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Meet a Real Physical Therapist

Name: Karen Brandon

Education: Bachelor's and master's degrees in physical therapy from Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, California.

Location: Beaver Medical Group in Redlands, California

The Job: Since Karen works in an outpatient clinic (people drop in for scheduled appointments, as opposed to staying overnight), she gets to maintain regular hours. Her appointments start as early as 7:00 in the morning, and she sees a patient every half hour until 4:30 or 5:00 p.m. Most of her patients suffer from whiplash, knee injuries, the aftereffects of strokes, and old age. All of them have problems with their range of motion. It's Karen's job to help them improve their motion, strength, and endurance, and to decrease their pain so they can return to normal function.Karen also conducts equipment analysis. She looks at a patient's abilities to see if they need different aids, such as a walker, wheelchair, or power-operated scooter.One of the most important parts of Karen's job is teaching her patients about the healing process in their bodies. She educates people on how to exercise properly to get their bodies back on track.

Words to Live by "Each day I give everything I have physically, and I'm drained when I finish work. what fills me up for the next day is knowing that God provides what I can still offer them--hope, friendship, and the light of Christ."

Physical Therapy for you?

Consider Physical Therapy as a college major if you're crazy about:
Have patience (no one learns to walk in a day)
Like physical labor (crouching, standing, and walk
Are a muscle maniac (academically, that is--not ne

Avoid Physical Therapy as a college major if you get nauseated by:
Can't stand human contact (it's unavoidable)
Are introverted (patients rely on their therapists
Tend to be controlling (force is not the best way


Physical Therapist

An 8-year-old girl suffers from the debilitating effects of cerebral palsy, a disorder that impairs muscular and speech coordination. Her doctor tells her parents that her chances of walking unaided are slim. So he assigns her to a young physical therapist in training, with hopes that the girl will learn to hold her body up and move on special crutches.

Things don't go as planned, though. Four weeks later, after intensive work with her physical therapist, the little girl begins to walk without her crutches.

It sounds like an inspirational clip from a movie. But it was a real day in the life of Karen Castaneda. It happened during her first internship as a physical therapy major at Loma Linda University.

"What made the moment so amazing was that the girl's doctor didn't think she'd be able to walk without an assistive device," remembers Karen.

As a physical therapy student, Karen is learning to make these kinds of miracles (some more dramatic than others) happen every day.


Physical therapists work with patients who have trouble moving all or parts of their bodies because of injuries, illness, or disease. They study the movement of their patients, assess where they might need improvements, and create a rehabilitation program for them. Physical therapists are also experts in the structure, development, and healing processes of muscle tissues.

Physical therapy first became widely used after World War I. Many soldiers returning from the battlefield needed extensive physical rehabilitation. Since then the profession has grown dramatically. Now there are thousands of therapists in the United States, and the demand for them is expected to grow as America's population ages.

But the road to becoming a physical therapist is academically challenging and competitive. Each year hundreds of students apply to physical therapy programs, and only a handful are accepted.

Those who get in spend a tough couple years hitting the books and running the internship circuit. Now Karen's going to tell us what the program's like.

On Course: Why is physical therapy (PT) so popular?

Karen: I think it's because there are so many things you can do. It's not just about working in a hospital and giving a walker to someone.

You can work in schools with kids with disabilities, or work in sports care. You can open your own office and teach health promotion classes to prevent injuries that might require physical therapy later.

Physical therapists also go into workplaces and look at everything to make sure the equipment won't cause a dysfunction in the body, such as carpal tunnel syndrome. There are a lot of options!

OC: Why did you choose PT as your major?

Karen: In high school I got sick and went to the hospital for pulmonary problems. While I was there my pulmonary specialist asked me what I wanted to be.

"A veterinarian or something in the medical field," I answered.

Then he told me I should look into physical therapy, because he thought I'd be good at it. So I kind of looked into it at school and talked to my career counselor. I also signed up for an on-the-job career day at veterinarian and physical therapy offices. I really liked the day I spent with a PT.

OC: What about the veterinarian's office?

Karen: They euthanized 15 dogs that day, and I couldn't take it.

OC: Another major called occupational therapy (OT) seems to be popular. What's the difference between OT and PT?

Karen: Occupational therapists deal with daily living skills—brushing teeth, taking a shower, eating with utensils, getting dressed. If the patient doesn't have a right arm, the OT helps them adapt to be able to complete certain tasks.

The PT does a lot more with mobility, such as walking. In general, the PT deals with bigger muscular movements.

OC: PT majors usually spend two years at one college, then apply to a PT program for the next couple years, right?

Karen: Yes. Students are to complete two years of prerequisites at any college and put some volunteer hours in at a physical therapy setting. After completing those hours, they send in a record to the program they're applying to, as well as records of their prerequisites. Two to three years later they have a degree.

OC: What sort of prerequisites are needed?

Karen: English, math, chemistry, anatomy, biology—a lot of sciences. Math is pretty minimal, but you need a lot of science.

OC: What do you study in the program?

Karen: You study the entire body, including movement, tissue, cells, and joints. Then you learn how to test the muscles of the body, healing and therapy processes, pharmacology, and general medicine.

OC: Are internships an integral requirement?

Karen: Yes. After my first year in school I started my first practicum. I went into clinics and worked with a PT for two weeks.

After three practicums at different places I did an affiliation. It's like an internship with a clinical instructor. Gradually I got to see all the things that a licensed therapist does.

OC: What's been your hardest class so far?

Karen: Anatomy was really grueling. If you can stick through this class, you can get through the program. It starts at 8:00 in the morning and goes until 5:00 at night. You sit in a lecture hall; then you go into the lab and actually work on a cadaver. The PT and OT students dissect cadavers first, because we have to go through all the tissue and muscles. The medical students work on them after we do.

OC: Should you be good at memorization?

Karen: Yes, and there's a lot of analyzing and critical thinking. You have to be able to take information from a patient and deduce what their pathology is.

OC: Isn't communication important, since you're dealing with people who've been in or are going through traumatic situations?

Karen: Definitely. You may not treat your patient the first time you see them. You may just need to listen to what they have to say. They need to feel that you have compassion for them.

OC: Sounds like your major has a direct connection with the work of Jesus.

Karen: Oh, yes. Every day I'm helping heal people, but I feel it's God working through me.

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