Jennifer Brandon is Rehabilitation Supervisor at Hoag Orthopedic Institute. She has a BA in Biology from the University of Virginia and Masters in Physical Therapy from Hahnemann University. Jennifer has worked in a variety of acute care settings from pediatrics to neurologic care to orthopedics. After sustaining an injury-ironically-at a PT conference, Jen says, "I definitely have a deeper appreciation for the post-operative course of my patients."
Q: What motivated you to become a physical therapist?
A: I became interested in physical therapy during high school after some knee issues impacted my ability to play sports. Concurrently, I had seen an article in the Washington Post by an orthopedic surgeon in Boston who collaborated with physical therapists working with the Boston Ballet. Sparking further interest, I wrote a letter to the surgeon for advice on education and a career path. My first job out of PT school, coincidentally, was at Boston Children's Hospital whose specialized therapists covered the Boston Ballet dancers.
Q: You've worked in a few different areas throughout the country. Can you talk about your career trajectory?
A: My initial job was at Boston Children's where I trained as a generalized clinician eventually becoming more focused on acute neurologic care and pediatric trauma. I was lucky enough to be the first PT to serve as the therapy representative for the Pediatric Brain Tumor Clinic at the Dana Farber Cancer Center, a bridge between a child's acute journey and their follow-up care. In an effort to gain adult neuro experience, I moved on to Massachusetts General Hospital where I was one of the Senior Therapists for the Neuro-Pediatric team. I moved to California after getting married and joined the Hoag Memorial Hospital rehabilitation team in the acute setting where I have been since January 2001.
Q: What are the services offered at Hoag Orthopedic Institute?
A: Hoag Orthopedic Institute (HOI) is a collaborative effort of Southern California orthopedic surgeons primarily from the Orange County area. The Institute is comprised of a 70-bed inpatient hospital and a network of outpatient surgery centers. The focus is exclusively orthopedic conditions which are related to sports, aging and accidents. I work predominantly in the inpatient patient setting, which specializes in joint replacement, spine surgeries and fracture management.
Q: Typically, what are your day-to-day responsibilities?
A: As the rehab supervisor for HOI, I do everything from direct patient care to performance improvement activities. I also attend daily multi-disciplinary rounds to optimize the discharge planning process.
Q: Can you talk about the injury you sustained-ironically-while at a PT conference?
A: I sustained a patellar fracture after slipping at my hotel entrance when returning from a lecture at the 2013 Combined Sections Meeting. I had surgery a week after the fall. After a month, I began a four-month outpatient physical therapy program.
Q: How has this affected the way you work as a PT?
A: I couldn't work as a PT for quite a while. I was on a medical leave of absence for three months and returned to limited hours for another two months. I was cleared to resume patient care and treated my first patient in eight months just recently.
I definitely have a deeper appreciation for the post-operative course of my patients, whether related to the side effects of drugs/anesthesia or to the complete change in my ability to perform basic functional activities. I am more empathetic to the actual pain of the immediate post-op course, as well as during the progression of my rehab.
Q: Do you have any research projects on the horizon, or other areas of interest in PT you'd like to pursue?
A: The rehab team at HOI and I are currently collaborating with the surgeons, anesthesiologists and nurses to re-evaluate and standardize the pain management protocol for total knee replacements in an effort to maximize patient satisfaction and functional outcomes.
Q: What do you like and dislike most about working as a physical therapist?
A: I love being able to help someone reach a special or personal goal that somehow improves their quality of life or their basic happiness because it is important to them. In my case, my first therapy goal was to walk on the beach on Mother's Day—it was something I did every year and I wasn't about to miss it because of a random accident.
As for dislikes, I do not appreciate insurance restrictions. I am not a fan of the limitations on our profession driven by insurance companies that often prevent us from doing what is truly in a patient's best interests.
Q: What advice would you give to someone thinking about a career in PT?
A: Volunteer! I would definitely recommend that someone interested in healthcare, and especially PT, get exposure through volunteer activities, preferably in multiple settings.