Sitting here today I just am reflecting back on my time in physical therapy school and how much I have grown as a student, a man, and a physical therapist. I know people say that the learning doesn’t actually start until you are out of school so I am excited for that, however I can’t help but think back on everything I have learned and how much has changed in 3 short years.
Coming in I thought I knew so much already about the body, I mean I loved to exercise, I had gotten results from lifting, and I knew some stuff about muscles and bones. Looking back I just smile at how naive I was. A recent discussion with my long term mentor ended with her saying, “If you could look back at the conversations we had 6 years ago, you would just laugh at your ideas and what you thought physical therapy was.” This was the woman who really guided me down the road towards physical therapy, my long time mentor, telling me that when she initially saw potential in me, I wasn’t even close on what our profession does.
I hope to one day be able to see that potential in students as I intend on becoming a mentor within our profession. Talking with a wide network of people has increased my knowledge about our profession so much that I can confidently answer a patient when they ask, “so have you ever thought about becoming a personal trainer?” This question was just proposed to me this week and I decided, as opposed to trying to educate her on our degree difference and clinic settings, was to listen. I asked her why she thought I would make a good personal trainer. She said “well you are just so caring and you really push me to do my best, I just feel so much better after working out with you.” Some people may have been offended by this patient’s question, however by gaining the skill of listening; I learned that she was offering me a strong compliment. This I think relates back to my mentor’s ability to see in me what I didn’t even see in myself. She saw passion, drive, and empathy. Regardless as to whether or not my logic was flawed, she knew that would develop in time. The fact that at 20 years old I was listening to patients, talking with them on their level, and being compassionate towards others were more important than being able to rattle off the insertion and innervation of the teres minor.
I have been so grateful for all of the people that have come into my life thus far so to say the learning starts after graduation just seems like a fallacy. Through my doctorate of physical therapy program I have met some amazing people, attended world class conferences, and learned more about handling interpersonal relationships than I ever could have at a major university. Governors State may not be the biggest or best university, but it is more about the people you surround yourself with. While I only got accepted into one program, many of my classmates turned down some of the more prestigious universities and chose to come here. That being said, physical therapy school has surrounded me with some of the most intelligent people I have ever met and I wouldn’t trade what I have learned from them for anything.
Even though my passion for physical therapy has grown over the last 3 years, I still feel like what we do is not understood. Having more education in musculoskeletal disorders than most physicians, why are we not the professionals leading the charge against low back and chronic pain? Why do we get looked down on by others in the medical profession? My hypothesis is because our “medication” is movement and people understand (or think the understand) how the body moves where as they rely on a doctor to decide between pills to cure them.
The biggest part of this reflection was the growth that has occurred in myself and how I have developed the confidence in claiming the title of the doctors of low back and chronic pain. Even though our medicine is movement, empathy, and education—it is still medicine. The research shows that the pill that numbs your pain does not actually solve the underlying issue. We as physical therapists are trying to give you the tools you need to help yourself, just as any other medical provider would.
Do you go to your doctor every day to be handed the pill they prescribed? No. They give you your prescription for the next moth and then you check back in…why is it such a hard concept to do the same thing with your DOCTOR of physical therapy and exercise? Help us help you. Don’t elect for that back surgery that 9/10 of you don’t actually need. Understand that 60% of those who get back surgery have reoccurring symptoms after 2 years or actually are made worse by the surgery. Try physical therapy and even if it seems dumb that these exercises will help your pain, remember the alternative to doing exercise that you know won’t make your pain worse, is popping a pill containing who knows what in an attempt to find the right cocktail to mask your symptoms and take the edge off. Then if those little magic candies don’t work, the next option is to literally cut you open and put something inside of or take something out of you. Pills don’t cure your pain, they control it. Movement is the intervention you are looking for and those 30-45minutes you are spending waiting for that magic drug to take effect could be spent actually addressing the root cause through exercise, mindfulness, or education.
I am a new graduate DPT and am interested in personal growth and becoming a connector within my profession.