Monday Blog: June 28th, 2021

By Doctor of Physical Therapy, Kevin Bultena

It has been said that many paths can be taken that will all lead to the same destination. This is certainly true as one looks back over the paths taken during their life as to how they ended up in whatever spot they ended up in. I have a colleague who knew she wanted to be a physical therapist starting in middle school and planned her college curriculum and work experiences to set herself up to get accepted into and be successful in physical therapy school. My story is different, and so here it is: How I became a physical therapist.

The year was 1990, and I was a fresh graduate of the premier university in Iowa (that’s right – Iowa State University) with an exercise science degree. I was living in a south Florida resort community on the Gulf of Mexico. The weather was beautiful, and a buddy and I were dominating on the local beach volleyball circuit. Life was good.

As an exercise specialist as part of a phase 3 cardiac rehab program, I was working in the field of exercise as I had envisioned. Physical therapy school wasn’t even on my radar. As time went on, my role was primarily working with groups of clients, and I began to miss not having the one on one time with them needed to build a professional and personal relationship. As I began to think I wanted to go in a different direction, physical therapy school still wasn’t on my radar. In fact, I’m sure I didn’t even realize exactly what physical therapy was yet.

In a quirk of fate I twisted my knee in the sand (as I remember it I was landing from a vicious game ending spike, though some other spectators remember it differently). Being evaluated off the record by a friend who was a PT made me come to the realization that this was more of what I was looking for in my career (the rehab, not the beach volleyball).

I began to check into physical therapy, and quickly found out it may be trickier than I thought. There were volunteer hours to get, prerequisite physics classes to take, and schools were getting many more applicants than they had spots for. Time was running short with application deadlines approaching quickly. In the days before electronic submission of applications there was only the snail mail delivery system, and fortunately enough for me, overnight delivery with Federal Express.

Applications were quickly put together and “Fed Exed” to Washington University in St Louis, Duke University (I am a basketball fan, who wouldn’t want to go to Duke?), and the University of Iowa.  After a couple of crazy interviews (that’s a story for another time), and still not taking my prerequisite physics classes, I was accepted into the physical therapy program at Washington University. 

At the time, everything I owned could be packed into the back of my Ford Tempo, so I packed everything up and was off. As it turns out, I was way off. South Florida to St Louis is a long way without a direct route (especially in the days before GPS navigation systems). Missed turns in Atlanta, and East St Louis made me question if I was ever going to arrive at Washington University. Eventually I made it, started classes, and quickly learned my classmates all had taken different paths to get where we all were trying to get to. 

In the end, physical therapy turned out to be exactly what I was looking for – a chance to work closely, one on one with clients, a new puzzle to figure out with every client that comes through the door, and a chance to hopefully make a real difference in people’s lives. The profession keeps changing through the years, sometimes for the better, sometimes I’m not so sure, but I am always thankful for that fateful twisted knee in the sand that introduced me to the whole world of physical therapy which became my career.

Just as I discovered, physical therapy is so much more than you might think. Yes, we can help with major injuries after an accident or post surgery, but we can also help preventatively and with things like muscle soreness, range of motion issues, headaches, vertigo, and so much more. If you’re unsure or wondering if physical therapy can benefit you, I encourage you to give us a call at one of our locations. You can talk directly to a physical therapist, and they can answer your questions.