• Defining Moment

    From Soap Opera To SOAP Notes

    It all started with General Hospital.

    Listen to 'Defining Moment'

    I grew up in a small Nebraska town, the youngest of 6 children. My parents were raised on farms and went on to college to become teachers. My dad was a superintendent/principal/coach at the high school level. My mom taught in rural schools—mostly kindergarten and first grade.

    My family and most of my teachers expected me to become a doctor. I graduated first in my high school class of 22 students, after all! And smart kids became doctors, right? But there also were those in my town who thought I'd never amount to much of anything, given my reputation for mischief. Let's just say, as a friend of mine put it, that "we provided our own entertainment" in order to keep things interesting.

    I started college in the fall of 1982 at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. But I soon became discouraged, as I was placed in an advanced biology class with juniors and struggled to keep up. Self-doubt took over. Before long, I was changing my major every few weeks. I was going to be a history teacher, then a game warden, then a math teacher, then an athletic trainer. Each time I proudly presented my new future occupation to my father, he simply looked me in the eye and said, "No you are not." It's funny, looking back, to realize how effectively he motivated me, with so few words, to keep exploring.

    I transferred to a smaller state college to play baseball. Between classes, I'd watch the Luke and Laura saga unfold on the TV soap opera General Hospital. Luke had been lost in an avalanche and was presumed dead. But it wasn't too surprising, given that he was the star of the show, that he turned up alive after a while. He needed lengthy rehabilitation, however, to learn how to walk again and resume activities of daily living. A Russian physical therapist worked with him, using many types of manual techniques and exercise to help restore his health.

    That, believe it or not, was the moment that defined my career path. A light went on in my brain. This is the job I was meant to do! But wait—was this a real job? I honestly didn't know, because not everything you see on TV soap operas is scrupulously accurate. So, I called my sister, a registered nurse, and asked her if she'd ever heard of "physical therapists." She not only confirmed their existence, but she got me an appointment to speak with the director of physical therapy at her employer.

    Where did my sister work? I am not making this up—Lincoln General Hospital!

    After asking the physical therapy director a lot of questions and shadowing her on the job, I was sold. She had a huge influence on me, even though I would never see her again. She had some great advice. "I don't know what kind of person you are," she said, "but if you like to do things other than study, this is what I suggest." It was true that studying wasn't my strong suit. She told me to take a minimal number of credit hours at a given time, but to try to get A's in all my classes. She emphasized that my grade-point average would weigh heavily on my acceptance into a physical therapist education program. She was so right.

    I transferred back to the University of Nebraska and was assigned an academic advisor. After only a brief discussion she looked me straight in the eye and said, "You need to pick a different major. You'll never get into the physical therapist program." She wouldn't even help me set up prerequisite coursework. I left her office and never spoke to another advisor. Instead, I began taking control of my own destiny, and researched which classes I'd need to take. If I hadn't been accepted into a physical therapist program, my backup plan was to become a high school science teacher, coach, or athletic trainer.

    On General Hospital, Luke became mayor of the town. His physical therapist turned out to be a Russian spy, and he had to kill her. I opted to stay away from drama, however. I studied hard and focused on getting good grades. The payoff came when I was accepted into the University of Nebraska Medical Center's physical therapist program.

    During the fall semester of my last year of school, I lived with my sister and her husband. My sister was selling motivational tapes on the side. She gave me one to listen to on my way to and from classes. It was all about the "psychology of winning." It helped boost my confidence. I hadn't always been the greatest or most motivated student, but I was all-in on physical therapy. I wanted more than anything to help people the way that Russian woman had helped Luke—but without the espionage and homicide! I started believing that I could achieve anything I set out to do.

    I graduated in the summer of 1988 and moved to Texas on a whim. I didn't yet know what my place would be in physical therapy, but I figured it would sort itself out. In the meantime, I'd try some different things. I worked at a hospital for 4 months. Then, after meeting the owner of an outpatient physical therapy clinic, I worked for her for half a year. Another physical therapist asked if I'd like to go into partnership with him and open a pair of clinics. Even with my newfound confidence, I was pretty skeptical. It sounded difficult and risky. But, being a single guy, I reasoned that I had little to lose. I accepted his offer.

    It turned out that my instincts were right. It was tough. We had our differences and dissolved the partnership within 4 months. But my former partner and I each kept a clinic. I was totally on my own. As it turned out, though, I loved it. That was the kick I needed to identify my true calling: practice owner.

    I now own 6 clinics, with a combined staff of 180 people. We have the joy and privilege of helping scores of patients and clients overcome injuries and reclaim their lives every day. Along the way, I've weathered steep personal tragedy, as well as some professional challenges. But I'm happy to say that I've never, to my knowledge, hired a physical therapist who's a Russian spy. (That would be very bad from a HIPAA standpoint, to say the least!)

    Looking back, I realize that everything happens for a reason—even seemingly random things like watching TV soap operas. I've lived a truly blessed life. I don't need to be mayor of the town. Luke can have it.

    Defining Moment Author

    Scott Humpal, PT


    a great story!
    Posted by doug bowers on 9/15/2016 11:49:27 AM
    I LOVE YOUR STORY!! Thank you for sharing- I too was told I would never be accepted into the program--or it was too competitive, to expensive, etc. I'm glad I did not give up when everyone was telling me it couldn't be done. I take the time to mentor young students now and tell them - yes you can!!
    Posted by Kimberly Gerling -> >MRaAO on 3/8/2019 10:08:56 AM

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