One of my former bosses posted this meme:
I can honestly say that this is how I approach each and every work day. I may enter the building in a less than optimal mood, but my patients deserve my best. They deserve to feel better when I leave them, and to feel valued as a human.
I’m the therapist who will bribe a patient to get out of bed with the promise of fixing their hair or going outside. I’m the therapist who does a little jig and applauds when their patient walks for the first time after a major injury. I’m the therapist who talks to their patients about the emotional aspects of healing.
My calling in life is to make the world a better place; to help people live their best, most active, healthiest versions of themselves. I’ve always felt this, even as a young child.
I found my calling as a physical therapist when I was 13, shortly after I broke my arm, essentially ending my meager gymnastics career. But through my own experiences with physical therapy in my recovery, I realized this was something in the medical field that really appealed to me.
I went into college fully understanding the challenging work ahead of me, realizing that I couldn’t dare party my undergrad days away, because my admission into graduate school was entirely dependent on earning the best GPA possible. I graduated magna cum laude, a semester early, with a BS in Biology.
I went on to my first choice of PT schools: Virginia Commonwealth University, where I was supremely humbled by my coursework and realizing I was no longer the smartest person in all of my classes. I still managed to earn my MS in physical therapy, the entry level degree at the time. My colleagues are mostly DPT’s now.
In my 23 years of practice, mostly specializing in geriatrics and inpatient rehab, I have helped so many people by reducing their pain, improving their strength and balance, addressing their fears, and restoring their independence with functional mobility. Some days, this feels like enough. But others, I realize there is so much more to be done.
The biggest eye opener for me was during my days as a home health practitioner. My territory included the inner city of Richmond and in some of the poorest neighborhoods. I finally understood the obstacles facing my patients who were callously labeled “non-compliant.” I was merely a tourist in this world, but I knew that anything I could do as a PT was never going to be enough to fix the matters that were really wrong. Working through the pandemic has only highlighted the inequalities that exist in our healthcare system and in the systemic issues that plague our most marginalized members of society. These are the seemingly unsolvable, overwhelming problems that keep me up at night.
Thus, here I am, at a crossroads in my life. What’s next? I still love being a physical therapist, but I feel called to carry this further. Entering the public health realm may provide some answers. I already have a master’s degree. Maybe the next step is the PhD?
It seems everything I’ve done in the past 10 years has led me to this point. Not only do I work as a PT, but I also practice what I preach to my patients through my own fitness journey. Now as a coach with Sports Backers, as an advocate for safe spaces for running and cycling with Bike Walk Hanover, as an officer in the Richmond Road Runners Club, advocating for a plant based diet, and even in writing this blog, I’m doing even more to help make fitness and wellness more accessible to everyone. I even have experience teaching at the associate’s degree level.
But it’s more than fitness. It’s looking at the whole person and the external issues that affect one’s wellness. It’s eliminating social stigmas in healthcare. It’s ensuring access to safe housing, eliminating food deserts, and providing basic education about caring for our bodies. It’s teaching others how to find joy through movement. It’s creating safe spaces to do so. It’s not just education, but developing public policies and fighting inequalities, starting at the local level. This requires more. More education. More money. More student loans. And I’m willing. I just need to figure out how to pay for it without going broke! By putting this out into the universe, I hope that my lofty goal will matriculate somehow.
Do you have thoughts about going back to school? Do you yearn to do more to help the world? Inside my nearly 50 year old body is still a young, twenty-something with the idealistic notion that she can change the world. With what’s about to happen in the US, maybe this is a lost cause for a woman to pursue, but it’s a woman’s unique perspective that can create the right kind of change, in my opinion.
As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.