DELIVERING EVERYDAY MIRACLES: WHY PHYSICAL THERAPISTS MATTER

Originally, I wanted to be a teacher, just like my mother and father. But my parents suggested I pursue a different profession, ideally a career that involved teaching of some kind. I had no idea what to do.

Then, playing on my high school football team, I hurt my back. I had to go to a physical therapist in order to receive treatment. Helping athletes all day had to be the coolest job, I thought, just the best gig ever. So, I decided to become a physical therapist.

Today, I’m senior vice president of home health for Royal in the Northeast Region, overseeing about 2,000 employees, including some 500 physical therapists and physical therapist assistants. This month, in recognition of National Physical Therapy Month, our company will be celebrating physical therapists.

Of course getting from the football field to SVP at Royal took some doing. I worked as a hands-on physical therapist for about 12 years, holding jobs in multiple settings. I started at an outpatient facility, seeing 10 patients a day, moved on to a skilled nursing institution, with 12 a day, and then on to home healthcare, with six a day.

And that, by the way, is among the chief benefits of practicing physical therapy in home healthcare. A more manageable case load affords physical therapists more time in each visit, and over a longer period, to take care of patients.

And here’s another advantage: in a home environment, as opposed to an institutional setting that attempts to mimic the home environment, you’re where the patient actually lives. Physical therapists in home health see for themselves the physical challenges and safety issues that patients face every day, whether the towels are blocking the bathtub or the slippery carpeting on the stairs to the second floor. You have the opportunity to see where your patients are most vulnerable.

In the home setting, you also have some especially important responsibilities. How well you enable patients to navigate their functional limitations – such as walking, eating, bathing and dressing – could determine whether they should to go to an institution or get to stay at home and age in place.

Your key treatment goal, then, is perfectly straightforward: to train and equip your patients to be independent enough to move around in the home and, eventually, outside. Ideally, they can go fetch the newspaper from the mailbox out in front of the house and go downtown for an appointment with the family physician.

Now I get to lead other therapists. I actually love my leadership role even more than I did treating patients. My mission is to make sure Royal is the employer of choice for physical therapists nationwide (our company, unlike many others, actually puts physical therapists in leadership roles).

More specifically, my job is to see that our physical therapists deliver the highest possible quality of care and have everything they need to do so. I try to fulfill all their clinical needs so they can do the same for our patients. I also prompt our therapists remember their why – why they became physical therapists in the first place.

Granted, I sometimes miss treating patients myself. I loved being a physical therapist, loved being hands-on. I never second-guessed my career decision for a second. It’s a professional matter, yes, but also highly personal. I even married a physical therapist!

Anytime you can make a patient feel better, that’s a big win. Sometimes patients would look at me as a session ended and say thank you, now I can wash my hair without pain. I had this one patient, a young man who sustained a gunshot wound to his neck that cut off blood and oxygen to his brain, leaving him with brain injury. I spent months helping to rehabilitate him. Eventually he was able to walk on his own again. He went back into the community and lived independently.

That rewarding experience exemplifies what makes physical therapist more a calling than a job. And I was fortunate to answer that call at Royal.

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