5 Reasons Why I Love Working in a Military Health System
By Ashish Kakar, PT, DPT
I'm a physical therapist (PT) at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC), and I love my job.
I didn't start my career in the military health system (MHS). I worked in a civilian outpatient physical therapy clinic like a lot of physical therapists do, and then began working at WRNMMC 2 years ago. I have to say that it has been an eye-opening experience for me. What I want to do in this post is to break down the 5 reasons why I love working in the MHS. They revolve around 2 things: our patients, and the autonomy PTs have in taking care of them.
The patient population: As a PT working at WRNMMC, I see a diverse group of patients. We see active duty service members, beneficiaries of service members, and retirees. The variety of patients, in turn, allows me to see a wide variety of diagnoses from poly traumas to neck and low back pain. This keeps me excited to come to work every day, because I know I'm likely to see something different. Most important, it's incredibly rewarding to know that I can help return active duty service members to full health and duty.
Working with my military counterparts: WRNMMC is my first clinical experience in the MHS, and the facility is considered the "flagship of military medicine." I work alongside my active duty PT counterparts and military and civilian physical therapist assistants and physical therapy technicians, many with deployment and overseas experience. The level of care and compassion that the WRNMMC PT staff show daily is what makes this service run as well as it does, and it is one of my favorite things about working at WRNMMC.
The ability to refer to other specialties: Patients that come into the rehab department come with multiple levels of complexity, and some need more resources than others. As a PT in the MHS, I can refer the patient to whatever type of care the patient may need. I can say that having the ability to refer patients to behavioral health, orthopedic surgery, physical medicine and rehabilitation, and other specialties improves the patient experience. It allows me, as the provider, to provide the best care for my patients and saves the patient time from having to wait and see their primary care physician for such things.
The ability to order imaging: As the primary care provider for musculoskeletal conditions, it is imperative that PTs can order imaging for their patients when warranted. This is not a tool that I use that often, but having the ability to order imaging improves patient care and gives me the ability to diagnose and treat accurately.
Innovation: The ability to be on the cutting edge of practice is what makes working in the MHS so great. Working with physical therapy leadership in the clinic, I have been able to develop the "Back on Track" class. This is a pain neuroscience education class for patients with low back pain who are at risk of developing chronic pain. I have even been able to offer this class along with regular physical therapy follow-up appointments over telehealth, an emerging technology offered by WRNMMC.
It is all these things and more that allow me to be the provider that my patients need to get better faster. It is these privileges that allow me to be the primary care provider for musculoskeletal conditions. It is my experience at WRNMMC that has allowed me to practice to the limit of my education and to experience the true impact that physical therapy can have on patients' lives and the health care field.
It is this experience that also has sparked my interest in working with the Federal Physical Therapy Section of APTA to help develop the primary care special interest group (SIG). The goal is to help promote PTs as the primary care providers for musculoskeletal conditions. If you would like to learn more, check out section's SIG webpage.
I appreciate having the opportunity to be able to write this blog for APTA, but I haven't yet shared my favorite thing about working at WRNMMC: our wonderful service dog, Staff Sergeant Truman. He brings a smile to every patient's face that he sees!
The author has no conflicts of interest to disclose. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of Defense, Veterans Affairs, Army, Navy, or US government.