( Kim Hairston, Baltimore Sun / July 11, 2013 )
How long have you been a physical therapist?
What does your job entail?
My job entails identifying patient impairments through evaluation and examination. Also, promoting mobility, functional ability and quality of life using a variety of interventions and evidence-based practice. I primarily see patients with neurological conditions such as stroke, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, spinal cord injury or brain injury. My job constantly has me moving, whether its gait training with a rolling walker, guarding a patient with bed mobility or educating for a patient's home exercise program.
What kind of schooling or training did you go through?
I graduated with a four-year Bachelor of Science degree in athletic training (from Catawba College) then completed an intense three-year program at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore for my doctorate in physical therapy. Physical therapy school consisted of lecture and lab with four clinical rotations, each building upon the other until carrying a full patient caseload by the last rotation. I also took part in a three-year research project and presented at the American Physical Therapy Association National Conference. After graduation, I sat for the national exam and became licensed. I am currently working at AAMC in the comprehensive outpatient rehabilitation center. I am also moving towards becoming a certified neurological physical therapy specialist.
What inspired you to this career?
I have always been interested in rehabilitation, perhaps from my early Little League days of rehabilitating ankle sprains from softball. Even though I started out my career in sports medicine, I branched out when I entered physical therapy school and fell in love with neurology. I found that the brain is an interesting mystery and really enjoyed working with patients with neurological conditions. Every patient is different and I enjoy individualizing care to patient needs while problem solving and being creative. I love going to work every day to try a new technique I learned at a weekend course, or to see a patient accomplish a goal, such as walking up stairs for the first time in months. So what continues to inspire me? My patients. They remind me that even when life throws us challenges, hard work and dedication pay off.
What do you like best about your job?
Patient interaction. I have built special bonds with my patients, because oftentimes I am seeing the patients more than their own physicians and sometimes family! As a physical therapist, I have the opportunity of experiencing the journey of recovery with the patient, whether its during the pain and difficult times, or celebrating the successes and goals along the way. Another reason I love my job are the success stories: from coma to integrating back into the community (working, yoga, swimming, driving). That is my greatest joy! Equipment is fun to work with, too -- LiteGait, Bioness Foot Drop System, AlterG -- just to name a few.
What are the challenges?
The challenges of being a physical therapist lie behind the scenes, with documentation. It takes additional time to complete, but it's vital to our business. It protects us, but most importantly, our patients. Another challenge is keeping up with changes with insurance, the Medicare cap, and new federal laws and regulations that have recently been updated, which we are adapting to currently.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2010 annual median salary of a physical therapist is $76,310.