Since I transitioned to academia several years ago, I am often asked if I still work as a PT. Clearly, those who are asking want to know if I remain involved in clinical practice. I have always responded by describing how I juggle my teaching schedule with working in an outpatient facility. This type of facility provides the greatest flexibility for me in terms of schedule. I am able to work in clinical practice during spring break; in the summer when I can take time off; and during the fall holidays, when school is out and many clinicians go on vacation. So, yes, I still get my “therapy fix.”
Over the last year, as I fully transitioned to academic administration, this line of questioning intensified. Now, I am asked if I have retired from physical therapy. I wish I could say that I am retired, but I am nowhere near that phase in my life. I still do clinical practice in the same outpatient facility, as my schedule would permit.
Apart from clinical practice, I still remain involved in other ways. Here are a few:
• I work for Webber International University, a business school with a liberal arts branch campus in North Carolina. I come in contact with athletes, strength and conditioning staff, and athletic trainers every day. The student population is about 90% athletes. It is not unusual for me to stop an athlete who sustained an ankle sprain to adjust his crutches if the assistive device is not properly fitted. Teaching the athlete how to use crutches properly is a regular occurrence as well, not to mention discussing the anatomic and physiologic effects of an ill-fitting device.
• It’s not unusual for my co-workers to ask me what to do with a musculoskeletal issue such as plantar fasciitis that they may be experiencing. Typically, I’ll also perform a foot assessment, including examination of their footwear and gait pattern, and will provide a home exercise program and recommendations for a foot orthosis. I may also give a brief description of the foot’s anatomy.
• On more than one occasion, during my travels, I have sat next to a physical therapist on a plane. You can imagine the excitement that we have upon finding each other. Recently, on my way to an education-related conference in Dallas, I sat next to a neurotherapist who had just attended a conference on concussion injuries. We discussed the condition as it affects athletes of all ages. We analyzed the mechanisms behind the injury and what changes may be necessary in some sports to prevent these injuries, which can affect student athletes’ performance in school. Of course, our discussion included evidence-based research findings on concussion injuries, its causes and management.
• In one of my meetings with computer and software engineers to design a student assessment application, I noticed that one of the engineers had a Trendelenburg gait and a footdrop. After the meeting, I couldn’t help but ask why she has that gait pattern. Upon finding out that I am a physical therapist, she consulted with me about her post-polio syndrome, the appropriate brace for her to wear and what exercises to do to prevent further atrophy of her lower leg muscles. The consultation included my discussion of muscle physiology and neuroplasticity as it relates to her lower motor neuron lesion — but presented in layman’s terms.
• In the community, I am currently involved in a project called “Stirring Waters,” which is aimed at creating the first all-inclusive water park in the nation for individuals with disabilities. This entails planning the park’s features, making recommendations on how to make everything physically accessible to visitors, and making the project’s battle cry of “From the deck and into the fun,” a reality. The project requires that I connect with physical and occupational therapists from all over the world to plan the park’s design and make the project a reality for hundreds of thousands of individuals who have only been able to watch from the sidelines.
So, when asked if I am still involved in physical therapy, here’s my new answer: Once a PT, always a PT. I may just be doing it a little differently than the conventional PT. Many of you can relate to my response as you have most likely done a gait analysis of someone in the mall, a postural analysis while standing in line at the grocery store or a biomechanical analysis of a sport-induced injury, while watching your child play soccer. I take comfort in knowing that I may not be alone in my being unconventional.