The 3 reasons why I chose academics over the clinic
Last week I shared with you my origin story. While I was in Uganda, I felt so much peace with the decision of submitting my curriculum vitae to begin the transition of full-time clinician to full-time professor. But, when I got back state side, my feelings changed.
I knew I wanted to be a physical therapist when I was 15 years old. I have the typically story that led me to the profession…I played lots of sports growing up, I got injured a lot, and I always needed help getting put back together. It also helped that my mom is a nurse and worked for an orthopaedic surgeon for over 20 years. This particular surgeon sees the value in physical therapy and is a major supporter and utilizer of it despite the fact that surgery makes more money.
We all know the path to becoming a physical therapist isn’t easy…four years of undergraduate (unless you are in the lucky programs that allow 3 + 3) where you can’t make any mistakes or your GPA tanks, then 3 years of graduate school where you eat and sleep physical therapy content. And when you make it to graduate school, you are challenged beyond ways then you ever imagined could be possible. It is by no means equivalent to medical school, but it is close to it. You have to have a passion for the profession if you are going into to make it through. You have to know why you are putting yourself through this challenge…you have to have the end game in mind.
I went to graduate school to become a physical therapist…not a professor. I love people and I couldn’t wait to change patient’s lives just like the physical therapists I encountered changed mine. I loved being a full-time clinician and why would I trade that all in for a profession I had no idea how to do? I spent 7 years of my life grueling away at studying, learning, and growing to change patient’s lives, why give that all up?
Here are my 3 reasons why I ultimately chose full-time academics over full-time clinic work:
1. This is what I was made for.
I never really thought about teaching as a gift I have until residency when I had the opportunity to be a lab assistant in a first-year musculoskeletal class. But, when I look back over the years even in high school I was always teaching others. In fact, that is one of my learning styles. I learned very early that if I could explain a topic to someone else, I would learn it deeper and more complete then if I just kept the information to myself. I also am fascinated with the learning process. I love reading books like Brain Rules by John Medina where you can learn how your brain learns. I get so excited to share with people the whole physiology behind why exercise is good for your brain and for learning. (I will spare you my soap box…) I know…I know, I’m kind of geeking out right now, but why not? Learning and teaching are a true passion of mine and it took experiencing that in the right context for me to realize what I was made for.
2. The exponent factor.
I LOVE physical therapy. If you have met me or if you spend any time with me, that will be a clear impression I will make. This profession changes lives. We get the opportunity to help people improve their movement, so they can interact with society in the ways they were made for. I learned growing up and even as a clinician, that not all healthcare providers are equal. There are some good physical therapists and some bad ones. (Which honestly took me several years in the profession to realize as I had the false assumption that the good/bad rule only affected every other health care profession…I was/am naïve in a lot of ways.). Being a clinician, I had the opportunity to impact 12-14 patients a day, 5 days a week. I also had the opportunity once or twice a year to teach a physical therapy student for 6-8 weeks. Being conservative, if my math is correct, that is impacting about 2,500 patients a year and 2 physical therapy students. Becoming a physical therapy professor becomes a multiplication factor of near 45. We graduate around 45 students each year where I work therefore we get the opportunity to influence and mold students into good physical therapists. Those 45 physical therapy graduates go out and impact their 2,500 patients a year and hopefully 2 DPT students which means my impact is now 112,500 patients each year and 90 DPT students. As I’m writing these numbers I’m thinking, man that sounds conceited (And for those of you who don’t know me, that is not my personality at all). The point I want to make is that I am passionate about providing quality physical therapy to every single person that needs it and was disheartened by the fact that not every physical therapist had the skills or necessary thought processes to provide that quality care. I want to be a part of the fix for that.
3. The flexibility.
I may be in the minority, but I really did love being a full-time clinician, but sometimes the 8-5 appointments times becomes difficult to manage other life commitments. As a step-mother to an 8 and 13-year-old at the start of my career, caravans to soccer practices and basketball games and other events was a huge requirement. And of course, those all needed to be done at 3:30PM, not 5:30PM. On top of that, there were doctor’s appointments, dentist appointments, sick days, snow days, and everything in between. Becoming a professor has afforded me the flexibility to be present for all of those needs and yet still be present for all of my job requirements. Being a professor afforded me the opportunity to nurse my son in my office in between classes, so I didn’t have to pump one more time. Being a professor afforded me to opportunity to travel to see many different states and to take my son a long with me to stop at the Chattanooga Choo-Choo Hotel (He LOVES trains!), the Cincinnati Zoo to see the giraffes, and step foot on the beach in Corpus Christi. Being a professor allows me to be the mom I want to be, but still be the achieving professional I want to be too.
How about you? What are your reasons you made the switch?