If you’re like me, the years spent in PT school went by much slower than the practicing years have been. The working years seem to fly by. My impressions of what physical therapy has to offer a community has certainly changed over the years. I thought it would be a valuable exercise to spend some time reflecting back upon my physical therapy journey. I’ve been spending time trying to recall what drew me to the field in the first place and if those same things still draw me today. Has my understanding and view of health changed over the years? How and why have my practice patterns changed over time? Theresa Kelly-Mitchell is a third year PT student getting ready to graduate from the UM. Theresa has spent a great deal of time helping MAPTA and has been a leader and advocate for the profession long before actually becoming a PT herself. I have much respect for Theresa and wanted to have a refresher on what it was like to be in PT school and just be starting out in the profession. Theresa was kind enough to share her thoughts with me and respond to a few questions I had. It was a valuable exercise for me and hope it will be for you also.
1.) What initially attracted you the physical therapy profession? Had you considered other medical professions? If so which ones and why did you choose PT in the end? I have a background in yoga, martial arts, and theater, and what the human body is capable of has always amazed me. My whole life, anytime someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would say scientist. I went the arts route, but never lost my love of science. I think PT blends these worlds so beautifully. I wanted to be able to prescribe movement to people because the body is meant to move, not stay still. I wanted to tie my backgrounds together and expand my ability to help others. Getting a DPT gives a legitimacy to my passion for creative movement in the medical field. I think I have always wanted to go into some type of therapy field of study, and honestly, yoga was what pushed me into the physical therapy world. I have a similar story to many others who chose PT- I got injured in high school and PT helped me. However, the PT I worked with recommended yoga to me to increase my ROM and maintain the gains I had made. Fast forward 10 years and I was teaching yoga as my main job and I found myself advising and modifying movement and poses for people who had injuries. The only thing I couldn't do was offer MORE movement, because I didn't have the education (and insurance) to prescribe exercises. I didn't want to tell people not to move, that seemed counter to what I stood for, so I began to look into going back to school- and here I am!
2.) Reflecting back upon physical therapists you have been taught by or mentored from; does any particular therapist stick out to you as having been particularly influential and if so, why?
I have worked with a few PT's that were right out of school, and while there were really new to the scene, their dedication to their patients and an evidence-based practice astounded me. Also, I think back to them often, because they always seemed confident, even if it was uncharted territory. I think about them when I am nervous in the clinic and am not sure of my next step. They give me courage because I watched them take time to think through the problem, always focus on the patient, and adapt to each changing circumstance. Also, I think- if they made it through school and found a job, so can I! New grads are very inspiring (I hope I can offer that to a student when I get out of school).
3.) What has been the most challenging aspect of your physical therapy training thus far? The most challenging is that in order to become a general practitioner, you have to learn the general information in every PT specialty, and that makes it hard to stay fresh and comfortable in different skills. For example, we spend the first year and a half learning orthopedic tests and techniques, but I spent my second clinical in an acute care setting where I didn't get to use those skills very often. So, I have to constantly go back to the things I learned over a year ago and try to find time to practice and refresh my memory. It's hard when you are not confident in your skills yet to even know if you are reviewing and practicing correctly.
4.) What is one thing you wish you knew before starting PT school? The didactic learning is to lay foundations and sometimes it doesn't feel applicable to real life. It's scary and frustrating to feel like you have to know everything all at once. But, luckily, the more practice in clinic settings and the more you use your resources, the more things will come naturally to you. It's a process, like everything else- and it's ok to look things up if you don't know it off the top of your head!
5.) If you could change one thing about the physical therapy profession right now, what would it be and why? I would love to have more interdisciplinary collaboration integrated into our DPT training and school work. I think if we built relationships with students of other professions, we can set ourselves up for better collaboration within care teams across our profession. I know there are a lot of amazing PTs out there who really work for outreach and community partnerships, but I would like to see us more involved in the public health realm. Looking for ways to partner with public health initiatives more frequently could push the PT's who want to focus more on prevention and wellness into a more integral role in our community. (For ex: Eat Right Missoula does BMI screens at elementary schools- could PT help change that to more functional testing of health? Could PT's hep with increasing support for breastfeeding initiatives by providing education and therapy to new mothers?) This would help us expand our community's knowledge of what physical therapy is and how we are advocating for the entire realm of health. I think the collaborative approach will also help with accessibility to our services. I wish more people could take advantage of what we have to offer.
6.) Reflecting back on what your expectations were prior to physical therapy school. What has changed since starting PT school? I think being a non-traditional student, I mostly had expectations that I just had to work hard, study, and practice and it would come to me with time. I also had a sense that if I didn't study every night I was going to get left behind. I also thought that I had enough foundational knowledge to feel like I was at the same level as the Ex Phys majors...I was wrong! However, I quickly found my routine and I found out that as long as I know my study habits and work within my limitations, it's just like any other thing you want to be good at. And, there were some classes that I had to do extra work on my own to learn more about the language and background of the class just to stay on top of things. Those were hard, but other things came easier for me. So it's all about balance.
I can't really explain my specific expectations, I just had a sense that this was the right thing for me to do in my life and I just needed to do what had to be done. I think that still lines up today.
7.) What are you most excited about becoming a physical therapist? Firstly, I am excited to actually have a career set out in something that I love. I’ve worked for a long time to find the right path for myself and it's finally here. The more I learn about PT, the more I know I can help others in ways I never knew were possible 3 years ago. I am really, really excited to see how I can tie my DPT degree in with my MPH degree. I can't wait to move into chronic disease management and prevention and wellness. I want to expand our profession into more collaborative settings and promote PT as a sustainable option for people to live healthier lives. I am excited to use my creativity and clinical reasoning every day, and get paid for it! (What?!? Imagine that!)