in between lectures.

11 p.m. I finally get to bed and do my biofeedback techniques to help quiet my mind, so I can easily go to sleep.


6:30 a.m. I wake up to my alarm for the third day of immersion on the USC campus.

7 a.m. My classmates and I begin to walk to campus from our Airbnb. We rented one around the corner from campus, so it was about a 10-15 minute walk every day to campus.

7:15 a.m. I grab breakfast from the food plan that was prepared for us by our president, a department rep. I had a bagel, some fruit and some coffee.

8 a.m. Basics of Patient Management 521L: We begin our final section of Patient Management for the week. The first half of the class is focused on cervical spine assessments and skills. We each pick a partner and continue to switch throughout the first section

10 a.m. We take a short five-minute break between material, so we can get a drink and catch our breath

10:05 a.m. We continue our practice, but this time with lumbar spine assessments and techniques. For me, this section had some of the more difficult techniques that I had to learn, but I got a lot of feedback from multiple faculty members, so I definitely learned a lot and sharpened my skills.

12 p.m. We finish our last organized Patient Management class, and it was kind of bittersweet. We knew that we’d have chances to go to office hours and ask for help, but this was our last structured class. We took a class photo with a bunch of our professors to commemorate the moment

1 p.m. Office hours for both Anatomy and Patient Management start, and I make the decision as to which one I want to attend. I decide on Patient Management since there were a bunch of skills I needed help with working on.

3 p.m. Musculoskeletal Anatomy 514L: I get changed into my scrubs for anatomy. We meet in a classroom first to discuss what we are about to review in the anatomy lab. For the lab, each group was assigned two bodies, with four people per group. These groups were created the previous immersion, but we maintained them through this immersion. For this lab, we went over posterior antebrachium (back of the forearm) muscles, nerves, and blood supply.

5 p.m. We change out of our scrubs and are welcome to attend an extra half-hour of anatomy review, conducted by Dr. Michael Rowley. Nearly everyone from the class attends, as the material we have covered is very difficult.

5:30 p.m. Two of the classmates that I stay with in an Airbnb and I walk back to the house to study because we felt more productive working from the house.

7 p.m. My classmates and I eat dinner, which we ordered while we were practicing our skills. We go through a large list of every skill we had learned since the previous immersion that we could potentially see appearing on our practical exam.

11:30 p.m. I climb into bed and discuss with one of my classmates what the plan is for the next day. Once we finish, I go through my biofeedback techniques to fall asleep.


This story originally appeared in inMotion Magazine, the official publication for the USC Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy. Read more stories like this in our Fall 2018 issue.


Posted December 2018