Celebrating Physical Therapy Month

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October is Physical Therapy month! It’s a great time to celebrate the successes of our patients and our hard working physical therapists at MotionWorks! While we are all about physical therapy, we realize that many people aren’t even quite sure about what a physical therapist does every day. This month we interviewed our physical therapists at MotionWorks so we can share a little about what we do, why we do it, and a few other fun tidbits for our PT month celebration!

Dr. Jill Murphy

What does a physical therapist do?

Dr. Jill Murphy: A physical therapist is trained to treat the body’s neuromusculoskeletal system and all of the problems associated with this system in a conservative, non-surgical fashion. This means that we treat all problems associated with nerves, bones, joints, muscles, and tendons, and also the dysfunction that these types of problems cause, such as problems with walking, sitting, standing, reaching, lifting, bending, etc. We treat every joint of the body from head to toe. We address these problems with hands-on manual therapy techniques, exercises such as stretching and strengthening, education on posture and movement mechanics (how to squat, how to lift, etc), and sometimes with modalities such as ultrasound and electrical stimulation to promote healing. While the physical therapists at MotionWorks typically treat patients with orthopedic, sports medicine, and spine injuries, physical therapists treat a wide variety of patients, including amputees, veterans with traumatic brain injuries, patients with burns, babies and children with developmental delay, and patients who have had a stroke or heart attack.

Why did you choose to become a physical therapist?

Dr. Murphy: I first became interested in a career in healthcare due to a curiosity about the human body, anatomy, and physiology. As a varsity basketball player and sprinter in track, I was also very interested in what I could do to become a better athlete, researching both nutrition, hydration, and how to develop the perfect work-out to make you run faster and jump higher.

Not knowing what exactly to pursue in healthcare, I set up a job shadowing 8 hour day at a local hospital, and by pure chance, the first job shadowing experience was with a physical therapist. I don’t remember this female physical therapist’s name, but I remember thinking this job was something that was interesting, I didn’t have to stick people with needles or be elbow deep in blood, and as a farm girl, I sure appreciated the hours, having weekends off, and smelling a lot better at the end of your work day! Seriously though, it seemed like the physical therapist was actively thinking about each thing she did with each patient and how exactly a modality or exercise would make that patient improve, and that kind of thought process was right up my alley. I never job shadowed any other position after that experience. However I did spend many hours with our athletic trainers who visited our school several times per week, since what they did was very similar to the out-patient physical therapy setting, except their patients were young athletes. Eventually I realized when researching physical therapy degrees that physical therapy is a master’s degree program (or was at the time- now it is a doctorate of physical therapy degree), so choosing a dual major of sport medicine and athletic training was a no-brainer for me.

Dr. Nathan SwanDr. Nathan Swan: My path to becoming a physical therapist, as do many PT’s, started when I was in physical therapy myself. When I was in 6th grade I injured my shoulder playing dodgeball. I was referred to physical therapy, where I had a great recovery and formed positive relationships with the therapists. I loved the fact that the PT’s were able to spend so much time with patients and make a direct impact in their lives. As time went on and I thought more about what I wanted to pursue as a career, my time in physical therapy always came to mind, and I decided that was the career for me. It was perfect. I could work hands on, use my problem solving skills, and help people along the way.

As I started undergraduate school I was met with even more confirmation of my decision. First, I got to see a physical therapist impact one of my own family members first hand. My little sister, being born with Down Syndrome, needed some extra help with getting stronger so she could run and jump and develop her motor skills. Her PT did an awesome job, and they had so much fun along the way. Now I have a hard time keeping up with my sister. At the same time my sister was getting therapy I was working on research in the biomechanics lab at UW-La Crosse. I was conducting research alongside a physical therapy and physics professor. We were researching ACL injuries using all sorts of fancy equipment and programs for 3-D motion analysis. I was amazed how broad a spectrum that physical therapy covers. On one end it is highly intellectual, like my research in the biomechanics lab; on the other end, it uses people skills to directly impact lives, like my little sister’s. Physical therapy seems to capture my personality with these characteristics. I am truly blessed to be working as a physical therapist.

What has surprised you most about being a physical therapist?

Dr. Swan: I have been astonished by the variety of people I get to treat. I have treated everyone from professional athletes to children to people in the ICU to people in a nursing home - but it is not merely their circumstances, injury, or age that vary. Everyone has a unique personality and life story. I get to learn so much from my patients. It is very exciting!

Dr. Murphy: When you first start out in your career, you are thrilled about the profession, the technical aspects of what you do, how the human body works and how to create change in a particular area or function of the body. Now that I have been in the field for well over a decade, I still enjoy the challenge of figuring out complex neuromusculoskeletal problems that patients may have, but I also enjoy the relationships I build with patients. They really become friends for a lifetime, and I hope to become a resource they can count on during and after their bout of physical therapy care.

What has surprised you most about working in a private practice?

Dr. Swan: Working in private practice has brought to the forefront the importance of my relationships with patients. People often choose a private practice because of the excellence of care and relationship they form with a specific therapist. I am excited to form those relationships and earn the trust of my patients.

Dr. Murphy: Lots of things are different about working in your own private practice than in an out-patient hospital setting. It is so exciting to be able to create your ideal physical therapy space in which to treat your patients. Everyone who knows me knows how precise and detail-oriented I am, but it’s really neat to see and feel everyday what a difference things like dimmable lights in treatment rooms, relaxing music that you can change for each patient, and spacious treatment rooms with high-low easily adjustable tables to create an ideal healing space for patients. Being able to take patient’s suggestions over the years and being able to implement little changes quickly can make a big difference in continually improving the patient experience. Having a flexible schedule on weekdays and weekends if necessary really helps me meet my patients’ needs as well as my family’s needs. It’s also nice to be able to keep your own patients on your schedule and see them through the rehab process from start to finish, with relaxed appointments and adequate time with each patient. Although I may feel pretty tired as I get in my car to drive home each night, I feel immensely satisfied at the end of the day as I think of the progress my patients have made and how much better they are feeling.

If you weren’t a physical therapist, what do you think you would be?

Dr. Swan: If I was not a physical therapist I would probably want to go to seminary and become a pastor. My faith is very important to me and I think it would be rewarding to devote so much time to learning and helping people in their spiritual lives!

Dr. Murphy: Definitely a CIA analyst! I love solving problems through deductive reasoning. I’m also a little bit of an adrenaline junkie, as I enjoy making quick decisions on the fly as I become aware of new information (kind of miss that as an athletic trainer). I’m just not sure if I would trust myself with a gun!