• This Is Why

    The Read on Physical Therapy

    Booking passage on a career of good luck and big rewards.

    • By Patricia Perez, PT, MS, OCS
    • June 2010

    Podcast: Listen to 'This Is Why' 

    As any physical therapist will tell you, becoming a PT takes a lot of hard work. The rigors of getting into a program and then trying to excel in it make the school years extremely difficult, even before we begin to practice. But a childhood passion of mine and some amazing luck combined to ease my path and shape my professional career.

    Growing up, I had no personal experience with physical therapy-no childhood injuries requiring that I receive it, nor relatives with injuries or disease processes necessitating it. Rather, it was my love of reading that first exposed me to the profession.

    By the time I was 12, I was a voracious reader. Around then, my favorite aunt gave me a book about a young girl who'd been diagnosed with cerebral palsy. I was entranced by her story-and particularly by the relationship the girl and her family had with the PTs who were treating her. From that moment I was hooked on physical therapy. I started scouring libraries and bookstores for similar stories.

    I was very fortunate, later, to attend physical therapy school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Professors such as Marge Johnson, Billie Nelson, Ruth Mitchell, Phil Witt, and Barney LeVeau probably have little idea what a deep impact they had on me, but I was lucky to have learned from such pillars of the profession. I was lucky, too, to have completed some of my final clinical rotations at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where I was offered my first job. There, once again, I worked with incredible PTs who became my mentors and friends.

    I write that I had "mentors." The truth is, I'm not really sure I was wise enough at that age to consciously look for such teachers. But, as luck (once again!) would have it, I found a wonderful mentor in Garvice Nicholson. His example was my foundation in pursuing an active role in PT education, in addition to clinical practice.

    That pathway, in turn, led to my association with Marilyn Gossman, an incredibly dedicated and passionate professional who was a steady source of encouragement to me as I embarked on my postprofessional education. Thanks to Marilyn, I was in position to learn from another of our profession's greats, Richard Erhard. What an amazing stroke of luck it was to have the opportunity to learn from such a master!

    And my luck has held in the years since. I have the great good fortune to practice in an environment at the University of Alabama at Birmingham that strongly values quality, service, research, and continued professional development. I am so lucky to work with a dedicated group of people who inspire one another every day. I'm grateful to have a professional life that offers a balance between clinical practice and teaching in the doctor of physical therapy program. It's difficult for me to express just how fortunate I feel that I learn new things daily from my patients and students. Whenever they feel a sense of accomplishment, it excites me. Whenever they show or voice frustration, they motivate me to help them past it. Each new day is a challenge that reinforces and deepens my enthusiasm for my profession.

    So, yes, physical therapy is a challenging profession, both physically and intellectually. Commitment and hard work are essential for any degree of success as a PT. But with a bit of luck along the way, a career in physical therapy offers rewards far beyond any effort expended. Take it from someone who knows.

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