Farewell Marcia Smith!

Name: Marcia Smith, PT, Ph.D.

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As we sadly said farewell at the end of the summer to another beloved faculty member, Marcia Smith, who has been with us at Regis for 20 years, second-year student Meg Kates made sure to catch some of her words of wisdom before her retirement! Read the interview below for Marcia’s amazing journey as a PT, educator, and advocator.

How did your journey with physical therapy begin?

When I was 8 or 9 years old, I read a story in a Reader’s Digest publication called Karen, which was the story of a young woman growing up with cerebral palsy in the late 1930s. At the time in history, many of those individuals lived in group facilities for people with disabilities. I remember, in the story, Karen learning how to walk with the help of a physical therapist. My interest was further reinforced in 8th grade, when I saw a television show called Route 66. In the show, main character came down with an illness and had to be hospitalized, and, I remember, a physical therapist helped him get well. Lastly, the gentleman who became the head of the Rehabilitation Center in Grand Junction moved across the street from me. I had lots of opportunities to talk to him and watch him. So, I had lots of opportunities for physical therapy to be reinforced as the career I wanted to pursue.

I graduated with by Bachelor’s in physical therapy from CU, and then I moved to upstate New York, where my husband went to law school. A Bachelor’s degree was all that was really available at the time, unless a person wanted to teach, in which case he or she got a Master’s degree. I had never met a physical therapist with a Ph.D. at the time. I lived in Ithaca for 3 years, and then I moved back Colorado in 1972. There were zero positions open in the state, so I worked vacation relief at nursing homes. Colorado has been saturated a long time. Eventually I got a call from the head therapist at Denver Health, who had heard I was looking for a job and asked me if I would like to interview…I said yes! I was hired and it was the weird, the wild, and the wonderful. At Denver Health, therapists are assigned to teams, so I worked in the Amputee Brace Clinic for 6 months. Then, I did hand therapy. Then, I rotated onto the Neuro-/Neurosurgery team. After that, I told everyone they could rotate around me because I was not going to leave that team.

Starting out, did you always know that you wanted to pursue neuro-focused PT?

No, in fact, I thought I wanted to be a pediatric therapist. In New York, I worked at Tompkins County Hospital and Rehabilitation Center for 2 years. That was a wonderful opportunity. I would see a patient who had an acute stroke and I would get to follow them from acute care to rehab to outpatient. I had the opportunity to fill the spot of a physical therapist on maternity-leave at the Special Children’s Center, which was a freestanding outpatient school in Ithaca. Interestingly, the head of the Special Children’s Center had her Ph.D. in Education and her Master’s in Speech Language Pathology. And she had cerebral palsy. In fact, she was one of the people in the book “Karen.” It was a full circle moment for me. I worked with this woman in the pediatric setting for 8 months before I moved back to Denver where, like I said, there were no pediatric positions. There were hardly any positions, but it was at Denver Health where I decided neuro is what I really wanted to do.

 

Can you tell me more about your experience with Ranchos Los Amigos?

When I was at Denver Health, I felt like I needed to know so much more. I expressed these feeling to my husband and he encouraged me to apply to universities for a Master’s degree. I was admitted to a program for clinical specialization at Rancho Los Amigos, where I learned at a couple of years. The first year was mostly class work, and the second year was all clinical specialization. We rotated between specialties, and I chose traumatic brain injury, stroke, TBI children, GB, and it just goes on like that.

 

What advice would you to someone who want to get into a specific specialty of work?

When I was finishing my Master’s, I can remember a classmate saying to me, “If there are no openings, I will just go do anything.”

And I can remember saying, “I won’t. I refuse. If I can’t be a neuro therapist, I will flip burgers!

So, my advice is to find a place you want to be and stick with it. Secondly, try to pick your final clinical rotation in a setting where you know you would like to practice. Lastly, don’t disregard what you have learned based on the setting you are in. For example, I have used my musculoskeletal and cardiopulmonary skills in practice with my patients with stroke, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease. Always be searching for opportunities to use a wide breadth of skills and never putting people into a “box.”

 

What do you think is the next step for the career of physical therapy?

I think that we will always need educators. So, if you’re interested in that route, be considering in what subject you would like to get your Ph.D.

There are other things I worry about. I worry about the cost of education, and the loans that people have to take out. I see how physical therapists are reimbursed in Colorado and nationwide, and it’s hideous. So, I see residency taking us to another level, but, ultimately, we need to be addressed as primary care providers.

Ultimately, we need to be our own advocates. That means writing up clinical studies, asking questions, and answering questions.

 

What is the first step in becoming an advocate? How did you get your start?

When I lived in New York, there were two physical therapists at Ithaca College who would regularly invite me and some others to attend district meetings, and everyone would go. Then, in 1970, New York had its first state conference: that night, everyone volunteered to participate on a committee of the APTA. When I moved back to Colorado, one of my mentors invited me to a picnic, where she asked me if I would become the secretary of the Colorado APTA Chapter.

I asked her, “Do you think I can?”

She said, “Of course you can.”

So, I became the secretary and did that for 4 years before I moved to California to pursue my Master’s, where I continued to follow through with my responsibilities until I came back.

 

What’s the next step for you? What’s in your future?

I am going to continue to do some research. I am going to continue to answer some questions about how we dose exercise for people with Parkinson’s Disease.

I will be doing some traveling. In September, my husband and I will be escorting some friends to Ireland. I am going to see Iceland next. We are going to go for Hawaii for a few weeks, and, then I thought, since we are halfway there, why not go to New Zealand? Why fly back to the mainland? Then we have friends that we will be joining on a river trip on the Rhine. I don’t know after that!

 

Thank youMarcia, for your work and dedication to both Regis and our profession! We are so grateful for all of your contributions and will miss you very dearly at Regis, and we wish you all the best in your new adventure in life! Congratulations!

5 Ways to Impress During Your Practical Exams

 

Name: Abbey Ferguson, Class of 2019
Undergrad: Westmont College, CA
Hometown: Sacramento, CA
Fun Fact: I absolutely love to dance! If any of you out there are dancers in need of a new dance studio here in Denver, I can definitely hook you up!

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Lab practicals are often the most terrifying and anxiety-provoking parts of physical therapy school. It is the chance for you to show your skills as a developing clinician in the most realistic setting possible, and they’re some of the only opportunities we get to practice being in the clinic before we get there. As a student who has only been in PT school for two semesters, I especially feel this weight due to our lack of clinical experience so far. However, while it may sound daunting, I have grown to love practical exams. As crazy as it sounds, I find it exciting to walk out of an interaction with a faculty member and feel like I could possibly interact with a real patient in a professional and capable way. While it took me a few exams to get there, I think I have found some ways that have made the tests manageable and exciting rather than threatening. I hope that these tips help, and always feel free to email me if you have more questions!

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We finished our first year of PT school! Class of 2019 Cinco De Mayo party

 

  1. Take deep breaths.

Prior to taking a practical exam, you will be given a time slot and an assigned room where you will perform your skill for a faculty grader. These time allotments begin at relatively short periods of 20-40 minutes, but as you take more classes, these can last for up to an hour or more. I’ve found that, to calm myself down before entering the exam room, taking the time to close my eyes and take a few deep breaths to simply slow my heart rate and clear my head is extremely helpful. For some reason, many of us students all cluster outside the rooms before our assigned times and stress each other out about the unknowns of the exam, and this not only invokes fear, but it makes us question our own abilities that we have developed. By simply pausing for a couple seconds before entering the room, I am able to remind myself that I am capable enough to perform well.

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Sky Pond hike with my classmates

 

  1. Speak slowly and confidently.

As you enter the exam room you are often given a case study or a patient problem to solve, and you only have a few moments to think through a solution and then employ your plan of care. This rushed feeling can lead to stumbling over words and key phrases that need to be communicated with the grader to show them you have reasonable rationale behind your interventions. What I often do is continue to take deep breaths and think through exactly what I am going to say prior to saying it. A skill I learned when I was in high school drama class was to speak my lines in a ridiculously slow manner. While the words sounded incredibly slow to my anxious brain, what was actually communicated to the audience was a line that in a normal, even pace. Because our brains are trying to process so much at once, by consciously thinking about slowing down words and thoughts, it can come across to the grader that you are confident in what you are saying. By instilling confidence in your grader, you are much more likely to get positive reviews. You have the knowledge from the classes to perform the skill well, so show them that you believe in yourself!

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At our Welcome BBQ the first weekend, I met my twin, Sari!

  1. Mental AND Physical Rehearsal.

I am the kind of student who does not love to practice the same skill over and over again prior to an exam. It often becomes monotonous and boring, and I feel like I start making new mistakes every time I practice. HOWEVER, I am convinced that the more you physically practice, the more automatic the skill becomes, and the less likely you are to fumble through your skill during the exam. As reluctant as I was to practice, I was very fortunate to have fellow students who convinced me that practicing was vital to performing well, and I believe it made a difference during the exams. But this does not mean that mental practice can not be helpful as well. I found that by taking the time to sit with the material and rehearse in my head what I would say and do during the skill, I was still able to feel more confident than if I had done no sort of practice once I entered the exam. These skills can feel tedious, but I think that is the point of physical therapy school! As the skills become automatic (after they are practiced correctly), we can be more confident in a clinical setting that the interventions we are performing are done well and will benefit our patients.

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My first 14er, Mt. Bierstadt!

  1. See your grader as a human, not an intimidating figure.

Perhaps it is just because I haven’t been in graduate school for that long, but I was honestly scared of my graders prior to actually being in a practical exam. Performing skills in front of experienced clinicians can be intimidating, and it becomes easy to expect them to be hyper-critical and harsh. But this misconception was debunked fairly quickly. Yes, our graders and professors are incredibly smart and know what they are doing, but they are also humans who believe in you and want you to do your best. By entering an exam setting with the mindset that your grader is there to support you and make you the best PT you can be, the fear and anxiety will be eased.

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Move Forward 5K

  1. Believe in yourself.

Confidence and believing in yourself may seem intuitive, but it really can make the difference when you are entering the exams. I know I tend to get pretty down on myself when it seems like an overwhelming amount of information is being thrown at us. However, I have realized I must have confidence in my program and professors that they have taught me well and I am prepared to show my skills in a practical exam. If you have practiced, studied, and listened in class, you know what you need to know to excel, and you can trust in yourself and in your abilities.

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Rocking our 90’s cartoon costumes for the annual Halloween contest

While these tips don’t stop my pits from sweating profusely prior to a practical, they have helped me get excited for the opportunity to show off what I have been trained to do. It keeps me from becoming overwhelmed and allows me to perform as best as I can, which is all I can really ask of myself. You will all be successful, and I’m sure you will find more strategies to add to this short list of how to survive practical exams. When you discover new things that help you, let me know, because I will always take the extra help:)

Email: aferguson002@regis.edu

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Weekend break at Grizzly Rose for some line dancing!