Student Spotlight: Taking on an Orthopedics Residency

Matthew Sullivan, Class of 2016

Undergrad: Kansas State University

 Hometown: Wichita, KS

 Class of: 2016 I’M GRADUATED BABY!!!

Colorado In Motion Photo

Interest in PT (peds, ortho, etc): orthopedics and private practice management

How did you get interested in that specialty? Were you always interested in that?

Short story: Athletics and yes.

Longer story: I grew up an athlete. Traveling the Midwest playing in basketball tournaments or various sporting event camps, I was pushing my body to its limits, and with being so active, it wasn’t uncommon to be battling some sort of nagging injury. Needless to say, I was in and out of various doctor and physical therapy appointments attempting to take care of my body from the repeated abuse. It was these interactions, like many former athletes who end up in sports medicine, that influenced me to pursue a career in the healthcare industry. Getting through college wasn’t easy by any feat, but finishing my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Kinesiology while working as a physical therapy technician at a private practice further solidified my interests in orthopedics and manual therapy. When I found out I got into the Regis physical therapy program, which happens to be one of the best programs in the country, I knew I was following my dream and headed in the right direction. I set goals for myself entering PT school as I knew going through all the ups and downs of grad school were going to be difficult; I did not want to lose sight of where I wanted to take my career. My goals were to get involved and not be a shadow in the crowd and to challenge myself with any opportunities that might present themselves to me and to pursue my passion in manual therapy/orthopedics and private practice management. I am about to graduate in just over two weeks and I have achieved those goals, even made some new ones for the future as I begin my career, but I couldn’t be happier with where I am today.

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Leadership positions/involvement in that specialty:

I was a student member of the orthopedic section of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), which is nice because you can get a hard copy of the Journal of Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy (JOSPT) monthly in the mail to read. I was also a student member of the American Academy of Orthopedic Manual Physical Therapists (AAOMPT), which is another great resource for manual therapy and offers discounts on their yearly conferences that I would highly recommend attending during your final year of PT education if you’re interested in that specialty.

Congrats on finishing your last clinical! Where were you?

I was in Fort Collins, Colorado, working at Colorado In Motion for 6 months, a private practice with four different locations in the Northern Colorado area offering comprehensive services of physical therapy, occupational therapy, and industrial health needs. This really is a unique private practice that offers everything from pediatric, orthopedic specialties, neurological, and even hand therapy; it was such a great learning experience. Applying and getting selected for this clinical rotation was actually a goal of mine entering PT school. One of the founders of the clinic is a world-renowned physical therapist who used to be a professor at Regis in the PT program and is a major contributor to research and education for physical therapy locally throughout Colorado and nationally with various organizations. He also challenges the status quo of the healthcare industry to foster better care. I knew I wanted the opportunity to surround myself in a clinic with like-minded clinicians known for committing to excellence and fostering continued learning. A unique factor regarding my clinical experience is that throughout the six months, I had several opportunities to shadow and work with seasoned clinicians who are experts in the field and learn from them firsthand.

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What other types of settings did you experience during your time at Regis?

In PT school terms and clinical education, you could say I won the clinical lottery! My first rotation was in Moab, Utah, (two national parks in my backyard) for six weeks at an outpatient facility located at a hospital. Due to the rural location of the setting, my caseload was a mix of outpatient clients, inpatient acute rehab, skilled nursing, and even home health, so you could say I’ve seen it all in regards to what physical therapy encompasses. Oh, yeah, as an added bonus, I was also able to spend an ample amount of time exploring the vast southern Utah scenery in between working at the clinic. I honestly felt like I was on a six-week long vacation from PT school. My second clinical rotation was in Colorado Springs, Colorado, for 8 weeks at an inpatient rehabilitation facility. I saw a little bit of everything during this rotation, which will challenge your PT critical thinking skills because you have to put everything together that you have learned. In school you learn everything “systems” based but the real world requires everything put together that was the biggest challenge during that rotation but it was enjoyable because you get to return patients to much higher levels of function than when they arrived in the hospital.

Can you talk a little bit about why you chose to do a residency? What do physical therapists gain from such a program?

I am so thrilled to be pursuing a residency post graduation with an emphasis in orthopedics through Evidence in Motion. The primary reasons why I chose to do a residency are because of the structured clinical mentorship, continued hands on practice of skills with feedback, and continued education experiences for patient communication. PT school crams an unbelievable amount of information into your brain, but when you get out and start practicing, you realize that honestly, you really don’t know that much about treating patients. I mean, c’mon, how many patients walk through the door and are textbook examples of what you studied in the classroom? I’ll tell you, I’ve been working in the clinic for the past 6 months; there really aren’t that many, and you have to hone those critical thinking skills and figure out what is going on with this patient and how you are best going to address it during your treatment today. The hands on practice accelerates what you will gain from just working in the field of PT, but in a residency model, you will also learn how to best make the judgments for selecting the different interventions and any modifications when necessary that may be needed to best facilitate patient comfort. Lastly, communication is the most important factor in healthcare in general. For physical therapy, it is so important to be able to build rapport with your patient, establish that therapeutic alliance for your care, and be sure to effectively communicate what is going on to the patient. Sometimes, something as simple as listening to them talk is all a patient is really looking for in this ever-changing and dynamic healthcare industry. We all took on the roles of being lifelong learners when we decided to enter the healthcare profession. Even the best of the best in the field of physical therapy do not know it all and are still learning to this day. Physical therapists gain an increased self-efficacy and knowledge base for their clinical skills and are eligible to sit for the board certified specialists examination post completion of a residency.

How does your class feel with the NPTE? How did you study for it?

The majority of my class took the exam at end of April, which is came up really quickly after clinicals! I think that, overall, my class feels prepared to take the exam; Regis has prepped us really well with their curriculum. It is also reassuring I worked with many colleagues who all graduated from Regis during my final clinical, and they all have said the same thing: that Regis gives you a solid foundation of knowledge going into the exam. I set up a study schedule, and most of my studying has taken place after work. I make myself sit down for a couple hours each night during the week and focus on a particular area of study. If I get busy during the week, then I makeup more study time on the weekend or at work if I have an opening in my schedule between patients.

What would you like to have accomplished in the next five years?

Career-wise, my goals are to complete my residency, become board certified in orthopedics, obtain my trigger point dry needling credentials, establish myself in the Northern Colorado area with Colorado In Motion, and find a niche I want to market towards for clientele as well as possibly fellowship training through the American Academy of Orthopedic Manual Physical Therapists. Life-wise, I want to continue to explore the Colorado and western landscape by climbing more 14ers, backcountry camping, and visiting as many National Parks and recreation areas as I can. I will also enjoy the Fort Collins lifestyle by becoming a regular at the New Belgium and O’dell Breweries tap rooms and by developing my new passion for trail running out at the Horsetooth Reservoir!

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How did Regis further your interests? Any advice for the classes under you?

Regis is known for their high quality of education and, specifically, teaching very good manual skills. You will constantly be pushed to get involved and challenge yourself–no getting away from that at Regis! Someone as stubborn as myself (I am really stubborn) needed this, and even when it is frustrating, the faculty and your other classmates will find a way to push you off that cliff and watch you spread your wings. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there; you honestly cannot network enough! You can be the best PT ever, but if you can’t communicate and network with other colleagues and build relationships and surround yourself with like-minded people who will push you towards your goals, then you will fall stagnate and always wonder where your potential could have gone. PT school is a combination of all the best and worst feelings you can imagine mixed in with a boatload of exams and projects. Sometimes it sucks, and other times it is so unbelievably great! I was actually asked the other day if I had to do PT school again, would I? The answer is: yes! Absolutely! It has gotten me to where I want to be and, in my opinion, is the best career because I get to help people with movement all day— but I’m glad I graduated and am onto my career.

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