8 Tips for Hosting a PT Book Club

One of my favorite parts about being a PT student is the opportunity to be involved in clubs and other extra-curricular activities. My classmate, Cassidy, and I lead the Humanities Club here at Duke DPT, and through that club our goal has been to explore physical therapy outside of our typical didactic work. To highlight personal stories and those told through various forms of media to start conversations on issues such as disability, mental health, the patient experience, and more.

One way we’ve been able to do that is through DPT book club.

I’m not sure when the book club first started here at Duke, but Cassidy and I are proud to keep it going. Last year as first-years, she and I attended all of the book club meetings and really enjoyed connecting with our fellow first-years, as well as second-years and faculty to delve into topics that we were itching to talk more about in class.

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My co-leader Cassidy (far left) and me at our second book club meeting as first-years

There’s a lot we’ve learned about leading the book club through our mentors, and I am now here to share some of what we’ve gathered over the past year and a half. Here are my tips for hosting a book club that everyone will want to attend:

1. PICK A GOOD BOOK

This one is a bit of a no-brainer, but the quality and flow (and, let’s be honest, the length) of the book you choose will be at the core of your discussion.

Last year, we read: Over My Head, Ghost Boy: The Miraculous Escape of a Misdiagnosed Boy Trapped Inside His Own Body and Ask Me About My Uterus. The most recent book was Black Man in a White Coat (BMIAWC).

Of course, you can’t guarantee that everyone in your discussion group will love the book, but one way to cater to multiple people’s interests is to let the group vote. My co-leader and I went through several discussions on which book to read and after settling on 3-4 potentials, we sent a poll with those 3-4 books to the entire first and second year classes and let them choose their must-read.

You also don’t have to have read the book before you choose it for your group- my co-leader and I first read BMIAWC at the same time as everyone else in the club. By having people vote and choose the book, however, we made it a collective decision, and we also hoped that maybe someone else had already read it (from what I’ve heard, no one had. But it worked out great anyway!)

2. REACH OUT TO THE AUTHOR

This may not be possible for all books, especially if you are reading a very popular book or one whose author is deceased.

One way to accomplish this is to establish the author first and then see what they’ve written. Do a little research and see what authors are local to your area. This was easier for us because we are at a large medical institution, and Dr. Damon Tweedy, author of BMIAWC, is currently a physician here in the Duke system. This not only made it easier to reach out to him, but it is also possible that the PT school’s close proximity to the hospital is what allowed him the time in his schedule to be with us in person for the discussion.

Plus, he’s a really nice guy, so that helped too.

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left to right: my Diversity Club co-leader, BMIAWC author Damon Tweedy, myself, & my Humanities Club co-leader

If the author is not local, see if they would be willing to Skype in or be available by email if your book club’ers have any follow-up questions. It can’t hurt to ask!

3. DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK FOR HELP

As second-years getting ready to go off on rotations this summer, we’ve got a lot on our plate. For that reason, we cashed in on every resource available to us. Before last year’s leaders left for their rotations, they helped us to understand how to set up and lead a book club. Watching how they initiated and facilitated conversations last year served as great learning moments for us as we aimed to follow in their footsteps.

We also reached out to faculty who graciously offered their help. One of our former professors is a friend and colleague of Dr. Tweedy’s and we asked her if she could name-drop us at some point to help with our credibility (hey, you gotta do what you gotta do).

Staff also aided a ton by getting in pizza orders, providing us with water bottles for the event, and putting a sign on the door before book club to let people know that we had a guest, as the door usually slams pretty loudly.

4. FOOD, FOOD, AND MORE FOOD

I’m not above bribing people with food to come to a meeting. Heck, even my emails about club meetings start with the subject line: FREE PIZZA.

This year, book club was at lunchtime and we ordered everyone pizza using the combined funds from the Humanities and Diversity Clubs (provided to us by our program). Last year, there was Panera hot chocolate and pastries at one book club meeting. For another, we met at a local coffee shop that offers churros and a large selection of coffees and teas (now one of my favorite study spots).

5. ADVERTISE IN VARIOUS WAYS

We didn’t let anyone forget that book club was happening.

We put flyers around the PT school, sent multiple email reminders, brought it up in conversation with professors, and offered to lend our books to classmates and faculty after we had finished reading. I put it all over my social media and blogged about it on Instagram in the months leading up to the discussion, which generated some fun conversations over Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter and gave us ideas for discussion questions for the day of the meeting.

6. GIVE PARTICIPANTS ENOUGH TIME TO READ THE BOOK

We announced the book-of-choice before our December break (approximately 3 weeks long) and then had the discussion in the first week of February, with the understanding that it was a lot more likely that people would read the book over a break than during the week, especially finals week. Based on the book club meetings I’ve attended, it seems like 2-3 months is a pretty solid amount of time to allow busy graduate students to read the book and to recall what they read.

7. MAKE IT PERSONAL

Why should people want to attend your book club, other than the fact that you want them to? What is it about the book, the planned discussion, that’s going to elicit a personal/emotional/visceral reaction?

For example, my classmates and I been having a lot of discussions the past 2 years about diversity, inclusion, equity, and social determinants of health, and at no point in those 2 years did we feel like we were doing enough as students to make ourselves aware of the complexities of these issues and the ways in which they might impact our future patients. So, Dr. Tweedy’s BMIAWC fit perfectly with the conversations we were already having.

Also of note- all of the books over the past 2 years have been memoirs, whether by design or by happenstance. There has been something about hearing from the person who experienced everything that is laid out in the book that has allowed us to connect and feel what they’re feeling, if only for the brief moments that we have the book open. The best writers make us feel like we’re right there with them, seeing what they’re seeing, facing the injustices they faced.

Time is limited in professional school, and it is precious. To get more readers for your book club, you’ll have to address the question, “What’s in it for me?” as it relates to your readers. Something beyond it simply being a good book.

8. TEAM UP

In addition to co-leading Humanities club, through which the book club typically operates, I also co-lead Diversity Club with a good friend of mine. Due to the themes in the book of race, implicit bias, and life as a minority in healthcare, we felt it was appropriate to combine efforts with Diversity Club for the event. This allowed us to appeal to a greater degree of interests within our PT cohort and to enter book club discussions on healthcare with a ‘well-rounded’ approach. This has also worked well for some of our other club meetings, such as a combined Mental Wellness/Sports Club meeting, for which we brought in Duke’s sports psychologist for a talk on working with athletes, and the combined Mental Wellness/Persistent Pain Club meetings for which we brought in some of our favorite clinicians and teachers to share the ways in which they screen for and address the psychological and social determinants of health for their patients and how we can do the same.

I hope that helps!

Happy reading.

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