Podcast: Listen to 'This Is Why'
I love kids: I babysat, was a camp counselor, started my career as a pediatric physical therapist (PT), and retain a childlike sense of play (especially when I'm with my grandkids). I knew physical therapy would be my life's profession from the moment, at age 13, that I witnessed a PT working wonders with children with disabilities at Camp Goodwill outside of Syracuse, New York.
My dad had suggested I seek a career in nursing or teaching, but neither field appealed to me. (He never suggested I try to become a doctor, like my brother. How times have changed!) "I think I'd like to become a physical therapist," I announced, without really knowing what that life would entail. But I've never for a moment regretted it.
As for an encounter or incident that confirmed why becoming a PT was the right choice for me, I couldn't possibly choose just 1. I've had meaningful experiences in all 5 of my professional roles over the years: as a patient/client manager, consultant, administrator, critical inquirer, and educator.
As a patient/client manager, I once was told by a grateful patient, "No other health care provider ever has examined me so thoroughly." On another occasion, the daughter of a patient of mine who had died thanked me for having been the only person to have recognized and referred her father, whose particular neurological problem could not be treated by physical therapy. (To quote Kenny Rogers, "You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em.") And I'll never forget watching and hearing a child with cerebral palsy joyfully sing in a Christmas play after I and others had worked with and advocated for him.
As a consultant, I was the first contract PT in the New York City public school system, working in the 1970s at the Brooklyn Center for Multiple Handicapped Children and establishing the school's first physical therapy department. It was gratifying to get that program off the ground and see that students received the assistance they needed.
Setting up my own private practice honed my skills as an administrator. I was a private practitioner for 17 years and had a multitude of rewarding experiences serving patients and clients, managing a business, and mentoring students.
Immersing myself in research during my master of science degree program reaped new rewards. I learned so much from engaging in critical inquiry and gained firsthand experience in evidence-based practice, which is the key to outstanding patient care and to maintaining our profession's preeminence in motion science.
As an educator—a role in which I've served for many years—I have a special opportunity to touch the lives of those who will succeed me. I can't simply lecture a struggling student. Recently, 2 students failed their goniometry practical and needed to retake the test. Failing the retake wasn't an option, and, boy, were they nervous. But I worked closely with them, helped them study, and guided them through several practice sessions. By the time they took the retest, not only did they pass it, but, honestly, they could have taught the course! They'd grabbed the gold ring and run with it, and I'd played an important role. What a great feeling. That never gets old.
My life in physical therapy has been like a flower with many petals—each one as beautiful as the next. Each role I've undertaken in my career has added a color to my palette while allowing me to help others. Each new petal has challenged me and pushed me to keep growing. I will be forever thankful to this profession for encouraging me to blossom.
Lisa Rothman, PT, DPT, is an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Physical Therapy at the Graduate Center, City University of New York, College of Staten Island.
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