While I’ve only been a licensed physical therapist (PT) for a short period of time, I am often asked why I chose the field of physical therapy. I remember hearing my classmates’ stories during PT school and listening to how many people decided to apply at the last minute, unsure of where they wanted to be at the end of school. I personally couldn’t imagine this because for me, it was the exact opposite. The obvious answer to the million-dollar question is because I want to help people, right? Definitely true, but come on, that’s kind of boring. My reason has a story behind it.
Growing up, I played just about every sport imaginable and it was all that I ever wanted to do. I always had the dream of playing college basketball and going into my junior year of high school I was finally going to have my chance to start on varsity. I ran cross country that fall in order to prepare myself for the upcoming basketball season with hopes of being in the best shape possible. During the regional race that year I felt a pop in my right lower leg during the first mile when I was running downhill. I didn’t think it was anything too serious at first because I was able to walk on it. Initially, the X-Ray came back negative, so I began rehabilitation, but something just didn’t feel right. Since basketball season was about to begin, I avoided activity, sat on the sidelines and hoped for healing for two weeks, but I still could not run. I knew something wasn’t right, so I finally went to the doctor for an MRI. Come to find out, I had a large stress fracture in my tibia (lower leg bone). There goes half, if not more, of my season… talk about a buzz kill.
Now what? The plan was to be on crutches for six weeks and begin PT in the meantime to work on my overall strength and maintain range of motion. I was a 16-year-old kid that just found out that I had to sit for half of my most important basketball season, do you think I wanted anything to do with PT? I’ll never forget going into my first visit with my hometown PT. He must’ve thought I had the worst attitude ever. I walked in with an attitude and my head down, I was depressed that I couldn’t play ball and I didn’t think PT was going to be beneficial for me at all. My teammates were all out on the court preparing for the season and here I was going to PT, of course I was in a bad mood. Luckily for me, my PT played college basketball, so we had an instant connection and I listened to him even though I didn’t want to. He was able to somehow turn my negative attitude into a positive one in the blink of an eye. It was almost like a switch went off when he explained to me that the goal wasn’t to just get me back to playing basketball, but to get me back stronger than ever before. Something as simple as showing me that I was in his best interest made me trust him and have a positive outlook on PT. How powerful is that?
From that day forward, I knew I wanted to be a PT. I wanted to impact people’s lives in the same way that my PT changed mine. I wanted to be able to help people return to doing things that they love to do in the same way that he did for me. If you ask him to this day, he probably doesn’t even remember doing anything special or different with me, but that is the power of physical therapy. Patients come in scared, they come in depressed, they come in with anxiety because they have never been through something like they are experiencing. Our job is so powerful because by simply listening to our patients and by reinsuring them that they are in our best interest, we can make all the difference in their world. My PT didn’t heal me, he didn’t do any magic voodoo to turn my attitude around, but by simply showing he cared he gained my trust and the rest was history. The impact we have on people’s lives is what makes this profession great. I’ll never forget the look on my first patient’s face when he came in for his final visit and told me that he was now able to perform his daily walking without any issues. He was as happy as can be, but little did he know that I was more excited than he was. I think it is safe to say that I picked the right profession.
About the Author: Drew Dudek, PT, DPT, ATC graduated in 2018 from Belmont University with a Doctoral degree in Physical Therapy. He’s originally from Pickneyville, IL and lives in St. Louis. He practices in O’Fallon, MO and enjoys treating all types of patients, especially athletes.