Q&A with Heidi Wright, DPT, Physical Therapist in West Chester, Pennsylvania
Heidi Wright is a pediatric PT at Theraplay, Inc. She completed her undergraduate degree at Eastern Washington University in Cheney, Washington, and her graduate DPT program at Widener University in Chester, Pennsylvania. She is also certified in Interactive Metronome. As a pediatric physical therapist, Heidi says her job helping children and their families is "rewarding."
Q: What motivated you to become a pediatric physical therapist?
A: I became interested in physical therapy after going to PT in high school due to shin splints. Initially I wanted to work with athletes, but became more interested in pediatrics as I helped take care of two younger sisters, one of which had a lot of medical problems in her first year of life.
Q: Why are pediatric PTs such an important part of the healthcare industry?
A: Pediatrics is an area in which many adult therapists are not comfortable with, and just like any other area of specialty it is critical to truly understand and be knowledgeable about the population you are working with. There are more and more kids living with physical disabilities and special needs who need therapy in order to have a more functional, independent life and that is what we help them do.
Q: Can you tell our readers about your workplace and what services are offered?
A: I work at one of Theraplay's outpatient facilities where we treat kids from birth to 21 years. Our main focus is one-on-one treatment with each of our patients. After treatment we educate them and their family. We also spend a significant amount of time as a company educating other medical professionals as well as educating the community. At the West Chester office we have two PTs certified in Interactive Metronome and two that are working on becoming certified as Kinesio Taping Practitioners.
Q: What's it like working at Theraplay?
A: We all work with a team approach, which allows us to constantly discuss the kids we are working with and bounce ideas off of each other in order to help our kids and improve their outcomes. There are a large number of us who have been here for more than two years, which makes our team feel like a second family.
Q: When and how did you start at this facility?
A: I started working for Theraplay three and a half years ago after completing my final affiliation in grad school at one of their outpatient offices.
Q: Typically, what are your day-to-day responsibilities as a physical therapist?
A: On a day-to-day basis the majority of my time is spent treating patients one-on-one and educating the patients and their families. I also spend time on communicating with patients' doctors in order to update their progress and/or express concerns.
Q: What types of patients/diagnoses do you encounter most frequently?
A: We have a high infant population with torticollis being the most common diagnosis. We also work with a lot of kids who have difficulty with their developmental skills due to hypotonia or autism. Neurological disorders such as cerebral palsy and seizure disorders are also common.
Q: Can you share an inspirational story about PT?
A: One of my most inspiring stories was when I was working with a 6-year-old little girl who has a diagnosis of CP. She was independent walking with a posterior walker, but we had been working on ambulating with bilateral Lofstrand crutches and improving her balance for months in order to make her more independent in her home. During a session she was standing independently without an assistive device and without cues took two to three steps forward. She then took her first independent steps without an assistive device in front of her family! It was an amazing moment for both her family and the PT team!
Q: What are the greatest challenges you face working in pediatrics?
A: Explaining and educating families in sensitive areas can be one of the most challenging aspects of my job. We have a lot of amazing families that only want the best for their kids. Sometimes we are the first ones to truly help a family understand their child's diagnosis and what his or her outcome may be.
Q: What do you like most about your job? What do you dislike most about your job?
A: I love the team of therapists I work with and the difference we make in our kids' and their families' lives.
I dislike the paperwork, which I'm sure is true of many clinicians.
Q: Are you currently involved with any research projects?
A: I am not currently involved in any research projects. Most of the projects I get involved with are ones within the clinic that will help our treatment sessions and improve the outcomes and benefits to our kids.
Q: Do you feel that the role of PTs has changed over recent years?
A: I have not noticed a significant change in our PT roles in the pediatric setting. I'm sure that will change as I gain more experience in the field and as the healthcare system continues to change.
Q: What do you feel is of the greatest concern to PTs today?
A: I think it can be difficult for PTs across the board to provide services at a frequency/duration we feel appropriate, which is in large part due to insurance and co-pays. We often have families who have high co-pays they can't afford or insurance benefits that limit how long they can attend PT. Unfortunately with some of these patients we are not always able to get the outcome in the time allotted.
Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
A: The most rewarding aspect of my job is seeing how we improve kids' and their family's lives. Sometimes something that may seem so small to us really does make a big difference in the child's and family's lives.
Q: What is the most important thing you've learned over the course of your career?
A: It is important to try and put yourself in your patients' and their parents' shoes. I think we can put a lot of expectations on families, which can be overwhelming when you have a sick or special needs child. Listening to and adjusting your expectations will improve your professional relationship with the family and hopefully increase their compliance.
Q: What advice do you have for others thinking of entering a pediatric specialty?
A: Take advantage of any opportunity you have to learn new things and work with more experienced therapists. There are a lot of things to learn in peds that are not learned in school. Continuing to learn and educate yourself throughout your career will help make your job easier and improve your skills as a clinician.
Q: How has working in pediatrics allowed you to grow professionally?
A: It has helped me in my ability to educate others. We are constantly educating our families and kids, which in turn has increased my confidence and ability to educate other professionals.
Q: If you could sum up your job in one word, what would it be and why?
A: Rewarding. I leave work every day with a feeling of accomplishment, and that I have helped a child and his or her family in some way.
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