“What made you want to become a Physical Therapist?”
This is frequently one of the first questions a patient will ask us. Often this is the kind of question asked as a subconscious effort to assess a person’s qualification to perform a complex task such as medical assessment and treatment. Sometimes the answer is simple and to the effect “I once knew a PT that had a profound positive effect on me and from that point on I knew that I wanted to do what she did”. Another common response is “I wanted to help people and PT is a very direct way of doing so”. There are a variety of responses, but the vast majority reflect an internal spark of altruism and a drive to seek personal challenge.
You see, Physical Therapy is not a field of study to be approached lightly. In order to become licensed in the modern era, therapists are required to earn a doctorate degree. Following undergraduate study, the three year doctoral degree program is a full-time, extremely rigorous, year-round course of academic and practical study. No breaks. Summers between terms are spent engaging in the age-old practice of indentured servitude, paying tuition to work (without compensation) in a variety of clinical settings learning how to apply academic knowledge to the evaluation and treatment of patients.
Knowing that path, what would drive a person to willingly go through that? Next time you are in a PT clinic look carefully at the therapists. How they move. How they speak. What kind of facial expressions they make. What you will see is…patients. What makes a Physical therapist ultimately qualified to evaluate and treat your injury is the fact they live it. You will see tape. You will see a bit of a limp and maybe a grimace or two when they think no one is looking.
Physical Therapists often choose ourpath because the path chose us. When we ask about your pain we will ask “what kind of pain is it?” That is not because a book or professor told us what kinds of pain sensations may occur, it’s because your therapist has experienced the gamut of pain and has learned to pair kinds of pain with their possible causes. We understand movement because at one time or another we lost it and have spent the past number of years obsessively thinking about the whys and what fors of how to recover and avoid injury in the future.
It is unlikely that you will meet a qualified therapy professional that has not been where you are to some extent. It is something to keep in mind when seeking treatment. When you are having a particularly hard day in recovery, we share your pain. When you achieve success, we celebrate with you. When we treat you, we are in essence treating ourselves. That is why we chose to be Physical Therapists.