Graduate School to Physical Therapy School

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May 18, 2010
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I am currently enrolled as a Ph.D. student in Biochemistry. I've recently decided that this is not for me, as I have become depressed and unhappy. I want to work directly with people, so I was thinking either Nursing or Physical Therapy.
I went to discuss with my adviser the option of leaving with a Master's degree, and she said if everything worked out perfectly (research rarely ever does) that I could be done in another year. However, if it doesn't work it could take longer.
I need to begin shadowing and doing clinical hours to even be considered for the PT programs I am looking at. I also really need to take some prerequisite courses and would like to get started on this as soon as I can. My undergraduate GPA was a 3.52 and my science GPA was a 3.78. I have a decent GRE score, that I think I could improve as I would need to retake it anyway.
How bad would it look to the admissions committee if I were to leave my graduate program?
I'm severely depressed at the prospects of not going forward with my goals. Does anyone have any ideas?

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I had this same dilemma. I had originally planned on getting a PhD but I was not sure. Instead I did a 2 year Masters to decide if it was for me. As much as I wanted to continue on with research I felt I wanted to become a physical therapist more. I think depending on how old you are, and how far you are along in your program, it would probably be more beneficial to take the M.S. and apply to PT school as soon as you can. You can never tell how long the completion of a PhD will take. I would contact the PT schools directly to see if leaving the PhD would hurt you. Personally I do not think it would. People leave PhD programs all the time and take their M.S after realizing that it is not for them.
Of course, all of this depends on what you truly want to do.
The problem is getting the M.S. is going to take me an extra year and I wouldn't be able to work on my prerequisites or volunteer.
My advisor is not willing to help me graduate with an M.S. and doing so will prolong the amount of stress.
I'm not worried about leaving the Ph.D. program with a master's. But, the institution where I am at does not grant master's much earlier than 4-5 years of research.
And I don't think I can make it another year or possibly more.
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That makes things a bit different. I was a physiology undergrad so I had most of my prereqs done. However, getting the volunteer hours done was extremely difficult. I had to basically volunteer about 15 to 20 hours a week during the day an get my experiments done late at night/early morning. It was hell but I got my hours done fast. Unfortunately, my PI wanted to get rid of me at times since I was not there during the day, but after talking to him he eventually understood.
I am not sure what to say about the 4-5 years for the M.S. Most people I know were able to take it after quals. You might want to speak with someone else in the department about this. They might make an exception. If PT is what you want to do, don't give up. I was able to take the GRE, finish my volunteer hours and get my research/thesis done all in the same year. It was not easy, but it can be done.

(F.Y.I. I did not have an easy thesis project.)
I was in a similar situation. I went into a PhD program in cognitive psychology right out of undergrad, stayed a year and left without a degree because I decided it wasn't for me. Long story short- hard decision but a very good one. Then I started a MS program in rehabilitation counseling, and lasted 1 semester before leaving. I thought my chances of getting into another program were probably ruined at this point. As I realized that PT was the perfect career for me, I wondered how I would ever get into a program. I needed 8 pre-reqs plus volunteer experience. I decided to work full time in order to figure out my life, and I took the pre-reqs at night over the course of 2 years. In my personal statement I fully explained my decision to leave 2 grad programs, and told the story of how it brought me closer to PT. I had done very well in the 2 grad programs I was in, so I was able to show that it wasn't that I couldn't handle the programs, but that I really just knew they werent right for me and I chose not to continue in them just for the sake of obtaining a degree I didn't want.

With all of that said, I had no problem getting into PT school. I think that if you know why you make the choices you make, and are able to explain that in your personal statement and interviews, they will totally understand your decision, whatever it may be. Leaving a graduate program is a hard thing to do, but if you are doing it for the right reasons, I highly doubt that any admissions committee will see it as a negative thing. You just need to be up front and honest about it.
I know this is a rare scenario, but I finished my PhD (in a very different science major) and applied DPT schools at the same time. I have gone very far in my field and still finishing up a few publications right now. Doing research was interesting to me, but I realized physical therapy was my new passion at the last year of my PhD, so I started applying for DPT and doing prerequisites at the same time while I was writing my dissertation since last summer. I took Anatomy and Physiology II last summer (had to take II before I because my university only offers I during summer II), psychology in the fall, scociology in the winter, A&P I in the last spring. While taking A&P II and during the interim of last summer and fall, I did about 50 observation hours and then did the other 50 hours during the fall so that I enough hours to satisfy all schools I applied by last December 1 which hit the first deadline. Meanwhile, I prepared for GRE for 3 months and took it on Nov and Dec (messed it up at the first time and got a decent score on the second trial). I have to admit my schedule was a little brutal, but I survived. The worst part was I had to work really hard at the same time on two things while my enthusiam on my previous major was fading. But I don't feel regretful on quiting my preious field because I had achievements and fun. People change their minds all the time. I was accepted by 3 programs without interviews which included my first choice, so I turned down all the interviews coming later.

Some suggestions: 1) Follow your heart and be honest about your change when applying to PT schools. People shouldn't be punished for knowing better your desire and strength than before. 2) Although I survived from doing two things (sometimes more than 2) at the same time, I don't really recommend. It was definitely not fun. Too much stress, no spare time ... I became a little depressed during that time. Actually, I don't think it will be lethal even you quit your current master/PhD program when you apply for DPT schools as long as you can demonstrate a good academic background (your stats are good enough) and some other things they are really caring about (your passion in PT, volunteer hours, GRE, etc). No schools that admited me asked me to commit the completion of my PhD. 3) apply multiple schools because they think differently. Although some good schools admitted me, other schools which I thought I had better chance of getting in rejected me and preferred to take people with a straight path.

Good luck!