|Author: Christie Rose|
|PTA Educates Through Digital Technology|
|Brad Thuringer, PTA, had a burning desire to be a high school history teacher when he grew up. These days, he's teaching his patients how to get the maximum results from their physical therapy rehabilitation programs.
Thuringer received his Associate of Arts Degree at Presentation College in Aberdeen, South Dakota in 1986. He then earned a Bachelor of Science Degree at South Dakota State University in Brookings, SD.
Along with attending SDSU as a part-time student, Thuringer worked for ADVANCE, a group in Brookings that provided educational and employment services and opportunities for people with disabilities. There, Thuringer served as a recreational coordinator, developing recreational activities including softball, basketball, bowling, and ice skating for clients. He was also involved in the Special Olympics Foundation as a coach and state organizer. After two years with the company, Thuringer went to work part-time as a physical therapy aide for the Brookings Center for Physical Therapy. In 1997 he went to the Lake Area Technical Institute in Watertown, SD for his Associates Degree in Physical Therapist Assisting.
How is it possible to shift gears so dramatically, migrating from a career goal of teaching to being a PTA? "In my senior year at college," Thuringer explains, "Mark Amundson, PT, Director of Physical Therapy Services at the Bookings Center for Physical Therapy in Brookings, asked me if I would consider going into physical therapy. They offered to pay for the rest of my education, plus the additional education I'd need to work in the field of physical therapy," he continues, "There was also a bonafide job waiting for me when I was done. A free education. Free post-graduate instruction. A good paying job guaranteed when I graduated, right here in Brookings so I wouldn't have to move to find a teaching job. I jumped at the opportunity," he added.
Thuringer's luck held when it came to post-graduate training as a physical therapy assistant when a spot opened up in a PTA program in Watertown, only 45 minutes away. "There's more to it than the simple practicalities of life, though," Thuringer explains. "There was a fascination about teaching and helping people to learn - the assistance I give patients every day, showing them how to use their physical therapy regime to get better - that held a lot of appeal for me. With what I do, along with the guidance of the physical therapist, each day I give people the tools and techniques they need to recover or feel better. That's important to me," he emphasizes. "Besides, this way I get to deal with people of all ages, not just ninth-graders." The biggest benefit for Thuringer is as a PTA he has his students' full attention because they want to be there. It's not a requirement; it's something they want to do because their therapy will help them recover.
Thuringer started his career at the Brookings Center for Physical Therapy in 1990 where the main focus is outpatient rehabilitation. At Brookings, the staff concentrates on geriatric problems, sports related injuries, hand therapies and pre-employment screenings.
About 60% of Thuringer's patient load is geriatric. With the elderly he works primarily with osteoporosis problems, recovery from strokes, pain reduction and pain management for those with arthritis, and CVA (cerebral vascular accident). With osteoporosis patients, the recommended protocol often includes a combination of exercise, good posture, good diet and lifestyle changes. Brookings also provides contract services to local senior centers and hospitals for geriatric orthopedics.
With a university and high school in town, about 40% of Brookings' patients have sports related problems. This includes knees that take a lot of beating in high-velocity sports. Battered knees often require arthroscopic surgery and ligament repair. Surgeries like this demand a thorough regimen of physical therapy to recover from the injury. That's where Thuringer and his fellow PTs and PTAs come in, following a strictly outlined protocol prescribed by physicians and surgeons.
"We get a lot of weekend warriors, too," says Thuringer, admitting that he himself has been guilty of doing too much too soon with too little practice or warm up. "Softball season for the over 40 crowd and the 5K-10K race season often leads to a spree of injuries," says Thuringer. "Another problem we have is coaches who fail to emphasize stretching and proper conditioning with their athletes. This often leads to injuries that could have been avoided or prevented." Other injuries Thuringer assists his therapists with are repetitive shoulder, wrist and hand injuries such as overuse syndromes and carpal tunnel.
"The most exciting thing about my job right now," says Thuringer, "is ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network)." As the National Assembly liaison to the Student Assembly, Thuringer interacts with literally thousands of PTAs and student PTAs nationwide.
In 1999, as part of his outreach effort, Thuringer wrote to a number of directors of physical therapist assistant programs to introduce himself and to make himself available to them as a speaker promoting Assembly of Physical Therapist Assistants (APTA) membership and the activities of the National Assembly. He was then invited to speak to 27 graduating PTA students at Greenville Technical College (GTC) in Greenville, South Carolina. Instead of the traditional conference/ lecture forum, they proposed an electronic link up.
"[Video conferencing] is a cost-efficient way to conference across the miles - face-to-face, in real time, for less than half the cost of attending a conference in person," says Thuringer. "ISDN's system is basically a very high-bandwidth telephone transmission line. It functions at the equivalent of 24 lines, each carrying 56 kilobites (KB) of data, transmitting 1.56 million KB of data. It features a coder-decoder device that functions much like a supercharged modem to break down bits of moving images, send them through the phone line to a coder-decoder at the other end of the transmission, and reassemble the images on a television screen.
"In my case," says Thuringer, "I addressed students who were sitting in their classrooms at GTC's main campus and two satellite locations, from my vantage point in the media center at South Dakota State University in Brookings. The students could see me as I stood at the podium or walked around it, and I could see them as they asked me questions and commented on the issues we were discussing. It was almost as if the students and I were in the same room."
Thuringer admits there were audio and visual delays of a second or two, but that didn't in any way impede lively discussion. They discussed developments and issues in the world of PTAs such as RC 1-98, the reorganization within APTA that created the National Assembly; Health Care Finance Administration (HCFA). They talked about recent rulings requiring in-room supervision of PTAs in private practice for Medicare reimbursement and denying reimbursement for the time PT and PTA students spend with patients in skilled nursing facilities. They even batted around the concept of whether PTA students should be required to earn a bachelor's degree, ridding them of the paraprofessional tag. "We followed up those discussions with a spirited question-and-answer session," Thuringer says.
Thuringer discussed political issues relative to the PTA world, and students had a chance, in person, to voice their opinions on healthcare politics that affect them and their decisions. But the biggest impact the video conference had on GTC students, according to Alicia Dittmar, an instructor at Greenville Community College, Physical Therapist Assistant Program, is that it sent the message that "someone at a national level has heard our concerns." Students relished the opportunity, she said, to share ideas with a leader in their profession, to "connect" with a PTA from a different part of the country, and to use technology to share information. GTC faculty and staff, for their part, appreciated the opportunity to give graduating students a national perspective on the issues they will be facing in their new profession.
In addition to working with APTA using ISDN, Thuringer would like to gain more education. "I want to become more efficient in my skills dealing with sports injuries and possibly obtain a degree in ATC."
Brad Thuringer, PTA, received his Associates of Arts degree from Presentation College, Aberdeen, SD, in 1986. In 1994, he graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree from South Dakota State University. He later received his Associates degree in Physical Therapists Assisting in 1997 from Lake Area Technical Institute, Watertown, SD. Thuringer now works as a PTA at Brookings Center for Physical Therapy. He is also the Vice Presiding Officer at the National Assembly of Physical Therapist Assistants of the APTA and the National Assembly liaison to the Student Assembly.
Christie Rose is a freelance writer from California. She is on the Editorial Staff of NEWS-Line for Physical Therapists and PT Assistants.