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Thursday, July 19, 2012

First-Year Revelation: Declared Major

I can’t tell you why I chose Physical Therapy for my major; I can’t remember, really. But, I will never forget the day I changed majors. The event that led to the change is indelibly burned into my mind.

In the American university system a student may choose his primary field of study, “declaring a major,” at the time of application for admission or any time during his first two years of study. He is declaring he wants to spend the majority of his study time in a specific area. This field of study will have specific “major requirements” to guide the student in his choice of classes each quarter. Additionally, there are classes that all of the students must take, called “required courses.” Every field of study has a certain number of “electives”, which are courses that are not at all needed to work in the declared field but are of interest to a student. For example, a student wanting to be a lawyer may choose a major in Political Science or History because these have classes that would help him get into law school after graduation. However, the student may also have an interest in health so would take a nutrition course as one of his electives. Like all of the other students, he will be required to take English and some form of mathematics, etc. The students are assigned an advisor from the faculty in his declared major to help him navigate through it all. If he really has no idea what kind of a career he wants yet, he can sign up under “General Studies” and focus on taking the required courses while he works on narrowing the field down to one choice. (Yes, it is possible to take a “double major” and some students do that. It is a lot more work and usually means one or two additional years at the university.)

I was a Physical Therapy major, whittling away at those specific required and major courses, figuring I’d leave the electives until I needed a break from the intense kinds of study. The only extra-curricular group I joined was Physical Therapy Club. I did this because my advisor recommended I do it as a career networking move. I had had such an overload of extra-curricular activities in high school that I was not really interested in joining clubs and organizations now, but I made an exception for PT Club. It was a nice group of students and, true to advertisement, the meetings were interesting events and not just social stuff. Guest speakers shared new ideas being developed in treatments for various injuries.

When the announcement for the next PT Club meeting included the viewing of a video demonstrating a technique being researched to help paraplegics move their legs, I was very interested. The only rub was that my parents were going to be visiting me on that very day of the evening meeting. They were staying in the home of an amateur radio buddy of my father’s so he would, probably, be well-occupied with radio talk but what about Mom? When I told her about the video, though, she was interested in coming with me. Perfect!

Mom came to my dorm room and we walked over to the Field House together. It was such fun to have Mom see my world and she was a good listener as I went on and on about every detail of university life… what a champ!

There were only a few preliminary items before the film began. The patient was on a PT table, with his therapist on the side that would face the viewing audience. He explained that they were working on using a kind of “cross-muscle” thing to help the leg muscles get moving again. He said that the therapist pushed on the left shoulder, the patient pushed against the PT’s hand on the shoulder but also concentrated on the muscles of the opposite hip and thigh. The patient was dressed in shorts but no shirt, so it was easy to watch the whole process. Mom told me later that the patient really did begin to lift his right hip and thigh.

What? Your mother told you later? Where were you, Sojourner? Ah, yes, well that’s the revelation aspect of this story. I watched the tension of the patient and intensity of the therapist so profoundly that I got caught up in it all. I mean the pushing and straining and trying… well, it really affected me and I couldn’t take it. I left the room quickly… to find a bathroom where I could throw up my supper. No, I’m not kidding; and, no, I didn’t have the flu. I knew that I would never be able to do this in real life when I couldn’t even watch it on a video.

The very next morning I dropped out of my Physical Therapy major and was assigned another advisor… Pre-Med. You are probably thinking I had gone from the pan into the fire… if I couldn’t take the strain of a PT film, how could I cope with all that blood in medicine, eh? Ah, yes, well, blood never bothered me. Weird, isn’t it?

The fact is, dear Reader, God had fashioned me in just this way. His plan was for me to help people with their illnesses in another way. I had no idea God would be interested in answering any prayer for what major I should declare. I thought it needed to be all my own idea. Yes, I knew I liked helping people and I liked sorting out illnesses and treatments, from a very young age, actually. I didn’t get that toy doctor’s kit every Christmas of my childhood for nothing, you know? I wore it out long before the next Christmas rolled around. I was a serious user of those plastic instruments and loved dispensing those candy pills. So, why didn’t I sign up for Pre-Med in the first place? That’s a two-word answer: Foreign Language. Funnily enough, to get a degree in Pre-Medical Science one must earn a Bachelor of Arts degree, which requires five quarters of a foreign language. The Physical Therapy degree can be earned under the Bachelor of Science, which has no language requirement—other than English, of course. My high school Spanish class had been such a disaster; I wasn’t going to do that ever again.

In the end, I lined up with the way God had designed me, took Greek for five quarters (because it was an unspoken foreign language offered), and graduated with a BA in Pre-Medical Science. I never regretted the change in majors and find a lot of satisfaction in diagnosing and treating illnesses in children, especially. God knew what would make me happy; He is the one Who created me!

This verse in Proverbs 22:6 is sometimes used when teaching about God’s unique way of creating us. If we make our choices in line with the gifts He has put within each of us, we will still find satisfaction in our work in old age. (Yes, I do also think it refers to Biblical training.)

“Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” (NIV)

****Another First-Year Revelation… Coming Tomorrow

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