I have had the privilege of being a physical therapist for 44 years. Twenty-seven of those years have been as a faculty member in academic physical therapy programs. Prior to being a faculty member, I was a full-time clinician for 17 years in a wide variety of pediatric settings with various responsibilities in each of those settings. 

I have over the years developed perspective on how to be a successful student in the DPT program. If you would have asked me 15 years ago, I would have said “strong aptitude for the sciences, good grades in college, hard worker, and good communicator.”


Today, I would instead ask “What do you mean by successful?” If you mean getting good grades and graduating from your DPT program, those characteristics will obviously help. However, if you view graduate/professional education as preparing you for success after graduation; my initial answer is not enough. Good grades are not enough to make a successful student in the Physical Therapy program.

So how can you be successful as a DPT student?

Very successful DPT students share the same traits as very successful people. For starters, successful people are active learners. Active learners question things around them, they push through their challenges, and they are humble enough to ask for help. As an active learner, your desire to learn is stronger than your desire to look good in front of others.

Being humble enough to ask questions translates to another trait of successful students: curiosity. Curiosity leads to seeking out knowledge from professors and peers. That level of knowledge-seeking will not only help you in your studies, but it will help you in your life. Curiosity also tends to lead to spending a lot of time listening to others, which gives you the opportunity to practice being a good listener. Good listeners know when it’s time to add opinions and when it’s time to listen to what others have to say. You learn from people who know more, rather than focusing on sharing your opinions all the time.

Another trait of successful students? They are willing to be risk takers. Risk taking means placing yourself in a learning/listening situation where you just might fail. You won’t learn anything if you aren’t engaging with situations where you don’t have all the answers. A willingness to fail means you try new things and learn from your mistakes. In order to be willing to fail, your identity needs to not be rooted in what you do or what people think of you. A successful CUW student, to me, has their identity rooted in the fact that they are made in the image of God (II Corinthians 5:17). Which regardless of whether you succeed or fail, that part of your identity never changes.

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The School of Health Professions (SHP) offers a wide variety of accredited programs at both the undergraduate and graduate level. Our programs are provided in a variety of teaching formats (face-to-face, online, blended) and curriculums emphasize service to the community and inter-professional collaboration. Students are able to work with community members very early in their educational experience. Explore your options! 

— Dr. Robert Barnhart is a Professor at Concordia University Wisconsin. He received his PT degree from Emory University (1979), his MS from the University of Tennessee Knoxville (1992), and his ScDPT from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (2006). He has authored or co-authored 8 peer review articles on pediatric rehabilitation topics.