Member Journeys to the Physical Therapy Profession

Ankle Injuries, Trust, and Career Path

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I had my first ankle injury while away on vacation when I was ten years old. My ankle was x-rayed, no broken bone, however. I was put in a cast and told to follow up with my GP once I returned home. My cast was removed three weeks later and that was it. Over the next few years, I had repeat ankle injuries but was never made aware of physical therapy. As a former gymnast and later tennis player, this seriously stood in the way of my performance because I was so afraid of hurting myself. Fast forward to being 25 years old, meeting with an orthopedic surgeon for the first time after my umpteenth ankle injury, and finally, this medical professional broached the topic of physical therapy with me. I decided to give it a try and it was a revelation. My physical therapist helped me greatly with mobility and strength, introduced me to the concept of proprioception, but above all, he encouraged me to trust my body. "Go ahead, you are safe to go jog in the park, your ankle can take it," were such simple words, but I cannot overstate the effect hearing them had on me and my recovery, and eventually my future career path.

Aude Puyfoulhoux, PTA

Reinvention the Hallmark of 24-Year Journey

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Christi Riley on Facebook
Kintsugi PT on Facebook


Watch Christi Riley's video about her journey from NCAA volleyball player, through multiple practice settings, to where she is now in the PT profession.

Christi Riley, PT, DPT, ATC
Board-Certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist
Certified Functional Manual Therapist
Certified Integrated Manual Therapist
Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist 

The Hard Truth About Swimming With Dolphins Led to PT Journey

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Sarah’s clinic, Flourish PT, on Facebook

My story of becoming a physical therapist isn’t very glamorous or exciting. All my young life, I wanted to be a marine biologist, I believe stemming from my love of the movie “Free Willy.” That desire persisted as I began looking at universities toward the end of my high school career. On a school tour, my wise father, realizing that marine biology was not simply swimming with dolphins and whales all day like my naïve vision had me believing, convinced the department head to give it to me straight. Once my bubble was sufficiently popped, my parents gently nudged me to consider that school’s PT program, as they believed a career in healthcare would provide me with stimulation, growth, and job security. I applied to Marquette University’s direct admit program, got accepted, and was hooked! My parents were right and I’m in a career I love. Learning all about the body, how it works, how many ways things can go wrong, and discovering how to help people with sub-optimal function and return them to a better quality of life, has been paying dividends for the last 10 ½ years. I now own my own practice, and get to treat patients my way, and am so honored to have the impact on people’s lives that I am privileged to have.

Sarah Hayward, PT, DPT, Vestibular Rehabilitation Certified

Adding a Science Course to Business Studies Revealed the Perfect Career

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Physical therapy was my second career. In the late 1970s my focus was in the food business, cooking both as head chef and caterer. I decided to return to college, initially with a business major but while at college thought it would be wise to branch out and take a science course. I ended up in an incredible Anatomy/Physiology, (A/P) course with a very inspirational professor and was “hooked on the body.” My A/P study-buddy was a “pre-PT” major. PT ultimately seemed like the perfect match for my career, (since I was sort of athletic and enjoyed learning about the body). I graduated from Pacific University in 1985 with a BS and moved to the Pacific Northwest after falling in love with the beauty surrounding the Puget Sound, taking my first job at Northwest Hospital. After changing jobs, first to Providence in Everett, I took a job from 1988-2020 at Virginia Mason Medical Center, initially under the incredibly inspiring leadership of Dottie Nelson, PT, and Rich Bettesworth, PT.

My PT career took many roads in various directions and specialties including becoming NDT certified (1987), certified in vestibular rehabilitation (1998), becoming a Board-Certified Geriatric Clinical Specialist (2012,) and ultimately earning my DPT (2014). Though my practice initially started out in both inpatient/outpatient rehabilitation, it gradually changed to outpatient orthopedics where I became focused on women’s health, vestibular rehabilitation, and balance/falls prevention. I loved teaching patients about their bodies, how to recover from an injury or issue of concern and to help them understand prevention. The challenges of the profession were to see that each patient was unique and special, and to attempt to connect and inspire them to lead healthy and functioning lives.

Giving more than the 40-hour work week to the PT profession has always been of utmost importance for me. From 2000 – 2010, I served as the APTA Washington Education Committee Chairman and continue to be a committee member to this day. I was awarded the Donna El-Din Distinguished Service Award in 2004 and in 2019 was elected to serve as the Professional Enhancement Panel Director on the APTA Washington Board of Directors.

Being a physical therapist has truly been an honor. Though I still adore cooking and putting together delicious dinner parties, there is no doubt in my mind that I picked one of the greatest professions. Physical therapy has allowed me to grow in more ways than I can count.

Lesley Weinberg, PT, DPT, Board-Certified Geriatric Clinical Specialist

I Wanted to Help Others Find Their Strength

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Tasha on Twitter

Finding the profession of physical therapy has been like finding home for me. When I thought about what I wanted to be when I grew up, I knew I wanted to directly help people. Like a lot of PTs and PTAs, I became interested specifically in physical therapy after getting injured myself. I wasn’t ready to commit though. I was just a sophomore in high school after all. “The Science of Healing. The Art of Caring.” This was the slogan for National Physical Therapy Month in 2001. I remember seeing it on an old-looking poster the second time I went through physical therapy for a different injury as a freshman in college. I can still picture that poster! I was watching a therapist from across the gym space help someone learn how to use crutches and suddenly, I knew this is what I wanted to do. PTs and PTAs get to help others find the strength within themselves to reach their goals. We are coaches, teachers, and cheerleaders for our patients and clients. These days, I work in a pain clinic. Most of my patients have chronic pain that affects some of their most basic activities, like being able to sit comfortably, to walk around the grocery store, clean their house, or have a job. Through education, these people find hope. Through hope, they find action. Through action, they find healing. It’s an honor every day to go on that journey with them.

Tasha Parman, PT, DPT, Board-Certified Orthopaedic Clinical Specialist

Why I Became a Physical Therapist

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Erik on Facebook

It's complicated… it's personal… it's movement… it’s coaching… it's empathy….it is for the greater good of humanity.

I am thankful for my Pacific Lutheran University classmates who opened my eyes to the profession of physical therapy. I am thankful for Carl Loera, PT for his early mentorship and encouragement. I am thankful for Mark Guthrie, PT, PhD at the University of Washington who inspired early professionalism. I am thankful for Janet Peterson, PT, DPT and Rich Bettesworth, PT who inspired/encouraged governance involvement. So many more. I am thankful for my professional association which has given to me far more opportunities than I can fill. My professional life has been enriched through my time with the American Physical Therapy Association.

Happy Century Birthday American Physical Therapy Association!

Erik Moen, PT

Still Exciting to Create Solutions

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Bonnie on Facebook

I began college as a physical education major right after high school. An introductory course, suggested by my advisor, had a very small paragraph describing PT (something I’d never heard of) immediately catching my attention. After observing a PT working with patients in the college pool that’s all it took to redirect me into a much more suitable field for my energy, intellect, and interests.

The rest is a 46-year history, still going strong with my own private practice in my home, treating mainly orthopedics. My three cats are my only staff (receptionists), so most challenging for me are the paperwork and ever-changing insurance requirements.

While still in my twenties, one of my memorable patients was a 15-year-old Down’s Syndrome “boy” who had climbed out of his mom’s car as she was driving and fractured his femur. Home health sent me in after cast removal to get his knee moving and facilitate walking again. Being that words/explanations weren’t effective, I devised “games” where we had crawling races on the floor, hopped around their kitchen, and kicked a ball, etc., to achieve our goals.

For me, it’s most exciting to create solutions for what we didn’t learn in school or trainings, relying on intuitive impulses, saying “do this” or “try this” with more challenging situations and patients. They always seem to work magically, but likely are from all the great classes and knowledge I do have floating in my brain.

Bonnie Masi, PT

Twists and Turns Lead to Perfect Fit

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Activity has always been integral to my life. As a youngster, my free time was spentShaun Seibel 150x150 climbing, jumping, digging and tumbling, and my favorite vacations were spent backpacking. When a new girls’ Track & Field team formed in the late 1960s, my sisters and I joined. I was hooked. I happily competed for 11 years, through my sophomore year of college, when I sustained a foot injury. Despite multiple trips to the trainer and podiatrist— the only practitioners I knew about— the pain remained. I continued to run but ceased competition. My predilection for the life sciences during high school transitioned to natural resource management as I spent summers working for the U.S. Forest Service. My favorite position was on trail crew; we worked 4- or 10- day tours in the backcountry. Concerned should a crewmate be injured, I underwent EMT training. Here I recognized an affinity for anatomy and physiology. When a nurse-friend mentioned “physical therapy” I was immediately intrigued. I observed at a private practice, and soon returned to college. In this, my 30th year as a PT, I am still grateful for the twists and turns in my life that led me here. I love the challenge of problem- solving with clients, and I find great joy in assisting others to better their lives. These cognitive and emotional rewards, combined with physical activity every day I work, have made physical therapy the perfect fit for me.

Shaun Seibel, PT

Why I'm Here

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Ari's Linkedin pageAri Reiter 150x150

I'm here to help people.

I'm here to help people realize their lives can be better.

I'm here for the revolution.

I'm here to change the way we do PT, to change the way patients experience PT, to change the way providers - physicians, RNs PAs, NPs, and the public as a whole understands and utilizes PT.

The comorbidities that plague our country can be attacked with preventative healthcare/education that we can be on the forefront of.

I want to change the way people with neurological diseases and injuries live.

I want to be an agent of hope.

I don’t want to ever hear from someone, “I will only get this much back...” or “I can’t do that again.”

Hear me now, believe me later, we will look back on how we treat disorders/injuries of the brain and cringe.

Think about how far we have come over the past 30 years in treating total joints.

We need a new wave of PT/OT/SLP along with physiatrists and movement disorder specialists to be willing to provide enough therapy to the folks with neuro diagnosis who are essentially given up on after a certain period of time. Or are told, they can only process so much.

We need Congress (through Medicare) and health insurance providers to allow more therapy to those with complex neuro diagnoses. We can make a bigger impact on the lives of those who need it most if we are willing to provide them with more help, education and support.

We need to be creative and aggressive in advocating for who we are as providers and how we can make the world a better place.

I’m here to work.

Ari Reiter, PT, DPT

Pre-pandemic video of Ari working with a patient.

The Reason(s)

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If I’m being honest, writing about the reason to pursue a career in physical therapy comes from more than a desire to share my story. This piece is therapeutic for me. We are in the midst of a global pandemic and a civil rights movement. Needless to say, I’ve struggled to grasp hold of the passion in my daily work. My thoughts and priorities have been elsewhere at times.

However, reflecting over the past several months has also awakened new perspectives regarding my choice to work in this niche of healthcare.

Years ago, it began with me, a high-school soccer player. A fracture kept me on the sidelines for an entire season, but my physical therapist motivated me to recover. The following year I returned to the field as varsity team captain, and the PT seed was planted. My story is not unlike many, and our experiences have helped to create a strong group of empathetic providers.

As mentioned, the reason(s) to become a PT have evolved though, as I’ve witnessed meaningful moments this past year. I remember our department stepping in, assisting with COVID testing when help was needed. I value the teamwork put forth as we built a telehealth practice to keep patients safe. I’m moved by the actions of colleagues regarding social justice. And I’m reminded of the patient who’s returned to seek guidance, despite grieving the recent loss of her mother and the overwhelming experience of becoming pregnant, because she feels it is that valuable.

Overall, with the burnout has also come insight into the role we play in healthcare. We are support systems. We are listening ears. We are educators. We are hope.

These are the reasons I’ve chosen a career in physical therapy.

Ellie Forslund, PT, DPT

My High School Guidance Counselor Showed Me the Way

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Ted on Facebook

My PT journey started in 1972 when as a sophomore in high school. I went to my guidance counselor and told him that I was interested in going into a medical field where I could use my hands to help people. At that time I knew that I belonged in a profession that would care for the sick or injured but knew that I didn’t want to go into medicine. My guidance counselor pulled out a book from his collection and said, “This is what you are talking about.” The book explained the field of physical therapy. Growing up in rural New Hampshire, I had never heard of physical therapy prior to that meeting but every page that I read spoke to me. The field explained in this book was exactly what I wanted to do in my life. I started studying PT in 1974 in Boston and have worked in this profession now for 42 years. I am thankful to that guidance counselor for steering me in this direction. I have since earned my DPT degree along the way and found this profession both rewarding and honorable.

Ted Molaski, PT, DPT
Board Certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist
Certified Mechanical Diagnosis and Treatment through McKenzie Institute of Americas

I Chose to Extend My Reach as an Educator

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Meryl GershMeryl on Facebook

In the mid-1970s, as a newer physical therapist, I was often frustrated by the limited number of patients that I could “touch” in a given day. This challenge led me to become a physical therapist educator. I thought that as a single physical therapist, I could care for only “x” number of patients every day, whereas, through educating physical therapists, I could reach so many more patients and families. I am grateful every day for this decision. I am so proud of all my graduates who have extended my reach hundreds of times over. As I reflected on my career as a physical therapist educator when I retired in 2017, I realized that I had touched more than 900 times the number of patients than I could have as a single physical therapist. Thank you to all physical therapist and physical therapist assistant educators, and of course to our students and alumni who offer and extend our care and reach to our communities every day.

Meryl Roth Gersh, PT, PhD

Creating Pathways to Help Patients Reach Their Goals

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Amanda on Facebook 

Amanda Scharen 150x150I had the opportunity to work at a clinic in Santiago, Dominican Republic for my final clinical affiliation. There was a patient I was working with who had undergone a rotator cuff repair. She had been noncompliant early in her rehabilitation and had developed significant post-operative stiffness. As a naive SPT, I spent a lot of time lecturing the patient about what they should have done differently to have reached a better outcome. My CI pulled me aside and said, “It doesn’t matter what’s happened in the past. You need to help this patient recover based on how she is doing now.” His advice stuck with me ever since. Every day, I work with patients who come from different backgrounds, have different life experiences, and have different goals. It is my job to meet them where they are, listen to their experience, and create a pathway to their functional goals. I think this is what I love the most about my career as a physical therapist: despite the challenges and circumstances each individual faces, I am tasked with the responsibility of helping that person move forward to reach their goals.

Amanda Scharen, PT, DPT,
Board Certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist
Certified Manual Physical Therapist
Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist

Finding Herself Between Two Worlds, Constantly Transitioning to Improve Communities

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Lynnette Gilmore Full SizeYa’at’eeh (hello)! My name is Lynnette Caycee Gilmore and I am a Doctor of Physical Therapy. I am a tribal member of the Navajo Nation located in the four-corner’s area of the Southwest. My Navajo clans are Naakai Dine’e (Mexican people; interpreted but not from or descended of Central America, this clan has several origin stories, I’ll tell you when we meet in the future!), Tl’izilani bashishciin (Manygoats), Hashk’aan Haadzoi (Yucca Fruit Strung In A Line aka “banana”), and To Ahani (Near the Water) and that is how I identify myself as a Navajo woman and five-fingered human being.

Growing up in the western world with a traditional Navajo influence, living on and off the Navajo reservation, I gravitated toward human wellness and balance. Seeing a Navajo culture concept “Si’ah Naaghai Bik’eh Hozho” (which can loosely be translated into being in balance and harmony within yourself, with your surroundings/environment, and even into the cosmos) reflected in school and healthcare, it was natural for me to pursue a healthcare profession. I became a physical therapist to help my community, to inspire those around me, and to help people live a good life. Observing physical ailments in family members who underwent therapy struck my interest at an early age. Having my own sport-related injuries furthered my curiosity in physical rehabilitation as I detached from other public service endeavors such as becoming a physician, police officer, fire fighter, and my own Navajo tradition as a traditional practitioner or shepherd. (Yes, a shepherd! Navajos have a deep relationship with livestock; as children, my cousins and I would herd sheep all summer during which we learned life skills and independence.)

Many rural, “minority” communities suffer from social determinants of health. These unfortunate factors severely impact all 572 federally recognized Native American tribes throughout the country. It is through these factors, historical traumas, transgenerational trauma, and current ongoing inequities that continue to impact the communities of the 572 tribes, that its members find themselves between two worlds, constantly transitioning to improve communities, both at their tribal traditional level and the western level. I find myself here often. I am fortunate to have worked in “both worlds,” on my reservation in Arizona, and at an outpatient private practice in the Pacific Northwest. I truly enjoy working with all patients, communities, and colleagues. I am inspired by all experiences through physical therapy and I am excited about what the future holds for physical therapy and healthcare.

~Hozhogo Nashaado – Walk In Beauty
Lynnette Gilmore, PT, DPT

You Need One Company to Fall in Love With You

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Oliver Billon WSU GradTenacity and research were the hallmarks of Oliver Billon, PTA’s journey to his journey to and through Lake Washington Institute of Technology PTA program. Despite setbacks academically and as he tried to gain practical experience, Oliver didn’t let feelings of uselessness deter him from this path.

“There's a saying that I told myself,” he says, “You need one company to fall in love with you, the rest will be history."

Now at Lake Washington Physical Therapy, read about Oliver's journey in this Linkedin post.

Oliver Billon, PTA

My Journey to Inspire Others

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Chris on Facebook

Chris SoterakopoulosGrowing up I was an athlete who played sports all year round. I had never been injured, went to the University of Washington, received a bachelor’s degree and began working for a bank. I continued to stay active and played recreational sports, but in 2007 I tore my ACL, medial meniscus and MCL during a basketball tournament in Yakima. It was the first real injury in my life, and I was not prepared for the mental rollercoaster the injury and recovery would take me on.

My post-op recovery was tough. I felt disabled and fell into a state of depression, as I could barely care for myself and had this bulky brace and crutches. Not to mention, I was not happy with my job at the bank and never really felt gratification with my current occupation.

On my first day of PT, I was introduced to Aaron Kingsland at UW Sports Medicine and began my recovery. Each visit was tough, but I quickly went from a state of depression to one of hope and positivity. Aaron inspired me to investigate becoming a DPT and encouraged me to go for it.

After just a couple weeks of therapy, I was so excited for my career change, I quit my job at the bank and committed myself to becoming a DPT. Within two years, I worked in an outpatient clinic, inpatient clinic, went to night school to finish my prerequisites, tutored ANP (after I took the classes and received A’s), and volunteered in numerous PT settings.

I graduated from the University of Puget Sound in 2012 with my Doctorate in Physical Therapy. Now with each interaction in my outpatient job, I view it as an opportunity to inspire others and help them return to a life of happiness and movement.

Chris Soterakopoulos, PT, DPT
Facility Director of Vida Everett, Director of Physical Therapy
Fellow of Applied Functional Science
Matheson Certified Work Capacity Evaluator
Titleist Performance Institute Certified
Certified Kinesiotape Provider

I did not choose the PT life. The PT life chose me.

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Megan Shao

Some people use the phrase “burning the candle at both ends.” Six years ago, I had lit the whole thing on fire. It was so “lit” that I tore my ACL.

At the time, I was a struggling actor in LA, barely staying afloat financially and my emotional state was tenuous at best. Tearing my ACL pushed me to reevaluate what I wanted in life. What I was doing clearly wasn’t working.

My anchor was my PT appointments. If nothing else, physical therapy was productive. Then one day, I looked up and realized that I would rather go to my PT appointments than go to an audition. Everything clicked.

Megan Shao MaskedIt was time to go back to school to see if I had what it took to be a DPT.

Now here I am, in my 2nd year of my DPT program at EWU, on my way to help people in their journey to recovery—just as my physical therapist was for me. I did not choose the PT life. It chose me. And I am so happy that it did.

#MyPTStory   #APTACentennial   #APTAWashington   #PayitForward

Megan Shao, SPT