This last summer, Regis DPT students led an evidence based Couch to 5k training program for local community members near Regis University. The program has resources that help guide the novice runner and includes educational material on running equipment, exercises to supplement running, proper warm-up and cool-down, and even suggesting nearby running routes in the Denver area. The program was spearheaded by two students from the class of 2024: Sarah Holtsclaw and Kinsey Folkers. Sarah and Kinsey led some of their peers in an effort to engage community members and encourage healthy physical activity. The Couch to 5k program is just an appetizer, a taste of what running can do for your mental, social, and physical health. The main event and the reason for the entire program is the Move Forward 5k/10k.
The Move Forward Race is a morning full of food, music, yoga on the grass, and good positive energy as hundreds of participants come to run together with differing individual goals; whether it’s to secure a new PR or walk alongside your dog, the Move Forward Race has something for everyone. If getting out on a Saturday morning and running with a community of like minded individuals doesn’t get you jazzed already, how about doing so knowing you’ll be supporting a good cause? All of the time and effort put into hosting an event of this magnitude is solely volunteer, with all of the proceeds from the race going to support two key non-profit organizations: Canine for Companions and Foundation for Physical Therapy Research.
So, who would be crazy enough to lead this team of volunteers and dedicate so much time and energy towards putting on the race? That distinction goes towards Betsy Geerdes of the Class of 2023. Under her leadership and guidance, we are headed towards the biggest and best Move Forward Race in Regis history. Trust us when we say you don’t want to miss out! The race is taking place this Saturday September 24 and sign up is open all week, so click the link below and sign up while you still can, we hope to see you out there!
This past summer I had the invaluable opportunity to complete my second clinical experience in an international format in Italy! Istituto Prosperius Fiesole is a private rehabilitation facility currently offering primarily outpatient and some inpatient rehabilitation to neurological, orthopedic, and sports injury patients. It is located in Florence, Tuscany, in the northern central region of Italy. The facility in Fiesole houses two operating rooms and an inpatient unit with a current capacity of 90 beds. The Istituto provides rehabilitation services for orthopedic patients with total joint replacement and those who have had traumatic injuries due to accidents and sports. Admitting patients immediately post-surgery, the orthopedic and sports rehabilitation services treat patients to return to the highest level of function. Neurological patients admitted to the Istituto include those with spinal cord injury, stroke, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease, head trauma, and neurodegenerative diseases. A team model of care is employed and include physicians (physiatry, neurology, and internal medicine), physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech/language pathologists, art therapists, psychologists, and social workers.
The most relevant and meaningful physical (PT) skills I learned were manual skills. With most of my patient population being orthopedic, a vast majority of them were joint replacements. The most common diagnosis I was treated were hip, knee, and shoulder replacements. I learned new techniques related to limb handling when conducting range of motion. Similarly, I learned a myriad of manual stretching techniques for the lower and upper extremities. Additionally, the clinic I was placed at had no high-low plinths; thus, I had to learn positions that were biomechanically efficient for me to conduct treatment. An interesting manual skill I was mentored on was myofascial manipulation. This is a manual therapy technique that was coined in Italy and involves the dysfunctions and adhesions that originate within the fascial network. Dysfunctional fascia can be reshaped by applying a mechanical force to increase tissue temperature and stimulate the body’s natural inflammatory response. My Clinical Instructor (CI) was a specialist in the area and I was able to learn a great deal about the assessment, application of the technique, and functional outcomes. This was one of the best aspects of the experience – learning different techniques that aren’t common practice in America.
Italian PT is very different from what we study and practice here in the States. The foundational concepts are the same, however, the scope of practice is starkly different. Physiotherapists do not possess the level of autonomous practice as we do in the US. For example, to progress a patient you need approval from the physician. Moreover, you are limited in the modalities and interventions you can employ. For example, vestibular testing, manipulations, and modalities such as dry needling and Graston techniques are prohibited. I treated a patient who was being seen for a hip replacement, but also presented with positional vertigo. After presenting the evidence to my CI on interventions, he allowed me to apply some of the techniques we learned at Regis to the patient which cured her vertigo. Under normal circumstances, this would not be allowed and the patient would have had to be referred to a vestibular specialist to address her impairments. The educational process is different as well – physiotherapists in Italy attend school for three years and their education is paid for. Additionally, their compensation is not nearly to the caliber of ours here in the States. Therapists in Italy make an average of $13,500 per year as opposed to the $91,000 per year average we make.
As a new Italian speaker, the language barrier was present but not insurmountable. I worked alongside Italian therapists and directly with the patients. I performed evaluations, treatments, and all the regular aspects of therapy to aid in the rehabilitation process of the geriatric residents; however, providing care in a foreign language was my biggest challenge. Coming in with very surface-level Italian, communication with patients proved difficult. All of the patients spoke Italian and little to no English. To address this, I had to use multiple non-verbal methods of communication. Frequently I would demonstrate the action, movement, or task I wanted the patient to do when I couldn’t verbalize it. I also learned to be more in tune with my patients’ fascial expressions, pain response, and using my hands as an extension of my eyes to assess soft tissue. I took advantage of technology in numerous ways, using translators, videos with Italian subtitles, and images to convey my messages when working with patients. The patients were so open and willing to allow me to work with them although I did not know the culture or the language and I sincerely appreciated that.
One of the most apparent virtues that were nurtured over my clinical experience was my deeply entrenched value for providing holistic care – cura personalis. In the hospital there were circumstances where patients presented with multiple impairments impacting their functionality, however, treatment of these additional impairments was either not approved by the physician or within the scope of practice of an Italian physiotherapist, therefor it was not our responsibility to address it. I did not resonate with this style of compartmentalized treatment because I’ve incorporated into my resolve as a practitioner that when developing a plan of care for a patient, it to collaborate and communicate with the multidisciplinary health care professionals to ensure the care being provided is holistic in nature. I believe that in physical therapy, patients are seeking experts who are willing and able to help them overcome challenging circumstances and guide them on a path to a higher quality of life. If we refrain from providing holistic healthcare by simply treating the main impairment, then we are failing to provide services that have the potential to permeate the multifaceted aspects of patient wellness. In essence, it is paramount that we advocate for our patients because they are in need our help and we are well-equipped with the tools to make a significant impact on their quality of life.
Aside from the patient interaction, the food, the culture, and traveling with the other American students was a sublime experience! My lodging was on a wine vineyard with a family owned Italian restaurant on the property. Here I tried probably every type of Italian dish and they were all delectable. During my time in Italy, I walked the Colosseum of Rome, visited the Duomo’s of Florence, took ferry rides to the five villages of Cinque Terre, ate my way through the Amalfi Coast, indulged in wine and music at wine festivals in Tuscany, walked on the campus of the oldest university in the world that resides in Bologna, and took part in historical Italian festivals. The culture is nothing less than enchanting. It is steeped in a rich and robust heritage of art, history, religion, cuisine, architecture, and fashion. The Italians value family and spending time with them, religion and maintaining Catholic traditions, and the pleasure of eating good meals prepared with love and dedication. It truly is a beautiful, expressive, and inclusive culture. This is the most beautiful country I have ever been to and I would unquestionably do this experience again given the opportunity.
My advice to others completing an international clinical experience would be to cast aside your current worldview and come into this experience with no expectations and a completely open mind. A challenge for the professional Doctorate of Physical Therapy curriculum is to prepare its graduates for practice in a rapidly changing society in a condensing world. Providing an international clinical experience opportunity allows students to delve into the various facets of international collaboration and education. This is a prime opportunity to exchange and share knowledge. Some of the potential benefits of engagement in an international clinical experience include a wider breadth of PT practice, an expanded worldview, and changes within oneself in the role as a PT student and practitioner. The capacity of PTs to practice within the confines of other countries reinforces the demand to prepare professional students for clinical practice broadly and globally, and this is an experience that does precisely that. Additionally, I would recommend equipping yourself with simple and common clinical terms and phrases. Knowing how to communicate with a patient to determine if they are experiencing pain or are fatigued, and simple commands (i.e. up/down, left/right, in/out) will make your experience that much more meaningful.
“Be present, be curious, be confident.” This is the phrase I adopted a few weeks into my second clinical to help with the crippling angst I was feeling. Since the start of the clinical rotation, I had been struggling to feel like me and hold myself with confidence. To put it bluntly, I felt completely incompetent. That is not to say I wasn’t properly prepared or had the information necessary to succeed. Regis had done an excellent job preparing me to work in an outpatient musculoskeletal setting, I simply did not feel that I was capable of putting it all together.
For the first few weeks of clinic, I would spend my 26-minute commute from Salida to to my clinic in Buena Vista, trying to slow my breathing and allow my mind to relax, to cease the endless fixations on my errors, missteps, and awkwardness. I was frustrated with my ability to mentally walk myself through a situation or a particular patient presentation with ease, but when confronted with the real situation I felt scattered, unintelligent, and forgetful. Those feelings then turned into embarrassment because I wasn’t meeting my own expectations or what I perceived were my clinical instructors’ expectations of me. This became a vicious cycle, taking my farther and farther away from the confident individual I so desperately wanted to be.
Normally I would reach out to close friends to help process these difficult emotions, and yet, because the vast majority of my close friends are also in the DPT program with me, I kept these feelings more to myself. The sneaky thief of comparison and the shame of inadequacy would creep in every time we discussed our different experiences in clinic, and I would find myself pushed further into my depressive thought patterns and even less willing to engage in conversation. I became angry with myself that I couldn’t simply hear my friends and classmates’ stories from the clinic, their successes, without comparing their experience to my own. I was frustrated that I was unable to simply be happy for them and their experiences.
At about the three-week mark, I took a purposeful step away from our large class group message and even my discussions with closer friends. To protect my own mental and emotional state and keep myself away from the thoughts and feelings of incompetency, I intentionally did not engage in much talk about the clinic or experiences there. This, on top of cancelling my social media accounts, seemed to help. A lot. While I still struggled to feel fully confident and capable, I spent less time feeling like an utter failure, comparing myself to others, and was able to focus on my individual success and goals. This is also when I began to adopt the mantra, “Be present, be curious, be confident.” It kept my busy brain quiet, allowing me to fully sit in each moment. Around this time, another physical therapist I shadowed spoke to me about her way of staying present within herself during patient care. She conducted “somatic check-ins” two times per patient session. The process was simple: she would take a round of breath to feel her feet were against the floor, sits bones against the chair, the expansion of her rib cage with each breath; bringing her attention back within herself to keep anxious energy at bay. It was comforting to hear I wasn’t alone in feeling frazzled, that someone who has been practicing for 10 plus years continues to need to check in with herself to make sure she is centered.
And so I tried this. I tried the somatic check-ins, every time I notice my mind drifting or fixating on things, I would use my mantra even if it was simplified to just “Be curious”. I wish I could say this magically cured my feelings of inadequacy, but of course it did not. It got better, slowly but surely, but never fully dissipated.
For those of you who have not had the opportunity to explore Salida, CO, it is a big, beautiful playground. For the outdoor recreationalists, there is always something exhilarating to do. My favorite activity available in Salida is river surfing. I am an obsessive river surfer. If I had my way I would surf multiple times a day, every day. The surging power of the water, the twinkling of leaves in the wind and the sun beating down on you in thick neoprene never gets old. The Salida river wave is like the rest of the waves in Colorado, dependent on the flow of the river supplied by snow melt, and therefore limited in time. I was fortunate to have the last four weeks of my clinical line up perfectly with optimal river surfing season. And surf I did. Almost every day, if not multiple times a day, I would be out there, flopping around in the rapids, having the time of my life.
This is where my confidence changed. On top of surfing regularly, I had begun sitting in silence on my deck more, doing quiet activates without the addition of other distractions like music, podcasts, tv shows, or movies. I was sitting with it all: my thoughts and emotions without overthinking, shaming, or coercing. I was filling myself up with surfing and processing. And one day something clicked. Something in me said, “F*** it. I am me and I am where I am and I get to decide what to make of this.”
Those last three weeks of clinical went astronomically better than the first six weeks. The internal dialogue, while not silent or suddenly only positive, was quieter, a little gentler and constructive instead of destructive.
Retrospectively, I can say it had been months since I had given myself permission to simply exist, to not keep myself occupied with plans, noises, or activities. I hadn’t given myself the opportunity to feel and process and play without restraint since before the start of the spring semester. I had been going full steam ahead and my confidence is what finally alerted me to the inevitable crash. What I have learned is to monitor my energy and protect it. I cannot function effectively for myself or my patients if I am not taking the necessary measures to care for myself. I had always thought I was good at self-care. Turns out I am really good at distracting myself, and that doesn’t necessarily equate to self-care.
While not many people know of how much I struggled during CE II, I know I am not an anomaly. Many of us PT students struggle with feelings of inadequacy, and even more of us struggle to find a healthy balance of personal and productive time. This will be something I continue to work on throughout the entirely of my career and likely my adult life. I want to normalize not feeling like a superhuman health care provider and reassure those reading that you are more than adequate. Sometimes it just takes a little time for yourself and healthy dose of play.
I remember the first day I went to the Officer Selection Office for the Marine Corps in 2013. I was there to speak with the recruiting officer about what it takes to be a commissioned officer in the United States Marine Corps. I remember the way he looked at me with doubt in his eyes and a challenge in his voice, almost like “I dare you to try.” He looked at me and said something along the lines of “a lot of people try and fail to make it through Officer Candidate School (OCS). It is grueling both physically and mentally and the attrition rate for females is around 50 to 60 percent.”
I had never felt more compelled to prove someone wrong in my whole life. His recruiting tactic worked. I signed the dotted line that day to begin the selection process. For candidates considering the commissioned officer route for the Marine Corps, we have to participate in physical and mental screening exams of which the results get put into a file and sent to a selection board. They decided my fate: would I go to OCS to be trained into a leader of the Marine Corps or would I be denied, forced to try to improve my scores and try again, or quit?
During my selection process, I was awarded the Outstanding Female Officer Candidate of the Year Award by my selection office for our region. Months later, I received notification that I was selected on my first application for OCS and in September of 2013 I was moving into a squad bay with 62 other women in Quantico, Virginia. The women in my platoon and three platoons of men were staying in an isolated training area where we would go through our next test, OCS. To say that my resilience and willpower were tested over the next ten weeks would be an understatement. I went through things I never thought I could do, and I found in myself a sense of power and strength I never knew existed.
Of the 62 women who showed up on buses with me that first day, only 29 of us graduated and commissioned as Officers of the United States Marine Corps. The attrition rates my recruiting officer told me about came to fruition, but I made it. I learned that people could tell me I am not going to make it, that I am unable to do something, but at the end of the day, I can do anything I set my mind to. The day I had my rank pinned onto my collar, I was filled with pride and an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. It was just the start of my career and already I had grown into a fearless and capable woman with a bright and ambitious future.
Fast forward through two more schools, several training operations in the California desert, at sea in the Atlantic, and in the humid forests of North Carolina, I was then sent overseas to Kuwait for logistical operations in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. It was this successful operation that resulted in Iraqi troops and international allies successfully regaining control of Mosul, Iraq from terrorist forces. I later returned to the United States to finish my contract and began planning for my transition back into the civilian world.
The experiences I had while serving in the military taught me perseverance and instilled an indomitable will in me that supersedes all of life’s hardships. It taught me to fight for freedom, equity, equality, to fight for what is right, and advocate for others. Additionally, I was lucky enough to be a platoon commander for nearly two years where I experienced the comradery of a brotherhood and sisterhood. We were a family that cared for each other and trusted each other with our lives. We never backed down from a challenge and we always looked out for each other. I have carried so much forward from my military experience into the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) Program. The hard work and determination, the indomitable will, the passion for comradery, and advocacy has all imprinted my mindset and approach toward the DPT program here at Regis.
The application process for DPT programs can be very difficult and tests the resilience of all those who choose the path of Physical Therapy. The process felt eerily similar to the selection process for OCS. I was scared I would not be selected; I was scared someone would find me unworthy. Just as I had done before when applying for OCS, I worked as hard as I could, gave everything my best effort, and kept my head down and eyes forward as I trudged through my second bachelor’s degree and all the prerequisites for Physical Therapy (PT) school.
I worked hard to network myself during the pandemic with Physical Therapists who were willing to take me in as a mentee and allow me to get observation hours. I refused to be told “no” and to lose my opportunity to get into a DPT program. After applications and acceptance notifications came in, I enthusiastically made my decision to attend my top choice program, Regis University.
The Marine Corps built me into a hard worker fueled by determination and resilience, and it also developed my mentality toward my class, the Class of 2024. I wanted to help build our class into a cohesive unit, one that saw each other as family and looked out for each other the way we did in my platoon. I wanted to stand up for our class, to advocate for change for the better and to develop a strong, equitable unit capable of facing any of the challenges that the DPT program would inevitably send our way.
My classmates have given me the opportunity to lead in these ways by voting me into student government as the Class President. I feel incredibly lucky to be trusted in this role and blessed to have the leadership background that the Marine Corps afforded me as it has guided me in my decisions as an advocate for our class. Not only that, but it has also helped me as a student to be successful in the classes that seem impossible (ugh, neuroscience…).
People ask me all the time, if I would do it all over again knowing what I know now and having experienced what I have experienced; the good, the bad, the ugly, would I do it again? My answer is always YES. And, if anyone is asking me (as they often do) what I think about them joining and if they should do it, my answer again is always yes. The military, once an individual joins and serves honorably, is a resource for the rest of their life. No longer will they have to be able to afford healthcare, the Veterans Affairs Hospital will always take care of veterans free of charge. Never again will a veteran have to worry about having minimum leadership experience, everyone leaves with at least four years.
The list of available resources and benefits goes on and on, including a right to a free education, but what is most valuable is the person it builds us into. The girl I was when I walked into OCS September 22, 2013, was young, inexperienced, lacked perspective, and lacked mental strength and fortitude. The woman I am today, the resilience I have gained, the perspective I have developed of a world burdened by oppression and war, and my compassion for others has all come from my time in the military and those experiences that shaped me. I encourage all others who feel a calling to serve, who seek serving a purpose bigger than themselves, to consider joining the United States Military. The bonds we make with our fellow servicemembers which last a lifetime and the person we become is worth all the blood, sweat, and tears.
Imagine this. You are about to start your second semester of physical therapy school. You get an email just a few days before the semester starts, notifying you that you will be given an introduction to dry needling in your first class at 8:00 am on Monday morning, and soon after you will begin practicing dry needling. You might think, “That’s insane!” or “There’s no chance that they are teaching dry needling to first year PT students.”, and you’d be right about one thing, it is insane, but that is exactly what happened in Peter Claver Hall on January 10th, 2022 for the Regis University DPT class of 2024.
This is monumental for the framework of teaching dry needling to physical therapists in the future, but this did not just happen overnight. This was a long thought out process and plan by the faculty of the Regis DPT program, headed by Dr. Stephanie Albin PT, DPT, Ph.D. and Dr. Cameron MacDonald PT, DPT. Not only did this involve reworking the curriculum to accommodate this new training, but it started with changing the Colorado legislature, not an easy feat.
“We’re better together!” – Dr Sharon Dunn PT OCS PhD, Past-President of APTA National
Dry needling was introduced to physical therapy practice about 20 years ago, with the state of Colorado recognizing dry needling as a modality around the year 2005. There was not a board at the time to regulate dry needling, so the continuing education instructors that taught dry needling were asked about how to safely regulate the use of dry needling in practice. In doing so, these instructors decided that the safest way to regulate dry needling was by not allowing physical therapists to integrate dry needling into their practice until they had two-years of experience working as a clinician. Changing this two-year gap regulation of dry needling was the “final hurdle” to overcome before being able to teach dry needling as a part of the DPT curriculum, according to Dr. MacDonald.
There was also a discussion between physical therapists and acupuncturists that had to be resolved before physical therapists could retain the right to implement dry needling into practice. While both professions are using a filament to evoke healing, there is a distinct and fundamental difference in the utilization of the filament. Dr. Dunn triumphantly said, “We’re better together!” It does not have to be a fight between us and them, and trust me, I should know, I am the daughter of an acupuncturist (but that’s a story for another time). In the effort to resolve this battle, dry needling became just as much a part of physical therapy as therapeutic exercise and manual therapy.
Once dry needling was defined as an integral part of physical therapy, and the legislation changed to remove the 2 year gap period between graduation and being able to incorporate dry needling into practice, the question became, “how do we integrate the teaching of dry needling into the DPT curriculum?” Well, 13 curriculum change proposals later, Cameron and Stephanie finally had the approval of the Regis DPT curriculum board and got the okay to begin teaching. Their plan has been built as a 3 year pilot program focused on the learning experience of the DPT class of 2024. By graduation, the students will have enough hours of experience in dry needling to practice dry needling level 1 immediately post-graduation.
While the original goal of this pilot program was to safely incorporate dry needling into the DPT curriculum, a longer term, national goal has arisen from this plan. The hope now is that this pilot program educates more practitioners that will then take this skill and this knowledge with them post-graduation. With students coming to Regis from all over the country, the assumption is that the students will return to their home states and push for changes in legislation that will allow for a more uniform practice of dry needling throughout our nation; that this pilot program will be incorporated in more institutions, so that more practitioners have access to the practice of dry needling, and more patients are able to access this intervention if it is deemed appropriate for their care.
From the class of 2024, thank you to Dr. Stephanie Albin PT, DPT, Ph.D., Dr. Larissa Hoffman PT, Ph.D., and Dr. Cameron MacDonald PT, DPT for pushing for this change to give us the opportunity to learn such a critical skill so early on in our careers, and thank you for your continued work and research in this field to educate not only us as students, but the entire physical therapy community on such an important intervention technique.
As a physical therapy program at a Jesuit university, the Regis DPT program is built on the foundation of serving others; it is one of our core values. When COVID-19 first emerged in our community, we were deeply saddened to not be able to serve in the way that we have in the past. Unfortunately, many of the partners that Regis serves, have immunocompromised members that were struck very hard at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was extremely risky to work with these populations, thus in-person service learning was put on hold. There was a period of time when only virtual service learning was allowed, and as a program, we did our best to adapt to the unknown and ongoing changes.
With the influx of a new class of students, and dwindling cases of COVID-19, Regis University’s DPT program was once again able to find ways to serve the community. More and more non-profit organizations started to welcome back volunteers, and we were excited to have the opportunity to participate in this meaningful work.
During the fall semester of 2021, all of the members in the class of 2024 participated with the 9Health Fairs in the Denver metro area. This was extremely impactful for the community as we provided health screenings that individuals in the community may not have had access to otherwise. During the spring semester of 2022, the individuals in the class of 2024 were able to select from a number of service learning experiences to determine which opportunity they wanted to partake in.
Service learning is threaded into the curriculum in order to create compassionate and thoughtful practitioners, and we are so grateful to have been given the opportunity to begin serving our community once again. We have compiled a few stories from members of our Regis DPT Class of 2024 to explain what service learning means to them.
I worked with children at the Anchor Center, which serves blind and visually impaired children. At the Anchor Center I was serving as a supervising play pal to provide one-on-one support and connection with a paired child during a respite night. The respite night occurs on Friday evenings and supports the families of the students by providing a night watch program for their children. During my second respite night with Anchor, I was paired with a one and a half year old who had experienced a TBI and cortical vision impairment and was given the opportunity to provide them this support, which was lots of fun and very rewarding.
I chose to participate with this group because I had never worked with blind or visually impaired children before and I knew it would be an extremely valuable experience for me and the children. I had heard about the Anchor Center on the news and was excited to see that volunteering there was an option for our service learning this spring, and I knew I had to get involved in some way; this was the perfect opportunity to do just that. Also, I would like to work in pediatrics in my future as a therapist, so I thought it would be beneficial to gain experience with this group of children and gain knowledge on what the PTs do within this organization.
Not only do I feel like I gained so much from this experience by getting to work with blind and visually impaired children, I was also able to help support families by giving them a night for themselves. It was also a great opportunity to learn so much information about blindness and visual impairments, specifically cortical blindness. The staff were very open to discussing the components of different types of blindness so that we could all become more educated on it. I learned that blindness is so much more than the inability to see. The Anchor Center is an incredible facility that provides so much to these children and their families, and I’m filled with admiration and optimism following my experience with them.
Our first event was actually rescheduled due to COVID. There were already a lot of safety protocols in place at the Anchor Center but with COVID, things were more strict, especially because a lot of the children are immunocompromised. For example, we always had to wear a mask and make sure to clean up thoroughly after the kids.
I’ve always tried to do my best to give back to the community around me, so being able to volunteer at the Anchor Center in-person for service learning was very special for me. It feels so rewarding to be able to support these children and their families and I want to express my gratitude to their families for granting me the opportunity to support their children during the respite night. I had such a great experience with Anchor and I hope to volunteer with them in my future!
For my service learning, I was at Colorado Easterseals Neuro Rehabilitation day program. This program provides physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, psychological therapy, music therapy, and art therapy for individuals who have suffered from neurological injuries. During my time there, all of the individuals in the program were recovering from strokes. My role varied based on the day, but generally I provided support for the workers by checking individuals in for the day, helping prepare lunches, or helping individuals with their therapeutic exercises. The flexibility of my role really allowed me to get to know the individuals involved in this program which was a remarkable experience.
I chose this service learning because neuro rehab is an area of physical therapy that I have not had much opportunity to observe, but also an area that I could see myself getting into following graduation.
This semester has been challenging and at times when we feel bombarded by assignments and exams, it is easy to forget why we are doing this. This service learning continually allowed me to remember why I chose this profession. The easterseals community was unlike anything I have ever experienced, the way they all support each other is truly inspiring. The participants are so thankful to have the opportunity to come to Easterseals to receive the care they need.
This organization has been extremely impacted by covid. The participants are an at-risk population. Luckily, the neuro rehab organization did not have any outbreaks. But they did close down the site to all non-essential personnel. We were the first volunteers allowed back. Before each shift we had a COVID health screening and we had to wear an N95 or KN95 whenever we were at the site.
Being able to be back in the community is such a valuable learning experience but it means so much more to me. I grew up in the Denver-metro area; this area shaped me into the individual that I am today. It is the reason why I am entering the healthcare profession. So being able to engage with the community each semester is almost like a mental reset for me to remember why I want to be a physical therapist.
I worked with Denver Adaptive Rec and Special Olympics as a volunteer coach for two basketball teams. I went to weekly practices during the season where we helped guide drills and filled into scrimmages when an extra player was needed. The season wrapped up with a state tournament which was an incredible event for the players. They got to show everyone what they had been working on all season and play in actual games. On top of that, we won 1st place at state!
I have always had a passion for coaching and sports and it had been years since I have been in a position to coach so I felt like it was the perfect opportunity. I also didn’t have much experience working with people who have varying intellectual disabilities so I knew it would be outside of my initial comfort zone and a great experience.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time spent volunteering with this program. It was meaningful to me to get out into the Denver community and be a part of something bigger than school. PT school can be tough at times and it helps to get out and do something different while feeling like you are making a positive impact on someone else’s life. Even if it is just being there to have a great time playing basketball. After this experience I plan to continue volunteering with Special Olympics in their upcoming sports seasons.
Because of Covid, the participants didn’t play in any real games against other teams until the state tournament at the end of their season. Halfway through their season instead of a tournament they had a skills competition. Masks were required at first and then the protocols loosened up by the last week; if the players were on the court, they no longer needed to wear a mask while playing. Everything during Covid was put on pause so it really has been years since I’ve been able to engage as a volunteer within the community. It is great to see everything opening back up and organizations getting back to normal again. I had such a positive experience that I was sad to see it end. It really sparked back up my interest in coaching and working with Special Olympics as well as working within the community again.
In today’s world, tattoos are more common than ever but there is a lingering sense of taboo around tattooed individuals in physical therapy and the healthcare field in general. As a professional, one is expected to look a certain, clean type of way. This stereotype does not include tattoos as they are still associated with lawlessness and impurity. Growing up, I also viewed tattoos in this light, but this all changed as I went through my undergraduate years.
Ever since I was a child, I dreamed of being a healthcare professional. My science background is ingrained with a dichotomous mindset of right and wrong, whether it was through multiple choice exams, lab skills, or clinical practice guidelines. As my undergraduate career ended, I felt trapped in a box based on objectivity. This is when I found comfort in the subjective nature of the art of tattooing. In the tattoo world, there are endless possibilities as there are countless styles, placements, subjects, and color palettes that one can choose from.
As I pondered in my academic box, I reflected on the way I viewed myself. I grew up with an intrinsic shame of my body weight. I never viewed myself as attractive or appealing to others. This is a dynamic mindset that is rooted in my socioeconomic status, single parent household, health illiteracy, and lack of consistent exercise and healthy eating. After graduating from undergrad at the age of 22, I decided to take control. I was unemployed as I was looking for a physical therapy tech position, so out of boredom, I joined a local gym. My weight started dropping and I started to feel stronger, more energetic, and started to take pride in my progress. There was this new sense of confidence as I saw the scales go down and weights get heavier. This was the first time I felt genuine control of my body.
This newfound control expanded to self-expression through tattoos. It started off with memorial tattoos to honor loved ones who had passed away. It then progressed to telling my personal story whether it was nods to my Filipino-American culture, NBA basketball, or even just appreciation for the work of tattoo artists that I love. The beauty of tattoos is that there is no one right way of getting them. Whether it is a collection of different styles, a small hidden tattoo, or entire body suit, one has freedom to express themselves. This does not mean everyone needs a tattoo as that freedom of expression is aligned with choosing to not get tattooed as well.
When applying to physical therapy schools, only one website had pictures of students or faculty with tattoos. As a tattooed individual, minority, and three years out of school, I felt stress, anxiety, and loneliness. In my applications, I did not mention tattoos and kept my sleeves rolled down during interviews. Two years later and in my second year as a Doctor of Physical Therapy Student of Regis University, I could not feel any more differently as over 49% of my current cohort have tattoos. My classmates and faculty have never made me feel self-conscious, ashamed, or any lesser because of my tattoos. I share a sense of storytelling, individualism, and pride with my tattooed peers.
The sense of autonomy and control that I feel with my tattooed body draws parallels to the patient experience in physical therapy. A part of being tattooed is sharing a piece of myself without words, thus being vulnerable to others. Vulnerability and acceptance are two key components of a proficient physical therapist-patient experience. Gone are the days of cookie-cutter style treatments, as plans of care are individualized to the specifics of each patient. This means granting patient autonomy and influence on their care, just as I have through the ink on my skin.
Tattoos are not a mark of knowledge or proficiency as a health care provider. Judge me on my character. Judge me on my clinical reasoning. Judge me on my critical thinking. Judge me on my bedside manner, my professionalism, my empathy, my commitment to learning, on my sincerity. Do not judge that my body is colored outside the lines. I vow to accept my patients as the individuals they are. Hopefully they can do the same and view my tattoos as an expression of my personal story, not a mark of wickedness. Just like physical therapy, tattoo collecting is a lifelong learning process. May the ink on my skin be as strong as the ink on my Doctor of Physical Therapy diploma.
Thank you to everyone from the Class of 2023 who shared a little bit of themselves for this.
Dr. Laurel Proulx first received her B.S. in Kinesiology from the University of Kansas (Rock Chalk!) in 2009. She then attended Regis University, where she was awarded her DPT in 2013. Most recently, she has successfully defended her dissertation and achieved her Ph.D. at Texas Woman’s University in 2021. Laurel then returned to Regis University prior to the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year, this time, as an assistant professor in the Rueckert-Hartman College of Health Profession. Laurel, in her first semester of teaching, was tasked with coordinating DPT 703 Biomechanics and Kinesiology of the Extremities – a hefty course for a first-time professor. Laurel credits her tremendous support from other faculty members in her success in her first semester of teaching. Laurel also mentioned that she had a good relationship with the previous course coordinator, whom although no longer a Regis faculty member was more than willing to help support Laurel in many ways.
Laurel had not yet completed her Ph.D. program when she became Regis faculty and when she was teaching her first course, so you can imagine just how busy she was juggling everything on her plate. She successfully completed her physical therapy Ph.D. program in the fall of 2021. Currently, she is a faculty member in a supporting role in a few DPT courses in the Spring 2022 semester and is teaching biomechanics for undergraduate students at Regis University. Since she no longer has schoolwork of her own, Laurel has gotten some of her free time back. She has been making an effort to expand her network and integrate herself into her new community in Colorado Springs. She has recently begun working in her own private practice at a crossfit gym and is supporting the trainers that are a part of the BirthFit program which is aimed towards helping new or expecting mothers regain or maintain their pelvic floor function and control while exercising at the gym.
In her years practicing physical therapy, Dr. Proulx has taken what may seem like an unconventional path. Fresh out of DPT school, Laurel stuck with a very traditional route, outpatient orthopedics where she worked with mainly athletes. She still had an interest in pelvic health at that time. While she was working as a very hands on PT in the orthopedic clinic, Laurel started to notice her own health decline. She had to take a step back from her passion to focus on her health. During this time, she went into working in full-time research, which she ended up really enjoying. Her boss and mentor at that position was very supportive of her interest in pelvic health research, which led her to her decision to obtain her Ph.D. Her Ph.D. focused on identifying and quantifying musculoskeletal impairments in individuals with pelvic pain. She takes a high interest in connecting orthopedic physical therapy with pelvic health because orthopedic physical therapists can still significantly help patients with pelvic pain without specializing in it.
Her passion for pelvic health stemmed from learning about pelvic dysfunction during a course at Regis University. She took an elective course in pelvic health to gain a more in depth understanding of the material. She then went to Ethiopia through the global health pathway opportunity. In Ethiopia, she visited a fistula clinic where she was able to appreciate just how detrimental pelvic floor dysfunction can be to the individual. Laurel noticed how pelvic dysfunction can be ostracizing to the patient and by treating patients with pelvic dysfunction, we can help the individual rejoin society and gain back some normalcy.
As far as what Laurel likes to do for fun, she and her husband were avid travelers prior to March 2020. She has come back to Colorado with a goal to get more comfortable while skiing (aren’t we all?). When they feel safe enough to travel outside of the United States, Laurel and her husband are set on some breathtaking destinations: Ireland, Scotland, and Greece. If you are a Game of Thrones fan, then you might be a bit jealous to hear that Laurel has actually visited many of the sets in Croatia where Game of Thrones was filmed. She said that Croatia was one of her favorite places to visit, so make sure to add that to your bucket list. Other than that, Laurel enjoys working out in her home gym, exploring and adventuring around Colorado for weekend trips, and trying all of the food wherever she goes. She is happy to be back in Colorado. She loves teaching and she loves getting to see the students growing and envisioning where they might end up practicing in the future. If she had one piece of advice to give to the DPT students, it is to really practice the inter-professional skills and listen to feedback. She says that she wishes she had taken the opportunity to get the feedback from the experienced faculty to make the most out of her education.
Being a new mom while working towards my DPT was a daunting thought but the Regis support system has been incredible. There have been a handful of other women in the Regis DPT program’s history who have gone before me and walked this path, but it is a fairly rare occurrence. Both classmates and faculty have been supportive and interested in my well-being, as well as that of my daughter, Clare. It’s made a huge difference for people to be invested in how I am doing with my studies and my health, not just my baby. I’ve had a lot of support. A friend made me dinner during finals week which was wonderful, and faculty have been great when Clare needed to come to class when babysitting fell through. Everyone has been overwhelmingly positive about having a newborn in class. Even my research group has adopted her and asked to have her there when we would hold research meetings!
In terms of how having Clare has impacted my studies, it’s changed my mindset about grades mostly. I ask myself the question our professor Larissa Hoffman asks us, “Do I know it well enough?” I have new priorities now. I’m not willing to sacrifice Clare’s well-being for grades, and ultimately, I haven’t had to. I’ve come to realize that getting an A doesn’t necessarily translate to doing well for my patients in the long run so I’m trying to figure out how to balance that mindset.
Clare has brought even more compassion to my practice as a physical therapist. Whereas before she was here in my life, I thought waking up in the middle of the night would be such a chore, but once she was here and needed me, it came naturally. That has given me perspective on some aspects of physical therapy like documentation that I’m not as interested in but are for the benefit of that patient. They need to be done and I will do them because my patient needs that from me. Clare has also helped grow my empathy towards other people’s children. I was pregnant when we were discussing child abuse this past summer in Psychosocial Aspects of Healthcare and just lost it. I absolutely cannot imagine how anyone could choose to do that to another person. Clare has allowed me to put myself in the place of another parent.
Clare is also shaping my professional goals. I’m very much interested in neuro but I’m not sure how realistic pursuing that is since siblings for Clare are on the horizon. I’m still not sure where I’ll end up but right now. I’m leaning towards home health since it is a more flexible sector and would allow for me to care for my family as well as work. I also enjoy interacting with the older population and feel like it might be doing the industry a disservice not to pursue that interest. I love how honest and forthright older folks are. They’re either sweet or super grumpy, but even the grump one will open and then you’re in with them for good once you connect. I’m an old soul so I feel like it’s easier for me to connect with older generations.
Clare has been my angel baby – I’m just so grateful she sleeps through the night!
How to Be A Successful New Parent and PT Student
Written by Tanner Williams
Becoming a new dad has been the most meaningful, exciting, and joyous occasion of my life. It has also been incredibly stressful, tiring, and by far the hardest thing I have ever done. I always assumed that parenting would be both wonderful and stressful at all times, but the reality is that moments are often dominated by one emotion or the other. There are times where I’m up at 2 am before an important day at school and my daughter needs to be held; in these moments I’m incredibly tired, stressed, on the verge of breaking down emotionally and physically, and wondering what drove me to think I could handle raising a child during PT school. Then there’s moments when we’re playing together, and she’ll look up and smile at me or make cooing noises and I can’t imagine how I ever lived without her.
When I found out I was becoming a dad while in PT school, I knew I would have to develop strategies to stay successful in school while balancing being present for my newborn child. When I get home, I devote all my attention and focus on my family. This means that I need to maximize my efficiency during the day so I can still do well in school while also being present for the new and exciting moments in my daughter’s life, which is extremely important to me. I’ve listed some of the tips that have helped me succeed below and although I started using some of these after having a child, I believe they could help anyone in graduate school stay successful and maintain a healthy work-life balance:
Be fully engaged and present during class
This one seems like a no-brainer, of course you should be engaged during class! What I have found is that it is easy to get distracted and lose focus in class, especially the classes that you personally might not be the most excited for. I approach every class with the mentality that this time should be fully devoted to absorbing as much information as possible. This means removing distractions like phones and staying off websites that you habitually check frequently (I’m looking at you, social media…). I close all other programs on my computer except my notes and try to write or re-write the information I think is most important as a way to stay engaged in the material. By really focusing during class, I don’t have to spend nearly as much time outside of school studying.
2. Organization is key!
I add everything to my google calendar; this includes classes, workouts, study time at the library, and meetings. This way, I know what my day will look like, and it also keeps me accountable to follow through with the things I know I should be doing, such as weekly workouts and devoted time to study. I also use my lunch breaks to either workout or hold meetings so I don’t have to worry about these responsibilities later in the day.
3. Don’t ignore your mental health
You might be thinking ‘so you go to class, workout at lunch, end class at 4, and then study for an hour before going home to help take care of a baby…where’s the free time?’ Time spent for your mental health is not wasted time, it is EXTREMELY important to remember to take care of this part of your health. This looks different to everyone and your strategies might be very different than mine. For me, working out at lunch is a mental health break. I feel better when I consistently workout and find I’m more productive when I devote my time towards this. I also devote a large portion of my weekend towards a fun family activity. This could be getting out to play disc golf, hiking, or just walking to the park or watching a movie. It’s important to take time away from the stresses of school and do something that you enjoy because you will quickly experience burnout if you don’t.
By focusing on these strategies, I’ve been able to continue to do well in school while also spending plenty of quality time with my newborn.
If you see our brave new parents, be sure to stop them in the halls and ask for fresh baby pics – it will make everyone’s day!
Congratulations on being offered an invitation to interview for the Doctorate of Physical Therapy program at Regis University! With interviews quickly approaching, it is important to get all of your last minute questions answered, and calm any of those interview day nerves. Students from Regis Physical Therapy Class of 2023 and Class of 2024 have worked together to provide helpful information and tips to be successful on interview day.
Q: When will interviews be held?
A: Interviews will be held on Friday, January 21st and Monday, January 24th. There will be a morning and an afternoon session on both days. Interview candidates should have already received information on which interview session they will be attending. Please check your email if you are still unsure as to what time your interview is being held.
Q: What can I expect on interview day now that it is virtual?
A: Interview candidates should plan to check-in to their interview 30 minutes ahead of their scheduled interview time. Following check-in, there will be a brief introduction followed by either the group interview, or student led panels and a virtual tour. Following the completion of the activities of the day, the interview candidates will reconvene online for closing remarks.
Q: What should I wear for interviews?
A: Business attire is expected. A blazer or suit jacket along with a nice button up shirt or blouse is typical along with dress pants. With the interviews being online, it may seem like a good idea to only dress professionally from the waist up. It is strongly encouraged to dress professionally from top to bottom to ensure that there are not any wardrobe mishaps on interview day. Additionally, dressing for the part may help you feel more confident and prepared stepping into the interviews.
Q: How should I prepare for the interview?
A: You have already started! Reading this blog post and other posts is a great way to receive information on Regis’ DPT program. We would also recommend that you take a look at the program website located here and the Regis DPT instagram: @regis_dpt. It is also a good idea to become familiar with Regis’ Jesuit values as these values are integrated into our education as students of physical therapy.
Q: Will there be a chance for me to ask questions during my interview?
A: Yes, there will be a chance to ask faculty questions during the hour long interview. These questions should remain professional as it is still a part of the interview. There will also be a time during the student panel to ask questions regarding student life and any other topics that you would like.
Q: I still feel like I have more questions. What should I do?
A: There should be additional information in the emails that you have already received. That is a good place to start. You should have received an email with links to informational zoom presentations on various topics that will be held during the week before interviews. If you still have questions that have not been answered, please feel free to reach out to one of the amazing students on the admissions team. Sam Snyder and Jillian Schmidt are second year students in the program and have previous experience working on the admissions process from last years interviews. Adrianna Simmons and Ryan McIntyre are first year students and are new to the admissions team, but both went through the online interview process during last years interview. All four students are more than willing to help answer any of your questions regarding Regis and the interview process to the best of their ability.
Tips for Success
Give yourself plenty of time to wake up before your scheduled interview time.
Make sure that your audio and video setup works the night before your interview.
Do test Zoom calls with friends or family so you can get used to talking to a computer.
Be respectful of the other interviewees in the call. Be sure to make your statement, while not interrupting or overstepping the other candidates.
Review all the materials that Regis sends out prior to interviews, including Jesuit values! This may include doing your own research about the program.
ASK QUESTIONS. Show the interviewers that you care!
Make yourself stand out. It is important that the faculty get a good sense of who you actually are. Be true to yourself and feel free to discuss any unique experiences that you have had.
Use the setting of a virtual interview to ask any questions about the school’s response to COVID and how this has affected the learning process.
Have pen and paper nearby to take notes during the interview. This will not only help you stay engaged, but will also help later on when deciding on whether or not to attend Regis’ program.
Think of the interview as a conversation with the faculty and the other interviewees. Remember, the other interview candidates may be your future classmates and the faculty may be your future professors and colleagues!
On October 16th, the health professions making up The Rueckert-Hartman College for Health Professions, hosted a Diversity Day event for the GEAR UP Colorado program. The programs involved included the School of Pharmacy, Physical Therapy, School of Nursing, and the Division of Counseling and Family Therapy. The goal of this event was to introduce and inform the many high schoolers who are a part of the GEAR UP Colorado program to the various health professions available to them after graduating high school. The day also provides an insight into what it is like to be a student in the health professions at Regis University.
Back in 2011, I attended my first after school GEAR UP program in Washington. At the time, it was a great after school program where kids could gather to finish up homework, reading assignments, or receive tutoring. In the decade since I last attended, it has evolved into so much more. The federally-funded pre-collegiate grant program now aims to increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in post-secondary education. The program now includes one-on-one mentoring and advising, college preparatory curriculum, financial aid literacy, STEM programing, college-level examination programs, and college visits, such as the one that took place last weekend.
Diversity Day at Regis kicked off on schedule with students from Arvada High and Adam City High school stepping off the bus at 9:00 am. Upon entry, students dropped off their signed consent and waver forms to participate in various activities from each department. You could feel the excitement in the air. In particular, the students could not wait to get into the cadaver lab as they asked, “When do we got to see the bodies??” Before the day could officially begin, the students were greeted with breakfast and a warm welcome from the Assistant Dean of Undergraduate programs, and our very own, Dean and professor, Mark Reinking.
We began our educational activities with a game of Jeopardy, with questions categorized by health profession. With each question, students would learn more about each profession, the kind of work involved, and the education required. Following Jeopardy, the kids were broken up into groups to explore activities that each health profession had set up. Niko Rodriguez, another SPT from the Class of 2023, and I had the kids participate in an impairment race. They were briefly educated on typical gait and then took a practice lap around the room. Then, we assigned and taught each of them a gait impairment, such as gastroc contracture or weak quadriceps. When the race began, each student struggled to adapt to their gait impairment. Toes dragging along the carpet was a great demonstration of a weak tibialis anterior, along with hyperextended knees as the students attempted to shut off their quads. The result of the activity was a slower gait speed, but more importantly, a visceral insight on what it’s like to live with an impairment.
The afternoon had several great activities lined up as well, but students still asked, “When do we get to see the bodies??” Cliff Barnes, our renown anatomist, along with first and second year DPT students, did not disappoint as they educated high schoolers on human anatomy and the invaluable resource that the cadavers provide our program.
The day was concluded with an inter-professional skit: an anxious, hypertensive skier had broken his tibia and while maintaining a prescription drug dependence. This may have been the most enjoyable part of the day for faculty, the students, and me as the patient proved hilariously difficult to manage for the nurse, pharmacist, councilor, and myself, the physical therapist. From the onset of injury to beginning outpatient physical therapy, the students received valuable insight on the care each health profession provides along the line of treatment.
I had the chance to speak one-on-one to a few of the students who attend the event and hear what they had to say about their experience on campus. Lexi, a 16-year-old sophomore from Arvada High said, “I had fun and it was a really inspiring experience. I enjoyed getting around and being active with the impairment race. I may end up looking into physical therapy to help people with their disabilities because of this experience.”
Jorge, a 15-year-old sophomore from Adam City High said, “I play soccer and I’ve had an ankle injury in the past. The recovery was frustrating because it limited me, but physical therapy helped a lot. I really enjoyed this event and thought it was cool and insightful.”
Heidi Eigsti, our Director of Graduate professions gave her thoughts on the event, as well. “I love seeing that we can get kids from underrepresented minority population sand at-risk high schools into our building interacting with our students and seeing what’s possible for their future.”
Sung Yi, a second year DPT student summed up this experience very well: “I didn’t have the opportunity to have this exposure; neither did my friends. Maybe if they had had this exposure things would have been different for them…I think it’s interesting that they always talk about endless potential. They feed that to us and everyone who’s young. But the thing is, potential can only be endless if you have the resources. If you don’t have the resources, potential is very limited.”
On a personal level, helping put together this event was very rewarding. My hope is that each of us who participated in the Diversity Day had the opportunity to be a resource for this underrepresented and under-served community. My hope is that by being part of this event, I helped a kid realize his or her own potential.
The Class of 2023 returned from their first clinical rotation at the end of September and had some time to reflect on their experiences. A few of them are written up as short stories of lessons learned below. Take a trip to the Gila River Indian Community, AZ, Oregon City, OR, and Grand Junction, CO.
Carson Ariagno – Gila River, AZ
I was exceptionally nervous going into the beginning of my first clinical. I hadn’t prepared as much as I’d wanted to, I’d had to last-second book new housing as my original plan canceled on me the day before I left, and I’d gotten a speeding ticket while on my 13-hour drive down. Not my best start. But once I was welcomed into the clinic, all that fear and confusion melted away. I realized relatively quickly that I needed to be a face of calm confidence for many of these patients. This became a personal goal for myself in addition to the spread of more typical academic and professional goals I set with my clinical instructor (CI).
I spent my first clinical experience on Gila River Indian Community land just outside Phoenix, Arizona. This group of tribes have lived in southern Arizona since around 300 BC and have endured aggression and marginalization at the hands of the Spanish and American governments throughout history to this day. Most notably, their primary water source in the Sonoran Desert, the Gila River, was blocked off and dried up in the late 19th century by American farmers. The Gila River tribes were given federal aid in the form of processed and canned foods after almost 40 years of mass starvation on the reservation. These cheap foods may have saved lives from starvation but helped lead to widespread obesity and diabetes, two conditions which still disproportionately affect the community. As of a 2008 study, there was a 47% adult obesity rate, a 50% adult type 2 diabetes rate, and a 20 times higher rate of kidney failure than the general American population. This ongoing health crisis affecting the community creates more complex patient presentations, especially in PT.
Nearly every patient that my CI and I saw in my six weeks was diabetic and about three quarters of them were overweight or obese. A couple had had amputations related to their diabetes; more were threatened with the risk of needing one soon if their condition didn’t improve. This level of additional complication combined with relatively difficult presentations created cases that really challenged me for my first time in clinic. This difficulty and the endless support of my CI made this experience more enriching than I ever could’ve imagined. Along the way, I learned from our patients bits of their language and much of their history as well as many aspects of day to day life for those still living on the reservation. One patient in particular opened up to me with some personal stories on the third or fourth time I saw him. He’d lived a very difficult life growing up in poverty on the reservation, experiencing some tragic losses along the way. He had a variety of health problems begin to develop around the time he turned 30, diabetes and a torn knee ligament among them. He lamented to me about how difficult life had become in the nearly 20 years since then as he gained large amounts of weight while being unable to receive sufficient medical care for so many years. But now that he’d started PT, he felt like he was beginning to regain control. The relatively recently-opened outpatient center our clinic was in gave him access to so many services he really needed and was so thankful to receive. He has now lost his first 50 pounds and is well on his way to successful rehab of his knee and back.
This was a running theme with varying severity for many patients – this health system was their first and most consistent source of care in a long time if not ever. It was wonderful to see the progress many of them finally were able to make and the difference that truly attentive, available care can make for people in need. Every provider was interested in providing as much patient education as they wanted to hear to continue breaking down the barriers of healthcare hesitancy that exist in the older members of the community. Many of them had felt, seen, or heard stories from the not-so-distant American history of medical and governmental mistreatment of their people. Especially now as we tried to promote the COVID-19 vaccine, there were still walls of deep-seeded distrust to be broken down. Progress is being made and more and more people are getting the help they need. The Gila River Health Care organization is doing invaluable service for the community on the reservation and will continue to improve their health outcomes and relationship with healthcare as a whole. My time there was extremely well-spent and I cannot thank them enough for taking me in.
David Shaw – Oregon City, OR
This story is about an ongoing learning process that really took center stage during my first clinical experience. As a developing physical therapist, I am learning how to best utilize my time and attention while working with patients. Having worked in clinics as a physical therapy aide for 4.5 years before beginning physical therapy school, I understand the importance of maximizing time in the clinic. Furthermore, I have discovered the most valuable use of time is often patient education. Whether this entails educating patients about anatomy, tissue healing times, avoiding harm, and/or exercises to do on their own, all forms of patient education should empower people to take matters into their own hands.
I hold a large amount of pride in my work, and I know that a lot of people do; however, the amount of pride I have sometimes leads me to feel like I didn’t provide the best experience possible for a patient. In hindsight, I would like to reflect on one patient interaction that I will remember forever. (I will be leaving out a lot of information for the sake of patient privacy.)
Before seeing this patient, I was briefed by my clinical instructor (CI) of what his hypothesis was, and how to navigate the patient and their mother while in the clinic. However, my CI emphasized that I should try to create my own hypothesis as it would be great to have a fresh set of skills to provide them with another opinion. The child came into the clinic with their mother, who was curious about the existence of a motor tic disorder and had been seeing a neurologist about it. The tics were few and far between during my time with the patient. I was beginning to question what the real issue was. It seemed as though the patient was consciously producing the tics, and seemed to coincide with pain in their shoulder. I’m not convinced that the child shared this information with anyone before me that day.
After talking with the patient more and performing some examination measures, I conveyed my hypothesis for this patient to them and their mother. My hypothesis was that they were experiencing episodic shoulder pain due to inflammation related to overuse of a specific muscle in their shoulder. However, what this patient really needed was more stability and strength coming from other muscles so the affected muscle and its tendon wouldn’t inflame and cause the patient to be limited in their daily life. What I didn’t consider at that moment is the effect the words that I used would have on the patient, via their mother who works within the pharmaceutical industry.
The words “inflammation” and “inflame” caused the patient’s mother to believe that all they needed was anti-inflammatory drugs and rest. This took a rapid adjustment from me to educate them about working through comfortable motions in order to improve shoulder stability and strength overall, so that their shoulder problem doesn’t become a chronic issue. It took some attention to detail to attempt to change their mindset. Reflecting on how I went about what I said, I know I could have done a better job. When this experience came up with my CI, I was able to begin letting go of the related burden I immediately felt when they left the clinic.
Physical therapists (PTs) can help everyone, not everyone feels that they need help from a PT. It’s our job as PTs to contribute to healthy and positive healthcare interactions for all patients. We should always ask for consent and know when to treat or when to refer. We should always reflect on our approach and methods and continue to improve from within for the sake of others. Finally, we should want people to trust in our knowledge, experience, and honesty, so they may feel comfortable thinking of us as their primary care providers (PCPs).
Although healthcare is a large system, I have seen that a PT being someone’s PCP is possible. But just because it is possible, doesn’t mean it is necessary. After all, we should be advocates for people seeking to improve their health, physical therapy or not. We must continue let go of our burdens to learn from prior experiences and move on to help the next patient. For some this may require a regularly scheduled vacation, meditation, and/or further education. But one metaphor must remain in the back of our minds: “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.”
Alan Scheuermann – Grand Junction, CO
In August and September of 2021, I spent six weeks at a clinical rotation working in the outpatient unit of Community Hospital in Grand Junction, CO. This was my first clinical experience and was full of so many unknowns and new and challenging experiences that parts of it feel like a dream instead of a formative professional and personal journey. While the overall experience was undoubtedly positive, there were certainly difficult and uncomfortable experiences, both anticipated and unexpected.
I spent the week leading up to clinical trying to review information I thought would be relevant in order to have as much information fresh in my mind as I could. My greatest anxiety in the days before my first shift was looking silly in front of my clinical instructor (CI) because I forgot what nerve innervates a specific muscle or couldn’t remember the normal range of motion values for a shoulder patient. What I came to realize fairly early on was that there is a chart for everything, and while there are certainly specific values and landmarks that it helps to be familiar with, the world would not explode if I had to look something up. Besides, I was happy to discover that I retained much more information that I thought I had from my first three semesters of PT school. I felt that I could carry myself in such a way as to give patients confidence that I had rationale for exercises I would ask them to do, and that they would ultimately benefit from my care, despite being a student. I found my CIs to be incredibly supportive, thoughtful communicators, and overall good people who I enjoyed spending time with and working under.
Apart from my CIs and patients at the clinic, I had relatively little social contact with other people during my clinical. I was in a town where I knew only one other person, a childhood friend’s brother, and felt so burnt out at the end of most days that more social interaction was the last thing on my mind. I usually consider myself to be someone who does fairly well being alone, but I had to admit to myself that by the end of my rotation, I was ready to be back in Denver with my girlfriend, cat, family, and friends. I found myself wishing for the comfort and ease of hanging out with old friends or having a quiet night at home that I was unable to recreate in Grand Junction. I took advantage of the world class mountain biking and trails in the desert surrounding Grand Junction and loved every minute of it but would find that there was a need for social support that was going unmet in the time between bike rides and work shifts. As I begin to rationalize what my second clinical will be like, I know that developing relationships in an unfamiliar city will be key to enjoying and growing from my experience to the fullest extent.
One of the highlights from my clinical rotation was working with a patient who I’ll call Cheryl, which is not her real name. She was an older patient who had fallen while out walking and broken both of her kneecaps, one of which required surgery to repair. Despite this significant trauma, Cheryl was generally upbeat, excited to be at therapy, and was very validating towards me as a student PT. Naturally, we were working on lots of balance work with Cheryl, and she frequently commented that she felt safe performing difficult balance tasks with me guarding her to prevent her from falling. She approached PT as a way to find things that she did not feel comfortable doing and working to improve in those areas. She was always eager to challenge herself. On my last day of clinical, Cheryl took several minutes at the end of her session to look me in the eye and tell me that she enjoyed working with me and truly believed I will go on to be a great PT. The sincerity and thoughtfulness of her comments acknowledged the professional transformation I had undergone during my first clinical and helped to push back the soft voice of insecurity lurking in the back of my mind, and I will forever be grateful.
Looking for more stories from CE I? Find a second year on campus and ask, there are so many more to tell.
trigger warning: this post contains descriptors of sexual assault
Thank you for taking the time to make your way here. This letter was a months-long process with much of that time being spent staring at a blinking cursor through my blue light glasses. I stepped away for a good while‒eight weeks to be more precise. While my classmates were hunkering down and crushing their practicals before our second clinical, I was wrestling with the heavy weight of my trauma. This was a familiar fight, and I felt myself succumbing to this monster that I grappled with for so long.
The journey of healing is harrowing. Some days I am climbing and distancing myself further and further away from the dark depths below me. Other days, the ground disintegrates beneath my feet and I tumble down into what I fought so hard to stay away from. This is when I feel the most alone…the defenseless. I am not alone though, and I do not want you to feel like you are alone. I am here too, and I want to share my story with you.
I’ll take you back to Fall 2019‒when the Class of 2022 was in the midst of anatomy group presentations. Five of my classmates were detailing the anatomy, physiology, and implications of the pelvic floor and perineum. With a topic as intimate as this, beads of sweat began forming on my hairline as a cold clamminess filled my palms. The tears lining my eyes morphed everything into blurry pixels, and one blink allowed my mind to focus sharply onto the slide detailing physical therapy implications: “sexual trauma survivors”.
As my classmate described the correlation between sexual abuse and pelvic floor dysfunction, I was shutting down. I trembled in my seat, and like a volatile fault line, the quake I felt caused the room to collapse around me. When the walls crumbled down, I felt scared and exposed. Everything I felt during my sexual assault bombarded me: panic, fear, confusion, and helplessness. Here I am learning to help others while desperately needing help for myself. Am I strong enough to be here? The doubt was overwhelming, but it was not forever.
Some mornings I wake up and invite the warm sunshine into my body and allow my spirit to be nurtured‒these are better days. Other times I feel as though the sun becomes a lighthouse‒salvation that is desperately seeking me out in the darkness overpowering me. These are days when I feel delicate and more susceptible to triggers. These are days when I feel just as paralyzed as I did during the night when I was nothing more than justa body.
Have you ever been somewhere that was so dark that you could see more light when your eyes were closed? Imagine an innocuous fly landing on your cheek and the sudden panic felt as your mind frantically eliminates the malignant possibilities for the unforeseen startle. Your brain swiftly concludes the threat as merely a harmless fly, allowing your body and mind to settle in a matter of minutes. This is the best analogy I can offer to illustrate the triggers for a sexual trauma survivor. Please keep in mind, every survivor’s story and recovery is different; however, a parallel can be drawn amongst many survivors for the petrifying dread accompanying a trigger. The mind is violently dragged into painful memories where trauma admonishes the survivor for seeking safety‒even if the initial shock following the violation has dwindled. But it is never truly gone, and that is where recovery resources for survivors of sexual assault is crucial.
Chanel Miller (courageous and compelling author of survivor memoir Know My Name) communicates the complexity of trauma recovery eloquently:
“Trauma provides a special way of moving through time; years fall away in an instant, we can summon terrorizing feelings as if they are happening in the present.”
It almost sounds like a super power, doesn’t it? But we never asked for this nor could we fathom possessing something so fickle and toxic in our bodies. You may need help mitigating the noxious jolt of trauma, and that is 100% okay. It’s normal, and the acknowledgement is powerful. Maybe you will find solace with a counselor, support group, or something else that works for you. Take it from me, healing is exhausting‒It is still exhausting. Remember to be patient and forgiving with the healing process, and be gentle with yourself. You have endured so much distress‒now, you will experience kindness and peace.
Physical therapy is a very hands-on profession. Chances are you have heard this a million times in physical therapy school. While it is certainly true, this statement has a lot more depth for trauma survivors. In my case and that of many others, that trauma stems from a touch influenced by violence and control. When the body is forcibly taken to be nothing more than something to pleasure a monster, the world changes. Author of The Body Keeps the Score, Bessel Van Der Kolk, articulates this devastating shift:
“After trauma, the world becomes sharply divided between those who know and those who don’t.”
Those who understand the pain and those who don’t. Those who live in the same nebulous shadows and those who don’t. Sometimes the depths are so deep and so dark, it’s nearly impossible to see the light that physical therapy can bring. Trauma-informed care is one tool we can use to shine our light for survivors of sexual assault and rape. With that, we have a responsibility to manifest the physical therapy profession as one embedded in our unparalleled ability to rekindle compassionate and benevolent touch. As Regis’s Blessing of the Hands ceremony draws near, we know our hands are the strongest tools we have to validate the distinguished value of our profession. Let us be the amazing healthcare providers we know we can be.
Arianna Armendariz, A 3rd year DPT student, a sister, a daughter, a friend, and a survivor.
Thank you to our wonderful blog director, Suzanne Peters, for sharing my writing on this platform.
Thank you to my family, especially my mom and sister, for your endless patience and support as I heal.
Thank you to my boyfriend for your incredible patience and fortitude over the last five and a half years. The gratitude I feel for you is insurmountable. I love you.
Thank you to my current therapist and former therapists for helping me gain back my strength and self-worth.
Thank you to my friends for your graciousness: Camille, Alyssa, Lauren, Ashley, Shannon, and Jess.
Thank you to the many wonderful Regis faculty members who have shown tremendous kindness and understanding: Shelene, Mary, Heidi, Jean, Larisa, Mel, Rebecca, Amy, Wendy, Nancy, Rachel, Stacy, Drew, and Erika.
Finally, thank you to the entirety of my Class of 2022. You know you are ReSiLiEnT.
On June 16, Regis University Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) students of the Class of 2022 and 2023 had the opportunity to introduce the physical therapy profession, in all its forms, to the students of Porter-Billups Leadership Academy (PBLA). The Porter-Billups Leadership Academy is an organization started by former Regis University Men’s basketball coach, Lonnie Porter, and NBA star, Chauncey Billups. This organization serves over two hundred and fifteen 4th-12th grade students with the intent of providing academic and leadership training to at-risk inner city students in Denver.
With the goal of introducing the profession of physical therapy to students of all ages from a wide range of racial and cultural backgrounds, Regis University DPT students spent two hours sharing their love for physical therapy with PBLA students through various physical therapy related activities. Students of every age group participated in activities designed to demonstrate the integral roles our muscles, brain, and cardiovascular system play in our day to day life and in our overall health. From getting their heart rate up during ultimate frisbee to receiving electrical stimulation to get muscles activating, students were immersed in all things physical therapy.
Fourth through seventh graders received instruction on how to apply kinesiotape and athletic tape to help reduce pain at different joints, how to measure grip strength and improve balance, and understand the important role our heart plays in our health. Eighth through tenth graders analyzed the different phases of overhand throwing, practiced with electrical stimulation to facilitate muscle activation, discussed strategies to manage mental health, and conversed with Regis University students about college life. Eleventh and twelfth graders were able to participate in a weight lifting session, participate in a guided activity in the cadaver lab, and discuss how to choose a college and a major.
Personally, this event furthered my pride in being a member of the Regis University School of Physical Therapy. Following a year of minimal interaction with our peers and the community, this event showed the value of gathering with the intent of furthering the good of our neighbors and ourselves. As students, we have a deep sense of gratitude for the opportunity to interact with the PBLA community and share our love for our profession. Regis University students reflected on the experience saying:
“I grew up in an area that would have benefitted from a program like PBLA. It’s heartening to see young people of color have the opportunity to thrive. I am thankful to have been part of this experience and hope to help out again next year!” -Sung Yi, Class of 2023
“Having lived in Denver for over 4 years now, I strongly identify with the greater Denver community. PBLA was a great experience for me to show up as a leader in the community, and represent Regis University and the DPT program. Getting the chance to interact with the students gives me great confidence that the students will become leaders in their life, in their own way. I hope they learned something of value from us, and I can’t wait to participate again!” -David Shaw, Class of 2023
“Volunteering in the cadaver lab for PBLA was such a fun experience! I loved being able to help the students discover the different parts of what their future could hold and show how unique of a learning experience the cadavers are!” -Sam Snyder, Class of 2023
“PBLA has been one of the most fulfilling service-learning experiences I have had at Regis. Being able to engage, play, and create with the students reminded me of how valuable such experiences are for young students. I am so proud of the team and fellow students who made this opportunity possible and looking forward to see our relationship with PBLA grow.” -Victoria Patton, Class of 2023
“It was so fun to work with the kids and learn about what they are excited about and interested in so that we could cater what we wanted to teach them to what they cared about. I loved having an opportunity to connect with and learn from an age group that I ordinarily wouldn’t have much opportunity to work with.” -Micah Boriack, Class of 2022
“It was so fulfilling and rejuvenating to share my love for physical therapy with the students and allow them to experience what our profession has to offer. Seeing the students get excited about modalities like functional electrical stimulation and start to think about ways to utilize modalities for various impairments was so incredible to see, and my hope is that we have planted the seed and have gotten the students excited about potentially pursuing a career in physical therapy one day.” -Brittney Martinez, Class of 2022
We want to extend our gratitude to the PBLA leadership, teachers, and students for allowing us into their community. We hope to further this relationship in the coming years and continue to share our love for physical therapy with the many talented and joyful PBLA students who experience Regis University each summer.
One of the mainstays of the Regis DPT program is the Move Forward 5k/10k race that is hosted every fall by current SPTs. It was created as a community outreach program and benefits Canine Companions for Independence, the puppy training volunteer organization the DPT program works with to help train future service dogs (read more about our newest puppy, Clover). Recognizing that not everyone is ready to jump up from their desk and run a 5 or 10 kilometer race, students have put together a couch to 5k training program that is free to the community to help prepare for the race and generally be more active. This initiative is spearheaded by Kelly Stevens and Tanner Williams of the Class of 2023.
The training program is a 9-week evidence-based training program developed by the National Health Service (NHS). This specific program was designed for beginners to gradually build up their running ability so they can eventually run 5 kilometers without stopping. The training program is embedded in the Couch to 5k website and has a free downloadable app to go with it on your phone. The team has also created a Strava community (run tracking app) where interested individuals can upload their run logs and interact with others who are in the same training program. There are even suggested routes to run if you’re unsure of where to start in the real world. And, starting Tuesday, June 22nd for three consecutive weeks, three 20-minute running workshops will be posted to the website to help get people into the world of running. Workshops will cover everything from nutrition to gear to warm up and cool down so you’ll have a good overview of how to train even beyond the running itself. The workshops will culminate in an hour-long live Q&A session with a panel of students running the training program on Tuesday, July 13th in the evening.
You might be thinking, “Wow, this sounds like a big commitment. I don’t know that I am a runner.” You’d be surprised by the number of people who share the same sentiment. Even Kelly Stevens, the program’s Outreach Chair, who plans to do the training program right along side you, wouldn’t call herself a runner, per say. She approaches running from a different perspective than the mile-counting, second-checking intense runners you see training for ultras on the side of 36 on the way to Lyons. Her plan for this program is to end it feeling like part of something bigger than she was before starting it; to feel like she accomplished something the days she does training runs; to meet people in her community. “Activity plays a large part in my own well-being and interaction with people.” She is excited to find a way to use technology to connect people to an activity that is inherently physical and thinks that the outreach portion of this operation will be a challenge coming out of the Covid-induced isolation we have all been experiencing. Now that the world is opening up again, she is hoping to connect others to running who have not seen themselves as stereotypical runners. Kelly believes running is not always about having to top your PR or win the next race, that it’s more than that. Her approach is less competitive with no expectations and just doing what you can where you are right now. It’s not about having the best shoes or the most aerodynamic clothing. “Some people don’t even run in shoes!” Kelly says. “People need reassurance that they can do it and it doesn’t have to be how they see other people doing it.” So if you’re looking for a reason to give this a shot, Kelly will be cheering you on the whole way from right next to you (virtually).
Tanner has taken a less running-centric approach to his role as part of the leadership of Couch to 5K. He doesn’t identify as a runner himself but understands how running can become a shared interest, which is where he intends to spend most of his energy. Tanner is big on community connection and finds exercise is a great way to make those connections. He is passionate about engaging community members and creating a healthy community in an organic manner through shared interest. He is hoping that people in the Regis community and neighboring areas will meet on their running journey and create new connections, expanding their social resources and getting to know their neighbors. Tanner’s plan for Couch to 5k is that families who are unfamiliar with others in their immediate area will have the opportunity to get to know each other and be active at the same time, creating sustainable long-term relationships. “Running is simply the vessel for bringing families together,” he says.
So dust off those trainers, check out the Couch to 5K training page, and let’s get running!