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Unveiling the Impact: The Wide-Ranging Role of Physical Therapists

Have you ever met someone and asked them what kind of work they do, and when they answer you give a nice reply and move on? It may be that you are not sure what they do and what kind of questions to ask to get to know what they do. I also know the answer I give is too simple. "I do Physical Therapy". All the while I know they probably have a preconceived idea from personal or other experience. I have heard from some patients. "I am surprised you did not just give me some theraband and basic exercise". I have also known people post-surgery have been told different things and fear the pain they will experience once they see the Physical Therapist. I have seen another side when the patient is seeing a good therapist who is doing the right therapy, but if they don't connect personally with the patient, the patient tells others "Physical Therapy did not help me".

I will explain what I do as a Physical Therapist from my experience, but

Physical Therapists are all different. No matter how some schools want to attempt to train them to be "standardized", this will only be a determinant of the profession. I do know this, the whole profession of Physical Therapy has not done a good job of promoting or explaining what we do to the public. We are working in a profession that people need to trust with their individualized care. So I will do my best to tell you my story.

I grew up in a household in low-income and my parents mistrusted the medical profession. You were just expected to toughen up and push through pain, injury, illness, and the like. So why did I decide to become a Physical Therapist and go to medical school to receive a Doctorate in Physical Therapy? I knew I liked health and science and when I came across the description of Physical Therapy in the career office at my high school my sophomore year, I knew that was it. I wish I remembered the description, it probably was a little better than the poor description you would find on Google. I had a deep desire to educate and help people find freedom from what limited them from being active and alive. I learned from my father if something doesn't work, figure out how to make it work. My father could fix anything. He was a true MacGyver (see the original TV show). My mother dealt with mental health issues and never was able to really live her life. She never knew what could have helped her mentally or with her physical issues. I tried to help her but my parents also resisted my help. I saw due to lack of resources, many people on the Flathead Reservation, never received the care they needed or deserved.

Onward, I earned my undergraduate degree in Health & Human Performance/Athletic Training. Once I had the basics, I went to medical school for a Doctorate of Physical Therapy. While I was in school, I learned of continuing education courses and that I could also take them while I was in school. I continued my interest in manual (hands on therapy) from sports massage to joint mobilization techniques (Mulligan Concept). I went to several internships and learned from various Physical Therapists in various settings: acute hospital (immediately after surgery, initial days admitted in the hospital), ICU (intensive Care Unit) patients with significant levels of care needed, Skilled Nursing homes (memory care, various levels of assistance needed), outpatient clinics, sports venues, and more.

I have been a Physical Therapist for 20 years. Licensed as a Massage Therapist for 27 years and certified as a Personal Trainer for 27 years / Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist for 15 years. I do continuing education and get nearly a hundred hours of training each year. I still believe the best characteristic of a Physical Therapist is not their education but the reasons behind it. I completed all this education and sacrificed my time to have the tools to help anyone that I can help. Most of my patients have commented that I was genuine, honest, wanting their success, encouraging, and giving them hope.

So what do Physical Therapists do? It depends. It depends on the therapist that you see and their specific training. It depends on what you need from your therapist. Each therapist or clinic can tell you what they treat, and what specialties and training they have. Most times you will be surprised and how thorough an evaluation/assessment and education that you will receive. You need to come in with goals of what you want and ask questions to find what they do.

Karen Baltz Gibbs, PT, DPT, CSCS, CMP, LMT, Owner Garage Training & Rehab Gym

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