Saturday, February 11, 2012

How I Became a Physical Therapist!

Well I had a request for a blog topic from Danielle and since I love Danielle and Ruby and Molly are virtual dog friends I wanted to do this! I hope it isnt too long and boring and i will try to not make it all tangential. But that is sort of how my life was in my 20-30's. It was alot of tangents, getting me to where i am today. But i wouldnt change a thing. Well maybe i would, bc i had some non fun job times in my first few years as a PT. I will try to start from the beginning.

**Note, I think this was a topic because i commented on Kim's blog about career changes in my 30's. So maybe this will give anyone the belief that when you are 30 something, its not too late to make a move. And likely when you are 40 something or even 50 something, its not too late if you have the passion and the drive to do that.

So. Where to start....( crickets)

I went to a liberal arts college and I went there knowing not a clue about what i wanted to do after i graduated. Heck have you been to Hanover ? Have you been to Dartmouth? Who wants to even LEAVE?
Not me. One of the  many jobs i applied for after college was in the sports information department, and also in the tennis coaching department. Wait? I need some experience in journalisim for that? oh. Anyways I did look back at a few things from high school and I did write that i wanted to go into Sports Medicine. So why didnt I do pre-med at Dartmouth? Well my friends that were pre med were NUTS, I mean that in a "good way" ( ha, right) but they were very driven and very motivated in what they were doing. I, in the meantime, did not want a biology lab that interfered with tennis practice. Plus i needed to practice. This girl is a good athlete, but growing up in MN, it wasnt like i came from a superpowerhouse tennis state. I played 3 sports all thru Senior year in highschool and tennis was the one i loved the most and the one that took the most work. missing tennis. We practiced from about 2-6pm so that took out any afternoon class. That is alot of how i picked classes.
And since this isnt about tennis I will move on.

So i decided on Government. Pretty sure i would go to Law School bc I liked constitutional law, and probably liked some TV show about lawyers, not sure. It's funny bc I really had no clue what a lawyer did, and i am not one to like confrontation. When i worked one of my off terms in D.C. I worked with many other Dartmouth kids at Wilmer, Cutler and Pickering. I hated it. We Bate Stamped. We did boring stuff, it was the most boring job I have ever had. I remember thinking that it was weird to see partners sleeping in their offices. I got paid well and if i stayed after dinner i got my dinner paid for and a cab ride home. I was torn. I wanted to go work out, I wanted to not live at that office 24-7. Hmm.

I did my masters thesis on DDT and the book "silent spring." So now i am thinking environmental law. At one point i asked the head of the Govy dept if i could combine govt with Enivironmental studies. he laughed at me. I think if i had been more bold and more confident i would have been the top Environmental Lawyer from the 1988 class at Dartmouth. I didnt think it was that funny. But he did. So I pretty much decided that was not going to work.

So I graduated with a B.S. in government and went back to MN before i started a job in?? Anyguesses?


( what is that???) I did that for about a year and it was, well, not my thing. I actually liked the subject matter even tho it got pretty mundane, but i worked for Gen-Re which was the largest domsestic reinsurer and then got bought by Berkshire Hathaway. ( fascinating i know) But i mostly hated living in Chicago ( sorry people that i know that live there) i hated it, i hated the city coming from Hanover and I hated my Boss who was a chainsmoker drunk. ( who was a Dartmouth grad. horrors)

So i came home. Felt like a total loser and also could NOT believe i had quit my first job. And this was even harder bc my dad has worked for 39+ years at the ST Paul Fire and Marine, which then was St. Paul Co's and now is Travellers. So i felt like i had let down the family ( my dad). But he was in property, he got to do cool stuff with natural disaster, and i was sitting in chicago working on the Casualty side writing umbrella policies for large hotels with swimming pools. I got to write a policy for Garfield the Cat, that was cool. ( The comic, not the cat himself) LOL.

So home i went, upset, couldnt sleep, the beginning of some "anxiety issues," moving home, post college, you go from bad ass senior at Dartmouth to living in your parents house. Fabulous. Not many friends, and blahblahblah. You get the point. Sort of a dark time ( well not dark but not a happy time).

I coached tennis, loved that. Coached for a few years and worked in development at a private school and got to me a master at donor research. Want to know how much you are worth? Yup I can help you with that. IT was fun! And it was sort of like a fun job bc I got out around 2 to go play with the kids. I then know I needed a job that was not a traditional 9-5 job. And I really did think i may become a tennis pro.
I interviewed Jerry Noyce, who was the head tennis coach at the U of MN and also the head of tennis at Northwest Athletic Club ( RIP, Lifetime has changed you!) He really made me feel good about my choice to be a tennis pro. "Remember you are helping people enjoy their free time." And to me that sounded pretty cool. But heck who is fooling who, I like to play tennis, so there goes the plan to teach and then actually want to play myself. The selfish side of me won out ( maybe it was the smart side) and I still dabbled in teaching and coaching and to this very day really hope to do it again. Coaching high school tennis was the most rewarding, and FUN thing i have ever done. I know its not great pay but i loved fall tennis with the girls. Most were coachable, but a few? Gee whiz people, you would think you would LISTEN and do what you are told? It is funny, some people are just NOT coachable bc they know better and it must start at the age of 14. I didnt find this with boys tennis:) LOL ( Coach Jen, is laughing? )

I Also had a stint at Caribou. I worked with the founders, Kim and John Puckett and about 100 great staff. We had maybe 6-8 stores and the quality of our drinks was amazing. ( think the opposite of the airport drinks you get now) Kim was a high school tennis compeitior from Mpls and John was a few classes ahaed of me at Dartmouth. They met at Tuck. Fun people, and I learned alot and had alot of fun. It spoiled me, to this day I cringe at Caribou and often want to jump behind teh counter to show the girl how incompetent she is at making foam. But hence i hang out at Indy coffee shops unless the 'bou has a BOGO offer. At one time i was offered the management track and then i pretty much knew that life had to be more than coffee and froth ( I know, shame on me.) So i applied to PT school.

Ok I sorta lied, while i was working at the bou i was taking ALL The pre-req's I needed for PT school. Yes I had a Liberal Arts degree but i didnt have Bio 1, I didnt have Abnormal Pscyh ( that was a FUN class) and I sure didnt have Invertebrate Anatomy ( dissecting a cat is not fun, btw) and yes cats are vertebrates. But anyways. I Also had to take, GROAN and SIGH AND gasp : Organic Chemistry.

Who remembers college friends talking about ORGO? I just remember my pre med classmates going on and on and having their little models to play with ... So my choice was to take it, in one summer. Macalester College offered a year of Orgo in 8 weeks. It was everyday from 8-12, two exams, one at 4 weeks one at 8 weeks, boom you are done. My pal Darcy was taking it too, bc she was applying to med school. That summer was the coldest wettest summer we have had in a long time and i remember studying and teaching tennis and not much else. But i passed and that was all that mattered.
There were a few other classes I had to take, like stats. I just remember the teacher having all these  M and M's to use for examples. Then we got to eat them, after we had all handled them. Ew.
And of course a year of Anat and Phys. But as you can tell I loved most of this, and i packed it all into about 1.5 years, alot of it at Community Colleges bc It was cheaper and they had night classes, some at teh U of MN which i hated compared to Dartmouth, and some at Mac which was like Dartmouth not only in the class size but the cost ( so cant take them all there) But one of my professors there for Invertebrate Anatomy and also for one more class, gee i cant remmber what it was, was the best mentor. His name was professor Smail. Wait, maybe it was embryology? anyways. :)
He wrote some of my referals for PT School and also was just very hands on. I loved him, he was older and was such a good teacher. Very approachable and no shame in asking questions.

Its funny. In high school I loved science. Chem and Physics and also Biology. I was a good analytical thinker. My SAT scores reflected that with much higher math than verbal. I still am a dork when it comes to using proper words, I would rather make up a word. I used to call everyhing "magnanimous." when i meant "magnificent." So why did i shy away from that in college? Maybe just wanted to see what else was out there. But Smail was good with me. I was not confident in any of this, I was the older student ( hahaha, late 20's) and was with junior and senior's in high school. I just felt out of place. But I was still pretty determined to go to PT school.

In addition to lots of pre-req's...i mean really. Pharmacology? That stuff chnages by the minute.  ( and living at home to save money) I had to do alot of volunteer work, hours towards PT. Work or volunteer or shadowing or whatever. So I pretty much went where i was comfortable, sports PT! One reason i didnt get in my first year to PT school was i didnt have a broad enough view of what PT's did. Who knew they did Wound care? Burns? Who knew they did things besides give me ionto for my tendonitis in my ankle. ( that was my first brush with them when i had a bit of anterior tib tendonitis while running / training for the TCM) AT one point my friend and Ortho MD told me to go into Orthopedics. He said "we need more women!" I AGREE. But i wanted this but not THAT bad. I never really wanted to go to school and have it engulf me for 6 years. I dont regret that. I sometimes wish i had become an RN, just to get a bigger view of the medical side of diagnoses.

I did finally get into PT school after working at Shriner's hospital in Peds, and also working at the MS achievement center. I realized how many other options there were to ortho. I knew i would stay local if i got in and one thing that I really wanted was a Masters, not another Bachelors. I went to school in 1994 and it was right at the time when alot of the BS programs were switching to MS programs. We were able  to do our own research, carry out the research and defend it. In the BS programs you pretty much gathered all the reserach but never did your own Thesis. So I have to say that was one of the most rewarding things I learned and accomplished from graduate school.  Our thesis was about fibromyalgia and the use of warm water exercise. Take home message is that to really decrease the Sx of Fibro you need to work harder than most people do. Often if they have joint pain they cant work out hard enough on land, so the water ( buoyancy) allows them to exert at a higher level. Water, coupled with the subjective benefit of being in a group, proved to be decrease some of their symptoms. We got published in the Aquatic PT journal. Yay us.

Gross Anatomy is a close second in the cool factor. We worked on a real cadaver. Which is the COOLEST, but also the most humbing and touching things, ever. To think that these people donated their body to science, so i could learn. And without that I would be clueless to the direction of muscles, or even how much we each differ from a text book. And working now, with the elderly, I am able to see what Sarcopenia ( muscle wasting) really really does to your muscles. To see a thread as thick as a string, that was an older woman's bicep? Wow. Our bodies are amazing. And the ease with which you can cut up a nerve bundle and not even know it was there? oops.
I think the most fascinating part of anatomy, or the thing that brings you back to the reality of Gross Anatomy is the hands. We always saw his hands, the hand prints, the finger prints, made you remember this was more than what you were seeing inside, it was a person.

And since I am on a roll ....I failed my first practical exam! Yup. It was Range of Motion. Now. ROM is the same as stretching, right? Well to an athlete it is. But to a patient who has arthritis or joint restrictions it sure isnt. Whops. I laughed, and got to re-do it right away. FYI: ROM is for the joints/end feels, etc..., Stretching is for the soft tissue/muscles/tendons. And no we dont manipulate but we do mobilize. And no, if you arent a PT you cannot legally do joint mobs. Sorry

You may laugh but where i work now, I oversee alot of Personal Trainers. God Bless them wanting to help but one of my most used lines is "THAT IS NOT WITHIN YOUR SCOPE OF PRACTICE." no you cannot touch the resident. Etc...So as much as I feel like the PT police, its amazing to me how bold and well meaning ( usually) some of the trainers are.

Other things that make me wonder... " Did you go to school to do this?" When i saw "3 years of full time with 4 residency's" i now see and had forgotten about the years of pre-reqs and the volunteer time.
So yea, I didnt buy this off the internet.

One last quick thing. I did work in out patient ortho for many years before i found my true calling. I also worked in acute care hospital settings and TCU ( Transitional Care). While i liked the acute care it was a bit too scarey for me. SEeing patients in coma's and also working with TBI's was hard emotionally for me. Working with sports injuries was fun. For every ACL patient i had, it was a pretty SET protocol, same goes for cuff repairs. ( shoulder) but espec if you had an athlete you knew they were going to get better. They worked, they WANTED TO BE THERE. Think of some of you. If you are in PT you may even work too hard. ( and put yourself back a bit) its here i really learned that the REST time is when you get stronger, not when you are hammering yourself even if its with a yellow theraband. Your body can only take so much then it needs to rest, you can use that with a post surgical case or with an IM athlete.

I ended up in my current job bc the OP ortho got to be too much. We had less and less time to see patients and more and more expectations to bill. I also was starting to see more and more people that DIDNT WANT TO BE THERE. They were not compliant, it was hard, I was too involved with them and it hurt me that they werent getting better bc I was working SO HARD to allow them to get better. Some of that is just how it is. Sometimes people just dont get better bc they dont make the changes they need to, and some just have tough stuff going on and they are not going to be 100%. I saw this especially with LBP ( low back pain). I do know that attitude is everything. I had some patients that were so pleased with their return to 70% function ( subjectively) and it was like they had a new lease on life. Others had the same progress, fully functional and they wanted to stay in bed all day long. It's all about how you look at things.

So i left direct patient care. I started working ( without pay) for a non profit called The Prebyterian Homes and Services. They were building their first wellness center and their CEO wanted me to work with them to decide what equipment to buy. So that was about 10 years ago and that was the start of something big. I was a part of the plans for a "Hub and Spoke" plan where we would have HUBs, biggers sites and we would spin off staff to work in wellness at the spoakes that were geographically nearby. It was me. I was the Wellness program. In addition to whatever Rec or Activities they had, there was not much in the ways of workout areas, pools, massage or personal training In 10 years we have gone from ME, randomly going to sites to give classes or train rec directors( who i am sorry really have no clue about proper spine positions for the elderly) to a staff of over 6 WINGS personal trainers, and full fitness centers and classes at ALL OF OUR 40+sites in MN, WI, and Iowa. Shazam!

Now I also teach classes on balance and strength and I work with the design team to get the new sites up and running. Funny how i am looking at layouts wishing i had a bit more architecture knowlege. I buy the equipment and I get the equipment fixed when it breaks. I train new staff and I keep our current staff up to speed on what not to do:) I also spend some time out at the sites working with the rec staff and activiites to try to make sure nobody gets hurt. The hardest thing about my job is trying to help residents in our Arbors ( Memory Care) so they dont fall. Basically they are smart adults, how have an illness and they make poor decisions and they sometimes forget how to walk. How do you help people that dont know who they are, why they are there and have no impulse control? The best part is helping residents in Independent and AL learn behaviors that decrease their risk of falling ...its pretty awesome.
And Yes Balance and Falls is my thing.

So, this has been a LONG story hour hasnt it kids!
thanks for reading and if you are still reading, hope you enjoyed hearing about my journey!


cheryl said...

Julia-that is amazing! I am so jealous that you found what you love to do. I knew all along what I was doing was not what I wanted to be doing, but kept telling myself I'm too old to change, and now I am too old. Well I am too lazy to go back to school, that was always my problem. Dont like the book work. But i love to read about training and sports and injury and nutrition, wish they had more of that to offer back when and where I went to school.

Anyways!!!! That was a great read, and little more insight into a friend. Hope you are having a good weekend. Stay warm!

Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I was just reading up on ochem classes! Same story here for me in undergrad. Labs conflicted with swim and Waterpolo practices. The really hard core science girls would show up at the pool at 7pm, post labs, to do a 6000 yard workout in the dark just as the rest of us were leaving to go to dinner. And Fridays were travel days for Waterpolo tournaments, so no MWF classes for me, so again no science. Thank you for sharing this with me and others--proof that you can get where you want with a little life experience, some direction, and lots of hard work--at 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, etc. BTW, I took Lelia to a violin master class to observe today. Soovin Kim taught on bowing technique, and every student he worked with he asked if they played tennis or golf--he wanted them to think about continuing a bow stroke, just as one would follow through in tennis or golf after they had make contact with the ball. He also suggested students try yoga to attain greater body awareness and help them to focus on turning off/relaxing certain muscles. Tennis is everywhere!

Danielle G.

Steve said...

I was told I could get a free cup of coffee here, I think someone gave me bad info. :) j/k.

Life has so much stuff in it, and we always want to do the stuff that makes us the most happy, and there are no clear cut answers.

You had tough times like we all do. Hi, this is me, I have life... now what??

We aren't perfect, we are not perfectly happy, and even the worst people are never too far away from finding a better way.

We all so much of our life are on our own, and with blogs I think we all share and relate, and realize we have a heckuva lot in common. I think realizing that helps us all be better people.

Hope you guys are having a good weekend. :)

Jennifer Harrison said...

CHERYL you are not too old....ever to do what you love! Please!!!!!

AWESOME stuff Julia! Fun to read the progression and I was chuckling! :)

Melissa said...

Great post, what a journey! I'd love to be an RN and think about doing a career change but I feel too old. :-) It's fun to hear how people arrive at the place they are, especially when hey really enjoy that place.

Angela and David said...

You were at wilmer?!!! Of course you didn't want to be a lawyer after that experience! None of my friends who went there out of law school stayed there long.

And totally get the athlete schedule messing with taking the classes you wanted. Because we practiced in the mornings I could take no classes before noon except my last semester of my senior year when volleyball was over. I was the only senior in all these required classes I'd been putting off taking.

Glad you found what you wanted to do because re-insurance seems brutal!

Beth said...

What a fun post! Funny how life takes so many twists and turns and we never thought we'd end up where we do! That's the fun part though!! :)

Damie said...

Ha ha!!! You know, I went to a liberal arts school as well. Major psych....went and got my masters in counseling at another liberal arts school. worked as a counselor (And started doing PT pre-reqs at night). Our stories are really similar- made the change in my 30s. xo! glad you are in the field!

mtanner said...

Love this story. And love your personality!

ADC said...

Great story Julia. I laughed at the part on you wanting to be a lawyer and partners sleeping in the office.

elizabeth said...

Reading this makes me feel oh so much better about my current journey in life! I fear I'll end up in another 7-4 or 8-5 job again sitting at a desk. That life is just not for me and I need to find a way to support myself doing something interactive. I LOVED this post Julia!!! :D THANKS!!

Betsy said...

I love your story. I wish mine was more like that. I also wish that there were still Northwest Athletic Clubs around :)

The Triathlon Rx said...

I loved this!!! Makes me really wonder where I'll be in 10 years... hah!

p.s. BOGO at Bou tomorrow ;)

renne said...

Julia, this was fun to read! Thanks for sharing!

Laura said...

Your story and Damie's story make me really want to look more into PT. I keep chickening out because I have a masters (5 years of school for my current profession that I don't really enjoy - biomedical engineering) but I don't want to work behind a desk anymore!! Is 30 too old for a change? I have some pre-reqs (I think) but no volunteer hours...

But anyway, thanks for your story. Awesome.