Why I’m a Physical Therapist

Rejected Title: Why do I do this?

I think the New Year is a good excuse to remind myself and inform my readers of why I do what I do. I also wrote about the strength coach side of this over on my other blog.

I am a physical therapist. I have a doctorate in what I do. I work in orthopedics and specialize in shoulders, knees and low back pain. I am self-employed as a PT.

Commitment to Helping Others

As cliche as it may be I feel I have a commitment to help others. Like almost all folks who work in healthcare I want to help people. 

Eagle scout

I swore my Oath as an Eagle Scout back in 1998. Part of the oath was to “country” and also, “to help others at all times”. It took me a while to figure out how to live up to those parts of the oath. But they were the parts that resonated most for me, so I felt the need to do so.

I actually tried to enlist in the Army first. But they didn’t want someone with terrible eyesight AND allergies. 

I studied criminal justice with the thought of becoming a police officer. Thankfully I was saved from that fate by my mother. While I was taking classes in community college she got me a job at the hospital where I worked. And it was there that I finally understood that I really wanted to work in medicine to help others.

Public health

Many years later I got my Exercise Science degree from UMass Boston. Unlike the other UMass campuses, the Boston campus’ exercise science program had a strong public health component. This resonated with me. 

As a physical therapist I play a small role in the greater project of improving long-term public health outcomes. Because I help people stay physically active. This reduces their likelihood of a wide variety of diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, amongst others. I’d already worked in a skilled nursing facility (what’s commonly called a nursing home) and seen first hand how much one’s life degrades from these diseases. And I also understand the tremendous burden that these diseases impose upon society. 

Mechanic

I like being a mechanic for people. My first healthcare job was as an orderly in the OR. And before that I had extensive first aid training, mostly thru Scouts. I enjoy the hands-on nature of this kind of work. I would never be satisfied with the more “look at test results and prescribe things” style of medicine that exists in many other specialties outside of orthopedics. 

I like basic physics and I like understanding how machines work. People’s musculoskeletal systems are weird, complex machines. It’s really neat! And fascinating. 

Puzzle solving

And I like the puzzle solving aspect of, “this machine is broken, how do I fix it”. Unlike with a car mechanic, I never just pull out a broken part and install a new one (tho that is amazing surgery and I am happy to work on those patients). I have to use what bits of the machine still work and take into account how well each part is working and develop a solution to the puzzle. 

I really appreciate the intellectual pursuit of this aspect of being a physical therapist specifically. 

Improvement

I like watching my patients improve. It is really satisfying to work with a person who starts off unable to do something important to them, or unable to do it without pain, and bring them to a point where they are capable again. Watching people’s pain get better or watching them resume physical activity or sports is really a joy for me.

One of the things that was clear to me from my years of prior healthcare work that differentiated PT from other orthopedic careers was this aspect of really seeing my patients get better. 

Bringing it All Together

Physical therapy is a vocation that allows me to: 

  • Help other people
  • Help my community
  • Work hands-on with patients
  • See my patients improve
  • Solve puzzles

That’s why I do this. 

Alas, actual jobs in physical therapy are terrible and exploitative so I work on my own as an independent physical therapist. If you’d like to help support me then you can contribute thru Ko-FI. Thanks.

Author: Steven Hirsch, DPT, CSCS

Physical therapist, strength coach, historical fencer.

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