On this episode of the Healthy, Wealthy and Smart Podcast, I welcome Neil Pearson on the show to discuss therapeutic yoga in pain care. Neil Pearson is a physiotherapist, and Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of British Columbia. He is a yoga teacher, a yoga therapist and creator of the Pain Care Yoga training programs for health professionals and yoga therapists.
In this episode, we discuss:
-The components of yoga practice that benefit people with persistent pain
-Yoga therapy as a pain education agent
-The Pancha Maya Kosha Model of yoga and the biopsychosocial model of healthcare
-Yoga and Science in Pain Care: Treating the Person in Pain
-And so much more!
For more information on Neil:
Neil Pearson, PT, MSc(RHBS), BA-BPHE, C-IAYT, ERYT500
Neil Pearson is a physiotherapist, and Clinical Assistant Professor at University of British Columbia. He is a yoga teacher, a yoga therapist and creator of the Pain Care Yoga training programs for health professionals and yoga therapists. Neil is founding chair of the Physiotherapy Pain Science Division in Canada, recipient of the Canadian Pain Society's Excellence in Interprofessional Pain Education award, faculty in yoga therapist training programs and an author. Neil develops innovative resources, collaborates in research and serves as a mentor for health professionals and yoga practitioners seeking to enhance their therapeutic expertise. He is co-editor of ‘Yoga and Science in Pain Care: Treating the Person in Pain,’ available Aug 2019.
Read the full transcript below:
Karen Litzy: 00:01 Hey Neil, welcome to the podcast. I'm happy to have you on to talk about yoga and science in pain care, which is a title of your new book. And we will talk about the book throughout the podcast, but I'm excited to learn more about yoga and how yoga can work with people in pain. So welcome back to the podcast.
Neil Pearson: 00:24 Thanks so much Karen. I can't remember how long it's been since we've been here but it’s wonderful to be back.
Karen Litzy: 00:29 Yeah, I think it's been awhile. I don't know either, but I think it's been a long time, but I'm excited today to talk about yoga and how yoga can be an agent for people in pain. So as a lot of the listeners know, I had a long history of chronic neck pain, so this is something that really interests me, but I will kind of pass it along to you. So how does yoga help as a pain education agent?
Neil Pearson: 01:00 Okay. So, maybe I'll start at a bit of a different place, but coming to there, so I guess part of my excitement around this, you know, we've got this new textbook out, it's called yoga and science in pain care. And really what it's trying to do is, is teach health care people about yoga and yoga research and how it can help but also some of the research behind that in terms of why it would work. And also it's sort of tried to go the other way as well as to teach yoga people about pain and about the lived experience of pain. So with the textbook, we're trying to hit both sides, right? Because we really see this as being something that needs to be integrated. And I think we sort of hit a really nice time with this because there's such interest in non-pharmacological pain management now.
Neil Pearson: 01:54 Everyone’s starting to recognize that the long-term management of pain or the care of people in pain has lots to do with what the individual does for themselves. Not completely as self-help kind of work, but more as what the person does for themselves under the guidance of people like us as physical therapists and under the guidance of people like the yoga therapists. So that sort of, the sort of broader where this is coming from. And then if we look at sort of how it can help, we can start by looking at some of the research and I guess probably in terms of pain management and pain care the simple thing to do to start with when we say we have now have formal analysis and systematic reviews that show that yoga therapy has been shown to be effective.
Neil Pearson: 02:45 That helping people to have less pain, to improve both perception of ability but also measured function and also improved quality of life. Those three things really are the three keys that people want. When we have ongoing pain, we want to have less pain, better ease of movement, and better quality of life. And the research is showing positive findings there. And it's showing positive findings in quite a varied group. So, there's a lot of research on low back pain. I mean, that's the one that has the most research. So much so that the, you know, the American medical association now has a yoga as one of the suggested treatments for people who have ongoing low back pain. But it also shows benefits for people who have rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, a whiplash associated disorder and a irritable bowel syndrome as well.
Neil Pearson: 03:43 So there's this growing body of evidence saying that when people have these conditions that they can find benefit from them. And of course, like any area of research, we'd have to say, you know, it doesn't say that it's gonna work for everyone. It just says that if you take a lot of people and you give it to them, there will be some benefit with using yogas. The therapy people always want to know, well, is the yoga therapy better than physical therapy or is it better than going to the gym? Is it better for other movement practices? And we don't have that research yet. The effects sizes of some of the research when people are going through using yoga therapy for pain management are higher than the effect sizes of movement on their own and comparable to the effect sizes. You see when you do research looking at cognitive behavioral therapy plus movement therapy for people with chronic pain, which makes a lot of sense because yoga therapy really does cover a lot of the aspects of the person. And so your listeners may be thinking yoga for people with pain. That sounds actually pretty ridiculous because whenever I see pictures of people doing yoga, there's no way that that's what people in pain are going to do,
Karen Litzy: 05:00 Right? Cause they're always in these positions where even if I don't have pain, I think to myself, how in the heck am I supposed to get into that position?
Neil Pearson: 05:10 Well, exactly right. And, and it sort of the other question that often sounds ridiculous to the person who has ongoing pain is like, aren't you listening to me? I told you that movement hurts and you're telling me you want me to move as a way to get better. But movement is the problem. And so it's interesting that the practices of yoga can help people to find new ways to move with more ease. But also, the practice of yoga, we need to recognize really are so vast. We're talking about, if we sort of overviewed yoga, yoga is about learning how to relate to yourself in new ways, how to live in a world in new ways. It is about movement with the postures and it is about doing breathing techniques. And then there are awareness techniques which are akin to mindfulness, but they're a little different.
Neil Pearson: 06:10 And then there are also within yoga there are meditation techniques as well. So it really covers a broad, broad spectrum of interventions. And if we go to the literature again around chronic pain and chronic pain care, we see that mindfulness techniques and meditation are showing positive benefits. Movement is showing positive benefits. Gaining knowledge is showing positive benefits, acceptance, commitment therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy. All these things show benefit for people with chronic pain. And there are aspects of those all within yoga sort of as this package. And the idea would be that we could, with the person who has ongoing pain, the yoga therapist would be able to do an assessment to see how the pain has changed the person or influenced sort of all the aspects of their existence. And then try to find how we could use different techniques of yoga to help.
Neil Pearson: 07:08 So for instance, if a person was, let's take a common example, like the person who has chronic low back pain, but we know that with chronical back pain, often there's anxiety. Often there's grief. Well, there are aspects of yoga that we could use to address the grief or the anxiety. Often when we have ongoing pain, we have the sense of loss of self competence or self efficacy and we could use certain aspects of yoga to address those. Our body tends to get stiff or some muscles, you know, are gripping all the time. And within yoga we can do things to help to release muscles that are gripping or learn how to reengage muscles that seem to be inhibited. And so it's the practice of yoga would be to or yoga therapy would be to go through it and see how this individual is impacted and then see how we could use the different aspects within yoga to put together a plan to address a lot of the changes that are related to ongoing pain.
Karen Litzy: 08:12 Yeah. So I think what you're describing may be a little different than what a lot of, perhaps the listeners are seeing. Meaning yoga is more than just handstands on Instagram and you know, doing these impossible moves and making them look so easy because I think that's what a lot of people associate yoga with. And so what we're talking about here is not just going to a yoga class or not just putting something fun up on Instagram, but the yoga therapist being very intentional in their prescription, the type of yoga therapy they feel this person needs. So it's individualized based on a proper evaluation.
Neil Pearson: 09:02 Oh, exactly. Yeah. Although the one difference in yoga therapy is that yoga therapy is not diagnostic, right? So the yoga therapist isn't a trained health care professional. So what the yoga therapist is doing is it's actually applying yoga, getting the person to do different aspects of yoga, like meditation or awareness or breathing or movements. And then seeing how the person is limited in that and then working with them to find a way so that they can do that particular technique to help them to change ease of movement of life pain.
Karen Litzy: 09:40 Got it. Yeah. And there was, you know, something, we spoke about this a little bit before we went on the air, but there was a sentence within the book, the yoga and science and pain care that I had never heard of this saying before. I mean I'm not immersed in the yoga world, but it's the sentence is expanding our view and even altering our perspective to a Pancha Maya Kosha perspective enhances our understanding that pain physiology is studying the person as much as our biology. So can you talk about that for a little bit because I kind of liked that saying so you could expand on that.
Neil Pearson: 10:25 Yeah. So there's sort of the two parts of it is that that studying physiology is about starting the person, not just the biology, but then there's also this Pancha Maya Kosha which all start with that within healthcare we talked about the bio-psychosocial or bio-psychosocial spiritual model, which is intended to be an integrated view of the person that everything biological is going to affect everything psychological, it's going to affect everything social is going to affect the person who has spiritual manner and it's all working together as an integrated unit. So within yoga, the philosophy and the view of yoga is that there are different aspects of the individual, so the individual is integrated and whole, but we can look at the individual from different aspects to understand them better. And so I'm this pantry, my kosher view looks at the individual from a physical perspective, from a more energetic perspective, being Pancha is one of the things they're talking about, which really is life force.
Neil Pearson: 11:31 And then it really relates a lot to breath as well. But then there's within yoga to SIM Phi, we could say we look at they often call it the lower mind, but it's really getting at the automatic aspects of the human, all that stuff that runs automatically. And then there's above that or you know, I guess above it. There's this other aspect of us that this about us thinking about what we're thinking and it's about us regulating thoughts and emotions and breath and all that stuff. And then the other aspect of us is more the aspect of his that has more to do with spirit and connectedness to the world and everything. And so yoga already looks at the person from that kind of perspective. And with the idea that any change in one aspect of the individual is going to have an effect on the other aspects of the individual.
Neil Pearson: 12:25 So if you have a little back pain, it's going to change the way you breathe. It's going to change the automatic functioning of the body. It's going to change the way you think and emote and it will change your connection with yourself, your community. And that then you'll also have as part of its core belief system is that if a person that had low back pain, you could help the person with low back pain by going through any one of those aspects of the person so that you could help the person by affecting the physical body, by working on breath, by working on the automatic system, by working on thoughts and emotions or community that all those, everything interacts. And so that you could, you know, work at it through any of those aspects of your existence.
Karen Litzy: 13:08 Got it. And as someone who has had chronic neck pain for many years, it is very true that the physical pain certainly affects so much else that is happening in your life. It affects your thoughts, it affects your emotions, it affects your relationships, it affects the way you hold your body, the way you relate to your body, the way you see your body. So now I feel like I have a much better idea as to what that sentence means and how yoga can help the individual relate to all of that and kind of put it all together. Cause sometimes when you're in it, you don't see it. Know what I mean? Like you don't see that you're not relating to your body, you don't see that you're moving differently, you don't see that you're breathing differently, you're clenching, you're holding, you just, you don't realize it because it's just the way you are as a result of the pain.
Neil Pearson: 14:10 It's so true. And I think one of the key things about what you just said is that the experience of pain often disconnects us from awareness of ourself even so much so that we know now from the science side that sometimes when there's ongoing pain that a person will have a hard time actually feeling the non pain sensations of their physical body. So you know, imagine a person with a low back pain and we asked them to take their attention to the rollback and tell us what they feel there. And typically what a person would do is tell us about their back pain. And then of course I get really sort of funny reaction to people when I say, okay, you told me about your pain. What I want you to do is take your attention back there and tell me the non pain sensations you can feel on your low back.
Neil Pearson: 15:02 Which a lot of people, you know, really don't get that. And I say, okay, well you know, just right now take your attention to the feeling of your hands. Your hands are resting. Can you feel your fingers? Can you feel the temperature of your skin in your hands? Can you feel the angle of the knuckles? You probably can feel a whole lot of non pins sensations there and say if you had low back pain, I'd probably say, okay, now take your attention to your upper back, your mid back and notice the non pain sensations. They're just sort of exploring. Scan around. Okay, now what I want you to do is go down to your low back. No, just the pain. Sort of acknowledge it. Now what I'd like you to do is see if you can feel non pain sensations in that same area.
Neil Pearson: 15:41 So maybe you need to try to look under the pain or around it or through it. I feel that and it's amazing that some people will say, you know, I really don't experience anything right now except the pain. All I feel there is pain. I can feel my mid back, I can feel my upper back, but my low back, it's pain. That's all there is. And then other people will say, I can sort of feel it, but it feels like it's murky or muddy or hard to feel. And then, you know, we don't often get it with low back pain, but say what was your hand where the pain was? Well often people when they start to do this say, you know, my hand doesn't feel this right shape or size. It feels like it's too big or it feels like it's too small. It feels distorted.
Neil Pearson: 16:24 And so it's really interesting is that the practices of yoga specifically get people to take their attention to their physical self to try to reconnect to those sensations. And this is always part of yoga, but in Western science we're finally understanding this. It's really only been in the last five or 10 years where we've paid attention to the distortions of body awareness and body image that are common when pain persists. And, of course this becomes really fascinating to me because the next part is, as a research guy, I get stuck in because I know clinically when a person tells me that, that when I get the person start to work on finding those subtle non pains and sensations of their physical body, that when the person starts to be able to feel those sensations, that there's an associated decrease in their pain.
Neil Pearson: 17:20 And then the more the person is able to feel the subtle non-painful sensations of self, the more the pain diminishes. But I can't give you any good scientific explanation for that. You know, we see it clinically, but we can't fully explain it in some sort of, you know, central nervous system or insular cortex or any of those things. We just can't explain it. But to me, that's part of the interesting thing about both the practice of yoga is that it's driven by experience. And yet what the science is now doing is showing is that there's science that says that, you know, the experience of yoga aren't just all in your head. They're actually real measurable changes in the humans biology and physiology.
Karen Litzy: 18:08 Yeah, it's really interesting. And I wonder now you have me wondering, well why do people experience that decrease of pain when they start, you know, looking at the painful areas more than just painful. I mean, are they making changes in the sensory cortex? Is it affecting that idea of smudging that maybe they have a clearer outline of what that body part is now in the brain? And that can lead to changes? I don't know, but it's really an interesting concept.
Neil Pearson: 18:45 Well, and the thing about that too is that as we start to study more our sense of our physiological state, we start to realize that body awareness and aspect of it is, or a big aspect of is happening, sort of outside the sensory cortex. It's happening more in the insular cortex. And so I know in the last year I saw one research study that was saying that they couldn't find any smudging and people who had altered body awareness, but they were looking at the sensory motor cortex and didn't look at the insular cortex. And so it's another area as the research goes on, is maybe that smudging is happening in a different place or that alteration of brain activity is happening in a different place than we thought, but certainly the person that is experiencing it and if the person is experiencing it, we hope we can be able to find, you know, the correlate in the brain activity.
Neil Pearson: 19:45 Of course our, you know, our sciences far beyond or far behind, the experience that the human has, which really gets back to that other aspect of what you're saying is that that statement is when we study physiology, we hope that by studying physiology and pain physiology, that what we start to do is understand the human more rather than, maybe I'll say it this way often when I go to pain society conferences, there's a lot of biochemistry people there and they're talking about their research and at the end of it, they nearly always say, so what the science says is that here's this target for pain care, for pain intervention. And what they're talking about is that, we could give a chemical to the person to target this thing, this gene or this ion channel or whatever it is to change the person's experience of pain. And of course, my question always when I'm there is, so is there anything that the human could do to change that
Karen Litzy: 20:48 Outside of something pharmacological?
Neil Pearson: 20:50 Well, exactly right. And it would make sense if, if we're getting good effects from different treatments. Like yoga therapy that obviously they must be affecting these same biochemical and genetic and epigenetic things within the human. But they're doing them through the person's own, you know, we can say through their own medicine cabinet.
Karen Litzy: 21:13 Right. That medicine cabinet in the brain that David Butler talks about.
Neil Pearson: 21:17 Yeah. Yeah. And I think we can expand it into the human right. Because there's a, you know, especially even with the endorphins, cause there seem to be receptors for those all over the body.
Karen Litzy: 21:29 Or even, you know, up and coming research into the microbiome and things like that. I think is also an interesting study in pain and how can we alter our diets or can we alter what we put in our system to change the pain experience?
Neil Pearson: 21:55 Oh, absolutely. And I think this, you know, when we get to nutrition, the book actually has a chapter on nutrition. And, one of the things that we find one scan clinically is that some people change their diet a lot and really have very little change in their pain or their quality of life. Other people change their diet even just a small amount and get a massive change. And this, once again is part of the thing that is the complexity of pain care is that, we, you know, as an organism, we are a whole bunch of systems together and sometimes you can change one system a little bit and it really, really changes the organism or the person and others times you change that system a ton and you get very, very little change in the human. And that's one scan, part of the trouble of pain care. But part of the advantage of approaches like yoga therapy is because they're sort of okay with that idea is that everyone's fully individual and we don't have everyone should change their diet this way, or everyone should move their back this way, or everyone should, you know, stand this way or, right, right. It's not a linear model at all.
Karen Litzy: 23:11 Yeah. No, definitely not. And then when you think about pain and you think about it as an experience, and if we're going off of all the different inputs that can be put into the body, that can have impact over one's pain experience, and you think of all the different ways you can alter those inputs, all of a sudden treating the person with persistent pain goes way beyond just movement. Right? It goes into all of those myriad of inputs that you have ability to alter, whether that be as the yoga therapist, a physical therapist, or let's not forget the person experiencing the pain themselves.
Neil Pearson: 23:54 Oh, it's so true. Yeah. And with that last comment, you made, the person experiencing pain, the one thing we were really happy that we did within this book was that's her first chapter. So Julietta Belton wrote the first chapter on the lived experience of pain because we wanted to bring it back to, you know, this is why we're doing this work. It's not, you know, it's not that we're all just trying to understand pain. We're trying to help people. But back to movement, one of the things I think is that physical therapists and yoga therapists, anyone who's doing movement therapy, I think one of the really important things that we can do is start to shift our view of movements as though we can use movement for more than helping a person to be flexible, helping the person to be stronger.
Neil Pearson: 24:39 And within yoga therapy, we often do this. We'll say, you know, when you're in this yoga posture, it's not just affecting you on the physical level. It's affecting you on every level. And so we can actually use some of the yoga postures to help with other issues related to pain such as, so I was thinking about, so,one when we do a seated forward bend. So maybe if you have back pain, it's really hard to do it, but you still can get in that kind of position where you're sitting on the floor. Legs were straight or bent in front of you and your trying to reach down towards your knees, your shins, your feet, wherever you get to. The metaphor here is of learning how to let go so you can move forward.
Neil Pearson: 25:29 And so, we can use a lot of the different yoga postures like that is that we're thinking. So here's a person who is stuck, right? The person is, you know, maybe it's letting go of the need to have a definitive diagnosis because a lot of times that happens and sometimes to be able to, we see the person clinically that, you know, when we're in this multidisciplinary pain management setting, we say, you know, it seems to be this, one of the big things that stuck for this person, they're stuck believing that they need that to be able to move forward. And so we can use movement or postures to try to address other issues like that. Or as maybe another one that makes a little bit more, is more clear. Often we feel a sense of fragility when we have especially low back pain, pelvic pain.
Neil Pearson: 26:19 So if we can get you to come into one of the standing warrior postures, when people, the majority of people in a warrior posture, I'm standing with your arms reaching up or out to the sides. There is a sense of strength and stability and connectedness when you do this. And the really nice thing is we could do those postures from a seated position and people still feel that same kind of thing. And so the idea is could we use movement to effect the person on a psycho-emotional level as well? Could we make that out? One of our goals is this person who doesn't feel strong, feels unstable, feels fragile. Could we use movements not just create physical strength, but to address the other changes that are happening to the person? I think so.
Karen Litzy: Yeah. I think so too. And I love that yoga has got that part and I hope that other movement practitioners start to think, well, you don't need yoga to do that.
Neil Pearson: 27:16 Right? You can use any, you know, think of any movement that we do and how it makes us feel. Could we address it that way. And then the one other thing that movement has tried to address in one of the chapters in the book is the idea of using movements or yoga therapy as an educational agent. So I know your listeners all know about explain pain and that wonderful work there. And what we're doing with explained pain really is it starts with a cognitive behavioral therapy, right? We're changing auditions to change their behavior. And so for a lot of the people that we work with, they may not have learned how to learn by sitting and listening or reading a book. They may have learned how to learn by doing. And so one of the things we're playing around with is the idea of when a person has ongoing pain, could we get the person to move in a way that could sort of, when the person moves that way they feel an increased sense of ease or they get some increased movements. And then you use that change from the movement as the educational agent.
Karen Litzy: 28:21 Saying like, look at what your body can do. Yeah, same thing.
Neil Pearson: 28:26 Yeah. Well you can start with, wow, that's awesome. Your pain changed, right? Because that's one of the core messages of explained pain is that right? Changeable. So instead of telling the person that pain is changeable and explaining it to them, if you can get the person to do something and at the end of it, they have less pain or more ease of movement to say, look, it changed. And of course the next step is, and you did it. And so I would then jump into, let's look for all the other things that you could do to actually change this, which is saying to the person your pain is changeable. And you have some influence in it, which is part of what we're trying to do with pain.
Karen Litzy: 29:09 Yup. Yeah. It's like giving them the keys to the car.
Neil Pearson: 29:13 Exactly.
Karen Litzy: 29:13 Right. And having them be in the driver's seat versus feeling like they're the passenger and the pain is in the driver's seat.
Neil Pearson: 29:24 Oh yeah. That's a really great way of saying it. And I think clinically what we want to do is both with people we, you know, we want to find a way to integrate these things, but I really, really believe that there's a lot of the people we work with would understand pain better if we got them to experience it. Experience what we're trying to tell them.
Karen Litzy: 29:47 Yeah. And we know experiential learning for a lot of people is something that sticks.
Neil Pearson: 29:54 Exactly. Yeah. And I think that's the thing is that there were a whole bunch of people that when we explained pain, it changes their cognition, but it immediately they get it, they understand it. It's powerful enough to change their behavior. But then there's other people then some of the research shows this now is that some people have this sort of partial reconceptualization of pain. They understand everything you told them, but they don't apply it to themselves. And so what you're going to need to do at that point is get the person to have the physical experience that matches up with the cognitive experience. And I guess what I'm saying is that what we could do is use the movement practices of yoga or any kind of moving practice for some individuals as the educational agent first and then, I think we need to start to play with that because some people just don't learn well when we talked to them, at least not as well as they do with the physical experience of it.
Karen Litzy: 30:58 Yeah. And I think as the therapist that you can kind of get a sense of this after one or two visits that okay. It seems like they understood, but yet they're not able to apply this to themselves or are they kind of come back to you with the same, I don't want to say the same complaints cause that's not right. But with the same maybe problem solving outlook that they did before when you know, you've kind of spoken about pain and maybe how pain works, let's say from explaining pain and they're still coming back to you with this same idea. The same. I did this so I must have done something wrong. And that's why it hurts because I keep doing this to myself.
Neil Pearson: 31:55 Exactly right. There was something in what you said too that made me think that it's possible that that person coming back, doesn't have the coping strategies that match up with the new information that they learned. So the person's, you know, coped by being saved, being tough and just sucking up and gritting your teeth and pushing through it or coped by fear avoidance. And so we've given them this new information, but the person that hasn't, when the pain worsens, they go back to the coping strategies that don't match up with the new paradigm.
Karen Litzy: 32:29 Right. Yeah. And that was really hard for me to do as well. So what would happen, and I'll give an example of what that means. I think you correct me if I'm wrong, but I used to get a lot of neck pain in my sleep so I'd wake up and kind of feel a pop and then wouldn't be able to move. And what my original coping strategy was hi, I have to call off work today because I need to stay in bed. So I would stay in bed. I used ice, I would use heat but I wouldn't move and that did not do well for me cause like it would help in the short term maybe that day. And then I'd be able to get back into things the next day. But I was still in an awful lot of pain. I mean, maybe I was a nine out of 10 and then I was at seven out of 10 but the seven out of 10 I could function. You know what I mean?
Neil Pearson: 33:24 Yeah, absolutely.
Karen Litzy: 33:25 Until I started going through explain pain and moving more. So now if I wake up and I feel that pain, my first thought is not, Oh, I better lay in bed. It's okay, let me get up, let me start stretching, let me start moving, let me go to the gym and at least get on a bike. And now, because that's sort of my new shift in thinking that maybe the pain will last only one or two days and not forever. Because before it was this high level of pain with a higher spike. And now it's just little to no pain with a spike or a flare up, if you will, a couple times a year. But knowing the moment I feel that, that I get my butt to the gym and I realized that movement is the thing that helps and that I shouldn't be fearful of that. So for me, that was the input into my system that helped and everyone is different of course, but I think that's a real life example of what you just said.
Neil Pearson: 34:27 Yeah. And I think it's great one because what you've said is that what you've found is that you can change the pain and the ease of movement through movements, but also I think what you're saying as well is there's somehow there's a different relationship with your different perspective on it. You're understanding it in a different way.
Karen Litzy: 34:48 Yeah. It's less as this sort of monstrous threat that's going to take over my life for the next couple of weeks, days, months versus now. It's like a little annoyance that I know I have the coping skills and the mechanisms at my disposal that I can make a change for myself versus going to a doctor for a quick fix of a pain medication or something, which is what I used to do.
Neil Pearson: 35:22 Yeah. Well and what I'd say is, well as within yoga and yoga therapy is that a yoga therapy will offer you more on expanding a number of coping strategies or alternatives. We often think of as making people more flexible in their body, but it actually makes us more flexible in how we adapt or modify things when pain persists. So, you know, you wake up in the middle of the night, maybe one of the things is that I'm laying there and actually taking your attention to the pain and exploring the pain. Actually spending some time doing that or the practice of noticing what's happening to your breath. So now or changing your breath or noticing what's happening in your body tension or changing your body tension too. Within yoga there's many, many different ways that you can try to impact things. We often say we want to do practices that have to do with awareness because awareness practices in and of themselves can be a beneficial when we have ongoing pain.
Neil Pearson: 36:28 And then there are other practices that are about regulation. So, you know, getting you to breathe in a certain way or hold your body in a certain way or move your body in a certain way or think a certain way. So with the awareness you can have awareness of your breath or your body or your thoughts or your emotions or your energy or the pain. And the same thing with regulation. You can regulate any of those and start to see what happens when you do either of these things. But then the one other bit you said too was about discernment is what you've learned. You've, you know, you've changed your view of you. You're now when you feel the pain, you can discern more about when the pain is like this, I need to do this. And when the pain’s like this, I need to do this. And, I think that's another positive that people can get or the practices of yoga therapy is that you start to actually understand your pain better, right? Be able to discern different aspects of it or different strategies that you need to do at different times where often when we have chronic pain, it's almost like we lose coping, right?
Karen Litzy: 37:37 Oh, there's no question. You lose everything. You lose all perspective on yourself as a human being, you know? I mean, even as someone like me who is, I was a physical therapist when I first had all of this pain and you just completely, everything I learned as a PT flew out my brain. It was gone because all you want is for the pain not to be there. And the reason you want the pain not to be there is because you want to have a life with more choices and more possibilities. Whereas when people are in pain, their choices are you get up, you go to work and you come home. If you can even make it to work, those are your choices. That's all you have. You know, have kids, maybe it's struggled to take care of your kids or suffer through taking care of X, Y, Z. Right? Versus when you don't have pain, your options are, I can get up, I can go to the gym, but I can go to work or I can go to the gym, meet up with friends, go on vacation, you know, clean my apartment, go play sports. So all of a sudden you have a life of very little choice and possibilities to an opening of your choices and possibilities. And it's just because you don't have that pain anymore.
Neil Pearson: 38:53 Right. And I think that's one of the beauties of the practices that allow us to start to explore are there things that we actually can do for ourselves to try to change this? Or are there things that people can help guide us to be able to do that? Because I think when we're in that huge pain, what we're looking for is, you know, the thing that will just stop it, of course. And you know, we're living in society where the approach mostly is to look externally. And then one of the troubles that people have sometimes when they start to hear about yoga therapy and sort of the self care part is just this idea that it's almost like it's all up to me, right? You're telling me it's all up to me and what we want to say is no, that that doesn't really work well or we want to do is say, what you need is the expertise of a PT or a yoga therapist or an OT who can help to guide you and be there and you know, cheerlead you and coach you and help you through this.
Neil Pearson: 39:53 Because this is really, really hard stuff. You know, learning the techniques of yoga, if people really immerse themselves in it, they'll typically say, this is hard to do. Well, it's way harder to do when you're in pain. Right?
Karen Litzy: 40:09 Right. And you don't want to think like, Oh, I have one more thing I need to do now. I need to do this. I've got all this pain, now I need to do this.
Neil Pearson: 40:17 Yeah, yeah, true.
Karen Litzy: 40:19 But yeah, when you position yourself as the guide, you know, I've been reading this book by Donald Miller called the StoryBrand. And in it he talks about the guide who would be, in this case, the yoga therapists and physical therapists and thinking of them as like the Yoda and the student or the hero, he calls them the hero of the story, which would be our patients would be the heroes of our stories are like the Luke Skywalker's. So they're coming to you for guidance, you're helping them, you're giving them the tools, the confidence, in this case, the movement, the education that they need to go out and be the hero of their lives.
Karen Litzy: 41:00 So it's not like, Oh, one more thing I have to do. If we can reframe that for those people in pain, it's more like let us guide you so that you have so much to do.
Neil Pearson: 41:13 Absolutely. And you know, there's one other piece that I just want to tack on the end because I'm sure you have some people here listening who have ongoing pain is that one of the really difficult things, and I know some, there's been some blogs talking about this recently that has importance is when we work with an individual who has ongoing pain, actually don't know what the outcome is going to be. I think we can be pretty certain that we can help people to be able to move with more ease and to have some less pain and to, you know, get quality of life. But somehow we need to say to people that, you know, when you do these things, you might be the person who says, you know, the pain is mostly gone and I really can do most of what I could do before.
Neil Pearson: 41:56 Or he might be the person who says, well, you know, the pain is better, but it's still there. But what you've been able to do is show me how to get back to allowing my life. You know, the pain is less, but I'd be able to get back. And then there's this other group that will say, you know, it doesn't seem like the pain really is changed at all, but you know, if we've been successful with them, the person will say that, you know, even though the pain is there, you've helped me figure out how to live and have pain. Right. And I think that's one of the struggles that people have when they hear us talking about pain management, is the struggle between you're looking for wanting so much the thing that will stop all the pain. But then not really recognize where maybe recognizing the ideas that for some people that's not the outcome.
Karen Litzy: 42:50 Right. Yeah. And I try and, you know, and that comes, I think as the therapist, I think that comes, that's something that I think experience helps a lot. The experience of the therapist helps a lot because you kind of have a little more confidence to say to the patient, Hey listen, the goal here is to get you doing the things you want to be doing. You may still have pain doing them, but you can do everything you need to do. Would you be okay if you had a small amount of pain and were still able to do everything you want to do? Cause our goal here is not complete elimination of pain or, I mean, yeah, I guess that is the ultimate goal, but being realistic, we have to tell the patient, Hey listen, this may not happen. What if I told you you could do everything you wanted to do and the pain might be there if doesn't really, you're not suffering. It doesn't bother you that much. Would you be okay with that? And that's a hard conversation to have.
Neil Pearson: 43:51 Yeah. Well, you know, in the yoga world is it's somewhat easier because anyone who's a yoga therapist has, I mean that's what we've learned. That's really what yoga says is that we will have pain, we will have suffering in life. And the whole practice of yoga and yoga therapy is to actually learn how to live with it and decrease it. But it's not, you know, it doesn't have the goal of saying there's going to be none.
Karen Litzy: 44:21 Yeah. And I think that that's important. It's important to tell patients. And that's the one thing, this is a total rant on my part, so apologize ahead of time. But you know, when you see websites and they're like eliminate your back pain by reading this free resource, well, that drives me bananas and it drives me crazy as a person who did have chronic pain for many years, you're searching for that thing and if someone puts it out there and then you read it and you're like, my pain is the same, I would be like, screw you. It didn't help my pain. It's like a crappy thing to do to someone because I feel like you're praying on very vulnerable people by doing that. And I think that's why.
Neil Pearson: 45:08 Yeah, I agree all the way. I mean, it's just not truth. It's a marketing stick.
Karen Litzy: 45:14 Right.
Neil Pearson: 45:15 I'm like you, it enrages me. It's hard not to be the police though, right? You want to jump on and say, what are you saying then? And we know that, you know, within our professions, really within all the healing professionals or helping professions, there are people who unfortunately use language like that. Hopefully at some point we will be more compassionate.
Karen Litzy: 45:40 Yes. Yes. I hope so because, Oh man, that is something that just drives me crazy. But I digress. Let's get back to the book. What do you hope people take away from the book after reading it?
Neil Pearson: 46:05 Well, I guess the biggest thing that I want people to take away with is this idea that yoga therapy is something we should consider as a one of the paths when people have ongoing pain. Overall, that's what I want people to do. You know, we don't think that yoga therapy is the answer. But we see it as something that can be integrated within our Western medical world with people with chronic pain and so integrated into that system. But also it allows more access because people usually can get to yoga therapy for less of a cost than they could to medical practitioners. So it's more just to see it as you know, as we've talked about, there's this view of what yoga is. Well, yoga is something different from that. And it actually does make sense as one path to consider when we're working towards recovery when pain persists.
Karen Litzy: 47:01 Absolutely. And now before we end, I have one more question for you. And that's knowing where you are now in your life and in your career. What advice would you give to your younger self?
Neil Pearson: 47:16 Oh, wow. You know, after I graduated as a physical therapist, I spent the first four and a half years working in hospitals and worked, trauma, ICU. And I worked in a neonatal ICU and cardiac care and all these things. And, the thing that if I were to go back to that spot, I would say, Hey, you're doing the right thing. It's funny because a lot of my colleagues were working, you know, we're stepping right into private practices. And by being in that situation, what I not only did I started working as a physical therapist with this umbrella of protection because there were all these other people who are also working with the same patients in the hospital. But I learned such a humanistic view of what I was doing.
Neil Pearson: 48:10 I guess that's because a lot of the stuff we were doing in the hospital had to do with life and death. Now when you're working in a trauma ICU with neonates and so I think you know, cause I know there was a lot of pressure I wanted to work in, you know, sports medicine and in private practice. There was pressure not to be in the hospital. So I guess I'd go back and say you're doing the right thing cause it really helped me to see the person more than the low back or the shoulder or the knee.
Karen Litzy: 48:50 Yeah. You know, I worked in a hospital first as well when I first graduated from PT school.
Neil Pearson: 49:00 There are some advantages to that.
Karen Litzy: 49:04 Yeah. Oh yeah, absolutely. I think it like really increases your empathy and your communication skills. Cause you're like you said you're dealing with pretty sick people. And I wouldn't have traded that for the world. All right, so now where can people find the book?
Neil Pearson: 49:28 Well the books on Amazon. Awesome. So that's probably the easiest place to find it.
Karen Litzy: 49:34 Yes. So we'll put the link in the show notes. So if people want to go to podcast.healthywealthysmart.com, they can just click on this episode and go straight to the book.
Neil Pearson: 49:47 Great. And if people want to learn anything more about the other things that I work on. My website is paincareu.com I'll share that as well with you on there. You can learn about the pain care yoga training that I do and I have a distance professional mentorship that I do for health care professionals as well.
Karen Litzy: 50:11 Nice. That's awesome. And because you're up in Canada, right?
Neil Pearson: 50:16 Yeah, that's right. If you're in Vancouver and you drove East of it four and a half hours over a couple of mountain ranges, I'm in the Okanogan Valley of British Columbia.
Karen Litzy: 50:26 Got it. Kind of. It is so big. Well Neil, thank you so much for coming on. This was a great conversation. I think it's going to give people a lot to think about when they're working with those patients in pain. So thank you so much. And everyone, thanks so much for listening. Have a great couple of days and stay healthy, wealthy, and smart.
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On this episode of the Healthy, Wealthy and Smart Podcast, I welcome Keats Snideman on the show to discuss the non-traditional path to physical therapy school. Keats Snideman is a results-driven Rehab and fitness professional with over 20 years in the Fitness/Athletic Performance and bodywork industry and most recently the field of physical therapy.
In this episode, we discuss:
-How Keats’ background in health and wellness enhanced his learning in PT school
-The personal and professional pros and cons of being a non-traditional PT student
-The benefits of diversity within a PT cohort
-Time and resource management to avoid burnout
-And so much more!
For more information on Keats:
Hello, my name is Keats Snideman and I am a results-driven Rehab and fitness professional with over 20 years in the Fitness/Athletic Performance and bodywork industry and most recently the field of physical therapy. My educational background includes a doctorate in physical therapy from Northern Arizona University (PHX Biomedical campus) and a B.Sc in Kinesiology from Arizona State University. Other certifications and titles held include: Certified Strength & Conditioning Coach (CSCS), Certified Orthopedic Manual Therapist (COMT, through OPTIM Manual Therapy), a Strong First Gyra (SFG) Level 1 Kettlebell instructor, a certified Kettlebell Functional Movement Screen Specialist (CK-FMS), a certified neuromuscular therapist (CNMT), and a licensed massage therapist (LMT) in the state of Arizona.
Read the full transcript below:
Karen Litzy: 00:01 Hi Keats, welcome to the podcast. I'm happy to have you on. So today we're going to be talking about the non traditional path to physical therapy school. And the way we're kind of defining this nontraditional path would be you didn't graduate from high school, go to undergrad and right into physical therapy school. So there was some time off in which you had a completely different career. Well, yeah, a different career and then decided to go into physical therapy school a little later in life. And I use that in quotes when I say that. So what I would love for you to do Keats is can you kind of tell your story to the audience so they get to know you a little bit more?
Keats Snideman: 00:45 Yeah, absolutely. So like a lot of PTs, I have a fitness background, I ran some college track, got into working out and decided to become a personal trainer. This was like mid nineties, so quite, quite a long time ago. And that sort of led me down a little bit into the sort of functional fitness was kind of becoming a thing kind of in the 90s. And people who are beginning to use that word function a lot. I have a twin brother also in the fitness world and we got exposed to a gentleman named Paul Chek. He's the guy who kind of popularized the Swiss ball, the physio ball doing the weight training on it, standing on it, doing all that crazy stuff. This was in like 97 to 99. And Paul Chek was also very rehab oriented, not a physical therapist himself, but started opening my eyes to sort of the world of sort of biomechanics and you know, it's sort of high level physiology, and started reading, you know, more technical sort of physical therapy type books and it really interested me and I was like, wow, there's more there than just being a personal trainer.
Keats Snideman: 02:00 So I sort of made a decision at that point that I wanted to go on and get, I think it was a masters degree. Most of the programs at that time. But then life happens. Got married, had our first child. I had my own business and eventually I went back to school to finish my bachelor's degree at Arizona state university. And really had the idea of going kind of into PT school pretty quickly after that. Had another child, open up a different location for my business. And time just goes by, you know, very, very quickly. And the next thing I knew it was 2012, 13. I was like, if I don't go to school now, I'm never gonna do it. But all the time through that I ended up getting a massage certification or I got in the early two thousands.
Keats Snideman: 02:47 So I started putting my hands on clients who needed it. I started getting some soft tissue clients and basically really trying to find out, you know, what's the best way to use that tool? Cause I wasn't really like a massage person per se. I kind of came into the sort of the manual therapy body work world as more of a fitness person. How could I get somebody out of pain is pretty much the number one thing why people were seeing me so that I could get them more active to get them more mobile, that really fits in to what a lot of physical therapy does. Sort of our modern understanding of pain as it's changing that the therapy is just sort of a, you know, like a brief reset to try to then help, you know, we get that window of opportunity to try to make a change.
Keats Snideman: 03:43 And so that, you know, that finally allowed me to make the decision to go to school because I want to be able to do more than just what a massage therapist can do. And more, you know, I wanted to be able to do, if I want to do a joint mobilization or manipulation like a chiropractor could do, you can't do that as a massage therapist. And so that was the final decision. I closed up my shop, I went back to school, I bit the bullet. It was a very challenging road, but even with the family and everything and I got through it, finished a few years ago and here I am.
Karen Litzy: 04:18 And I mean that's quite a story and we'll get into some of your words of wisdom and advice for other people who might be in the situation where they have a family, they have children, they don't know if they can do this because it is very time consuming. But before we get to that, I would love to know if you could name a couple of your top struggles during PT school that you were obviously able to overcome. Cause you did graduate, you're now a physical therapist. So give us some of your struggles and what you did to help get over them.
Keats Snideman: 04:53 Absolutely. So I would say the first thing that was really, really the hardest for me and my program was at Northern Arizona university. And we were the first class to be sort of accelerated instead of a three year program. It was a two and a half year program. So we didn't get really a lot of breaks. So the coursework I think was condensed a little bit more. And so that meant a little bit higher level of information that we were obtaining. So that first semester was a bit like hazing for me. I've constantly been learning and taking continuing education courses my whole career as a massage therapist, personal trainer, strength coach. But I wasn't quite prepared for the onslaught, sort of the drinking from a fire hose type of thing, if you will, that that first semester did.
Keats Snideman: 05:42 And I end up getting a C I think in pathophysiology, which was, it was like in memorizing a thousand PowerPoint slides and two every two weeks. It was brutal. And that put me in academic probation. You can't get a C in PT school. I mean, are you going to get many of them C B’s and above? And so that was, you know, I was worried, I thought, man, am I gonna flunk out? You know, I just started after all this, you know, what am I going to tell my family? This is terrible, but I got through it. The rest of my grades were actually quite good after that. But if you haven't been sort of in the academic setting for a while, you've really got to kind of give yourself a little bit of an adjustment time and not be so hard on yourself to the expectations for like getting these great grades needs to be tempered because it's intense.
Keats Snideman: 06:35 Obviously you went through it. The amount of information that a physical therapy student will be exposed to is pretty insane. I know medical doctors get a tremendously crazy amount of sort of, you're sort of a general as first, but I think PTs have gotta be some of the broadest sort of scope practitioners out there and me, it was sort of like med school light, you know, a lot of our classes are actually with PAs because we were actually kind of getting sort of the university of Arizona medical curriculum that was given to the PAs at NAU and we were sort of teamed up there with them and some of the occupational therapists as well. So that was my biggest struggle was just the amount of information was just overwhelming. But once I kinda settled in and really focused more on comprehension and learning instead of just getting good grades, I've never been a grade person. I couldn't really care less, unfortunately you need to get good enough grades to pass and then not get kicked out of the program. But I've always been about, I want to understand. So I think if someone who hasn't been in school in awhile, kind of a non traditional student like myself, you've gotta be easy on yourself and you've got to give yourself time to adapt and to adjust to that, just that amazing, wildly overwhelming amount of information that you can get, especially in that first semester, that first year.
Karen Litzy: 08:07 And how did you balance the amount of information, the studying the comprehension. And I liked the fact that you said you're there to learn and comprehend, not just memorize, but that was in PowerPoint slides which I think is great advice for anyone. But how did you balance this with a wife and two kids?
Keats Snideman: 08:27 It wasn't easy. I wouldn't really say that you can, it's not balanced and you know, the family has to be on board. Obviously my kids are a little bit older. My wife obviously she knew how much this meant to me, so she was very supportive. I wasn't able to be as involved with my kids and their sports and stuff. So there's definitely sacrifices. You can't pass PT school. Even if you're just a single younger person who doesn't have any problems, your life will not be balanced if you are in any doctoral program, especially one like physical therapy. So I wouldn't say I really balanced it, but when I had the time and I needed, because you can't just study, study, study, study, you will literally burn yourself out and there comes to a point, kind of like a sponge that's just saturated with water.
Keats Snideman: 09:15 It won't take any more. It just doesn't work. So you have to give yourself little breaks more frequently. And for me, you know, I grew up sort of this ADD never got diagnosed until I was an adult. That's even more important cause I think my executive functioning skills burn out very, very quickly. So I do very well with like the Pomodoro technique where I do like 25 minutes and then take a five minute break or maybe that's 15 minutes, right? Things like that where you do like little mini sprints rather than a marathon of learning. So you give yourself time to get into what's called like a diffuse mode of sort of learning where you have the focus mode, where you're really putting a lot of effort, but then you gotta just walk away, go for a walk, juggle play ping pong. We played a lot of ping pong. If you have a ping pong table and you're like, that really got me through school. I love ping pong. I love it. I have a thing on the table in my house. And just doing something completely different. I'm very much into exercise activities, sprinting, little mini workouts, little mini resets. I feel that helped get me through it. You can't just sit there for hours upon hours and hours. You will just literally just be wasted time.
Karen Litzy: 10:35 Yeah, that is wonderful advice and I think that carries over nicely even when you start working as a therapist as well. Great advice. Now let's talk about some of the positives of going back to school as a nontraditional student.
Keats Snideman: 10:58 Yeah. Well for me, there's a lot of positives because I had already been working with people for so long as a personal trainer, a strength coach and a massage therapist and sort of a hybrid of all those kind of at the same time that I've been dealing with people for so long. And a lot of these young millennials that are just, you know, like you talked about more traditional which is definitely a good way to do it. Don't get me wrong, I kind of wish I had done that, but they don't have sort of the life experience and the ability to deal, I think with a lot of the psychological and more of the interpersonal issues that will come up when you're dealing with people in pain and dealing. Like once you lived a little bit longer, I feel like you just get it a little bit more. A lot of people in PT, at least sort of in traditional outpatient or even acute, they're a little bit older and I feel like you can relate to them a little bit better.
Keats Snideman: 11:51 And it helps me to think about something like soft skills that the professors would talk about and I'd be like, wow, I guess I'm kind of lucky in that respect because I'm older. I kind of already have had to develop those over the years. Those interpersonal communication skills and they would tell, you know, my classmates, these younger sort of millennials that it doesn't really matter what you get. Like, yeah, you got to pass the boards, you gotta pass this, you gotta be smart. But you know, being first in your class, like it doesn't mean you're necessarily gonna be the best therapist. And nobody's going to ask you, Hey, Karen, you know, can you tell me what you got on your NPT boards, et cetera? Oh no, that's too low. I want to work with this person over here.
Keats Snideman: 12:36 Or Hey, what'd you get in your patho though? First? Because it doesn't matter, right? You've got to get through it. You can always, you don't need to memorize everything, just you need to know it enough to pass the test. But the most important thing in physical therapy is your ability to empathize, to be empathetic and to deal with another human being that you're dealing with. And I felt like as an older student that was something I kind of already had. So that was like a big plus I think. And when I'm working with my a little bit older clients and patients, I think that helps. So that's a big plus that you can't really get except through time and going through all those different sort of client and patient interactions over the years that will sort of, you know, cause you have these fits sometimes with clients, they don't work well. You don't always buttheads so you develop a certain amount of grit that I think as a bit of an older student you don't have to develop as much as the newer, younger ones.
Karen Litzy: 13:45 I think that’s a huge positive. I mean experience counts. Experience counts. What other positives did you find even maybe as you were going through the program or looking back on it now?
Keats Snideman: 14:03 Well for me with my background and there were other students in there that were like in their thirties. There was one other guy in his forties, you know, it was like the real grandpa. He, you know, he was a little younger than me. But my background was in fitness and in massage. So I had already kind of educated myself a lot on anatomy and physiology. Since we had this sort of medical curriculum. We spent like six weeks or something on the organs and the guts and I didn't really know that too well, so that was pretty hard. But the rest of this stuff sort of with my background wasn't too hard in terms of it's like I felt like I had already prepared myself for that. Contrary to popular belief, you go to PT school more to learn about differential diagnosis and how to not really hurt somebody, you know, it's more like med school light than it is about, like, I'm going to become sort of a mild personal trainer. Like you don't spend a ton of time on the ins and outs of exercises.
Keats Snideman: 14:57 They sort of say, well you're going to get that in your rotations. So a lot of people who are more non traditional that had come maybe from like insurance or a different world, they didn't have a much of an exercise background as me. They were really looking for that in school and we didn't get that as much. It's not really what it's about. You get that more on your rotation. So I felt like my previous background had made up for that gap that we weren't going to get in school. I had already sort of gone through the sort of the painstaking self studied it just really sort of figure out like you know, which exercises are appropriate for all the different muscle groups and movements and doing sort of like a needs analysis for the sport or the activity.
Keats Snideman: 15:52 Cause that's not really what you're getting in PT school. And I think people don't always understand that they think they're going to learn like everything about exercise. And that's kind of not what it's about. It's more like I keep saying sort of like this being sort of a primary care provider light. You know, and now most States have direct access. So, you know, like taking blood pressures, understanding cardiovascular concerns, understanding pharmacology and like the basics of like protecting, these are real things that are very important that that's what I got out of PT school the most was sort of that thing being sort of, I'm trying marry care provider and the exercise stuff is sort of secondary.
Karen Litzy: 16:40 Yeah. So because you had had this other career before you came into PT school, you were able to kind of be on top of your game I guess. And like you said, you were able to fill in some of those gaps in PT school with what'd you already knew. So that is obviously a huge positive. Any other positives that maybe if someone out there is thinking, Hmm, maybe I want to go into PT school, but I'm like over 40 or I'm over 30 or 35, you know, or I'm married, I have kids. Were there any other positives that maybe not even related to physical therapy but maybe spilled over into your home life or your personal life?
Keats Snideman: 17:19 Well I think it was good for my teenage boys to see that even as an older adult that, you know, the amount of effort they saw, how much I was putting into it, how much it meant to me to just to show them that if you put in the work at any age, like you can still do some pretty cool things. And, you know, you can teach an old dog new tricks. I mean, I think the younger brain learns a little quicker. I don't think there's a lot of debate about that. You can still do it. So for me, I think the positive was it gave me a sense of belief that if I'm really determined that I can find a way. So gave me like a new level of confidence in myself that I have the grit that I have, that I had to take the GRE three times.
Keats Snideman: 18:09 And for those who don't know, that's the graduate record examination that's put on by the people who create the SAT. So it's sort of a SAT for college grads and I hadn't done like high school math, since like 80s and early nineties. So, you know, I did well on those other parts, but I just couldn't remember like basic stuff. I had to get the book. So it gave me sort of a new level of confidence that, you know what, even when things are really tough and you feel like you can't get through, like you can and you know, and you just got to kind of plow through it, like the time will go by anyway. And you just gotta figure it out. How can you work with yourself? To try to, you know, accomplish the goal as challenging as PT school at any age.
Keats Snideman: 18:54 It's challenging but definitely harder if you have a family you've been out of sort of that test taking mode. I used a lot of like some of these other like apps where it sort of makes you keep doing the ones that you're not good at. Cause you do have to memorize some stuff for the test. Let's face it. But if you take the time and you're just, you don't be so hard on yourself, you can get through it, you will get through it.
Karen Litzy: 19:25 Absolutely. And now again, the question I ask everyone on the show is, and I feel like you kind of just answered it, but I'm going to ask the question anyway because maybe you have a different answer, but what advice would you give to yourself, your pre PT self knowing where you are now in your life and in your business and in your work? What advice would you give to your pre physical therapy school self?
Keats Snideman: 19:54 Well I think I was very hard on myself for like initially doing poorly in that first semester especially in that pathophysiology class. But I really thought that I could get through it easier. You know, I just thought like, Oh, this, you know, this is going to be good. I've already sort of learned a lot on my own. I sort of underestimated. So I scheduled my sort of personal training and my sort of my whole clientele in a way that was not realistic. So, you know, working I think is good if you can do it, but giving yourself sort of the permission to say no to certain things that this is an important commitment. And that, you know, not to beat myself up that I'm not earning as much as I could potentially earn by working more because this is an important goal and I need to focus, you need to get it done.
Keats Snideman: 20:56 There'll be plenty of time to work after, but I did work throughout my whole schooling. I was trying to bring in a couple thousand dollars a month, you know, for my own clientele. And I did, but that was about probably about a third of what I had originally sort of thought I could do. So I did have to take out a little more loans than I wanted to, but once I sort of realized that it's okay, that sort of like lowered that stress levels for myself, that just is a huge commitment that I've put on myself that I can do, I could commit to all these different elements. And there's only so much time in a day. Like, you know, there's only so much energy you have, you know, sort of like money in a bank. You don't have the, we call it like units of energy.
Keats Snideman: 21:40 I don't have a hundred units of energy for school and a hundred units of energy for my family and a hundred and some energy for my clients. I have a hundred units total and that's what I sort of figured out. So I would give myself the advice then manage your units, you know, manage your physical and emotional capital because there's only so much and you just have to be realistic. And I just, I was not realistic with myself with what I thought I could do versus the reality. And once I sort of kind of had that sort of come to Jesus moment, I was better cause I was okay with it.
Karen Litzy: 22:13 Well I think that's great advice. So giving yourself permission to prioritize things in your life and doing it all to 100 percent. Excellent advice. Now is there anything else that you wanted to let the listeners know before we sign off about being that nontraditional student in physical therapy school?
Keats Snideman: 22:34 I think we need more non traditional students. I mean I think it only helps the programs. I think if any of my classmates that are listening to this, hopefully they are, they can agree. I think a lot of people appreciated me in the class because I would ask the questions. I find if I didn't, interesting kind of being with sort of this younger generation, it's like they're just programmed and it's kind of like robots that just like get the information, figure out how to you know, memorize it, regurgitate it on a test, move on. And it's more about like passing and getting to the next level than it is about mastery and comprehension and not a lot like questions are asked about things that I thought maybe that the teachers explained that were confusing. So I would ask the questions, I'd be like, well what about this and what about that?
Keats Snideman: 23:32 And because I'd been in the real world for longer. So I think having that older student and maybe some people thought it was a little bit annoying and that's okay. I'm okay. To me, I’m that guy, because I think it was helpful for the betterment of the class. And when you have somebody who's lived a little bit longer, like you just don't care as much. You just, if something's important to ask, it's important. Like you don't have to go, Oh, I'm not going to ask cause I don't want to like offend anybody or you know what I'm saying? So like having those little more seasoned, non traditional students, I think it spices things up a little bit. And I felt that I kind of provided that for my class and it really sort of, it kinda helps sort of broaden the curriculum by bringing in more real life experience of working with people.
Keats Snideman: 24:25 Not that I was a physical therapist, but I was working with people in pain, working with people who had weakness and you know, fitness issues, which is what we do a lot in PT regardless of your setting. So that's my advice is that if you’re really, really passionate about helping people in that domain, that we need more nontraditional, a little bit older students in these programs because it really helps to just sort of broaden the scope because of what we can bring with our experience as everybody else in the class. Everyone has their own experiences. Even, I mean young, middle age, older, it's all good. Like to have a variety instead of just everybody being the same. Like I'm all about diversity and I think we should just embrace more diversity. And like I saw something on the news, I think it was the other week on CBS or something and it was some guy like he was like a car mechanic and he went back to school like in his late fifties and he got his medical degree that just like, I love it. That's stuff just like juices me up and he's bringing all his experience to that program. That must have been really neat for the other students.
Karen Litzy: 25:37 Yeah, I could not agree with you more. And now where can people find you if they want to chat about your experiences or if they have any questions for you?
Keats Snideman: 25:47 Yeah, I'm a pretty Googleable guy. I've got a couple of websites that are sort of in shambles right now, but if you just Google my name, Keats Snideman, I'm on Facebook, I'm on Twitter and Instagram. I think it's a @coachKeats and then I think it's Keith Snideman is what I'm on for Instagram. I'm trying to figure out this whole social media thing. For my own business. I do a combination of PR and work and then just my own, I'm too much of an entrepreneur to work full time for anybody else. But if anybody wants to email me, it's email@example.com. I love helping people who are non traditional to sort of, you know, make the decision. I mean it's not for everybody, but if you're on the fence, I talked to people frequently who sort of find out about me and I would love to talk to you about it.
Karen Litzy: 26:43 Awesome. Absolutely, all of that information will be in the show notes for this episode at podcast.healthywealthysmart.com so that people can one click and get to you in any way possible. Perfect. We'll have it all there. So Keith, thank you so much for taking the time out while you're here in New York, dropping your son off at NYU.
Keats Snideman: 27:01 I know. Crazy. Yeah, it's been a blast. I'm so glad we got to meet up today. I've always wanted to, you know, talk to some other PTs when I come out here and I'm just, yeah, I'm very, very glad that I was able to get on your show. I've been a big time fan of your podcast when I was a student. I'd share it with my fellow classmates. Your doing an amazing job of just getting amazing people and concepts out into the world.
Karen Litzy: 27:26 Well, thank you very much. And, I again, thank you for taking the time today and everyone else have a great couple of days and stay healthy, wealthy and smart.
Thanks for listening and subscribing to the podcast! Make sure to connect with me on twitter, instagram and facebook to stay updated on all of the latest! Show your support for the show by leaving a rating and review on iTunes!
On this week’s episode of the Healthy, Wealthy and Smart Podcast, Jenna Kantor guests hosts and interviews Cameron Massumi on new graduate engagement within the American Physical Therapy Association. Cameron Massumi, SPT is the president of APTA's Student Assembly Board of Directors.
In this episode, we discuss:
-Cameron’s passion for new graduate engagement within APTA
-Inclusion and diversity within APTA
-How to engage in networking events
-Ways you can get involved within your professional organization
-And so much more!
For more information on Cameron:
My name is Cameron Massumi, and I am the President of the Student Assembly Board of Directors. I believe that APTA serves an integral role in ensuring the future of our profession through advocacy, public awareness campaigns, and the sharing of a unified vision. However, there is, unfortunately, a marked decline in membership as students graduate from PT school and become active clinicians. It is my goal to stop this from happening and hopefully bring new graduates back into the APTA. My strong background in sales and marketing as well as my leadership experiences prior to entering PT school will allow me to bring a unique skill set to the Board of Directors. I
will use these skills as well as my connections to ensure membership and engagement increase so our profession can continue to grow and become stronger. My vision is that through my leadership the student assembly can help promote awareness of the profession, increase diversity, and boost member retention. As a profession we need to collaborate, innovate, and strive for excellence. APTA is the best tool to ensure the success of our profession so that we can #MoveForward, so let’s get together and create some real change. After all, we’re #BetterTogether!
For more information on Jenna:
Jenna Kantor (co-founder) is a bubbly and energetic girl who was born and raised in Petaluma, California. Growing up, she trained and performed ballet throughout the United States. After earning a BA in Dance and Drama at the University of California, Irvine, she worked professionally in musical theatre for 15+ years with tours, regional theatres, & overseas (www.jennakantor.com) until she found herself ready to move onto a new chapter in her life – a career in Physical Therapy. Jenna is currently in her 3rd year at Columbia University’s Physical Therapy Program. She is also a co-founder of the podcast, “Physiotherapy Performance Perspectives,” has an evidence-based monthly youtube series titled “Injury Prevention for Dancers,” is a NY SSIG Co-Founder, NYPTA Student Conclave 2017 Development Team, works with the NYPTA Greater New York Legislative Task Force and is the NYPTA Public Policy Committee Student Liaison. Jenna aspires to be a physical therapist for amateur and professional performers to help ensure long, healthy careers. To learn more, please check out her website: www.jennafkantor.wixsite.com/jkpt
Read the full transcript below:
Jenna Kantor: 00:00 Hello, this is Jenna Kantor with healthy, wealthy and smart. I'm here with Cameron Massumi who is currently the APTA student assembly president, all those things, however you prefer to pronounce it. First of all, Cameron thank you so much for coming on. First of all, it is a joy to interview this gentleman before we go into our topic on new grads. Cameron is one of those rare bulls who has massive stamina where he ran twice to become part of the student assembly. And that alone just shows that if you've seen the movie Rudy where he never gives up on his dream, Cameron, you definitely exemplify that. So thank you for being a person with the stamina to run again. And very, very well represent students at large.
Cameron Massumi: 00:49 Oh, thank you for that Jenna. I have to say that I wouldn't say it's a stamina aspect more than it's just perseverance. I think you really learn from your experiences. I did run twice the first time I was unsuccessful. But I'd say that I gained a lot of knowledge from that. You know, you learn a lot about who you are. You really take the time to do some introspection and see what are the areas that you're most passionate about and you find ways to stay motivated and stay involved. I was thankful to the previous board. The students tell me they really helped me find an area in which I could contribute. And so I was a member of the professional advocacy committee and did some work on playing national advocacy centers and then did what I could to stay involved and really kind of figuring out what I would like to work on the next time around when I applied.
Jenna Kantor: 01:41 I love that. I love that. All right. Let's now jump into the new Grad stuff now. Why are we talking about new grads? Cause right now you're currently a student. I actually am a new Grad. I'm experiencing what we are going to be discussing. So why do you specifically have a passion for new grads and have some futuristic plans for that, which we will get into in a bit, but why specifically new grads?
Cameron Massumi: 02:03 Sure. I think the best way to address this is looking at friends and connections that I've made. I think APTA does a phenomenal job of first of all engaging students and finding a platform for them to have their voices heard and for them to be able to network with other individuals. You know, firsthand that we can make some great lasting friendships. But what the APTA I think struggles that a little bit is retaining some of that engagement when it comes to new grads. We have no secret that we have a decline in our member basis as people transition from students to working professionals. There's a positive in that the trend is moving forward as we are retaining more and more. I think early career started years has incentivized the ability for the association to retain members.
Cameron Massumi: 02:51 I think the fact that with our rebranding that we're currently going through as an association, we're finding what matters to its members and really utilizing that to make the association more applicable and more exciting for demonstrating value to members. For me as a person that's about to embark on my own career, transitioning from the role of student to professional it's how do I find a way to stay engaged and how do I find a way to contribute to not only association but my profession. One of the things that most of the feedback that I get from a lot of my friends having graduated is they feel that they're going from a space where they have an existing platform to, you know, share their views and their desires within the profession to one where they don't. So this is a passion project of mine and something that I'm really looking forward to contributing on. And I think APTA's done a commendable job in engaging student voice and looking for collaboration on this. Individually myself, I'm looking at utilizing my state chapter to help with this. But also really pulling students and seeing what we can get collaboratively and seeing where that goes.
Jenna Kantor: 04:17 I love that. So regarding new grads, how do they have a voice right now?
Cameron Massumi: 04:23 Ah, it's interesting question. I think that ultimately it comes down to you finding your voice. You can use social media. It's a very powerful tool. You can use open floors within APTA. We just had our house of delegates and there's plenty of opportunities for members to get involved there. You can become an active member in your delegation. You can seek leadership opportunities within your chapter, within sections, academies or even at national office. I think that there is a plethora of opportunities for people to utilize. But it ultimately, it comes down to you what level of motivation that the individual has.
Jenna Kantor: 05:02 I want to dive a little bit deeper onto the negative specifically for us as new grads and anybody who's listening, not you, you're not a new graduate currently a student. But for being a new Grad, there is definitely a dropoff. There are these opportunities but a lot of it has to do with after five years of experience, doors really do open for getting to apply for some greater leadership positions. And even that when you go, well for me, I specifically experienced this in my state, there is still a level of trust, meaning distrust for me being a new face and energetic face, a creative face, not somebody who's been around to learn the ways of how that specific area wants it to run. So would you mind speaking on that? Where is there a voice for somebody who is still waiting to be trusted?
Cameron Massumi: 05:53 Sure. Tough question. Thank you for that. I'd say a lot of that really just comes down to you as an a association, as a profession or as a whole what we are doing to uplift and support individuals. There was a good bit of discussion at house of delegates and at next about diversity, equity and inclusion and for our student assembly meeting at next conference we had a round table and we invited some key panelists as well as students to share their insight and experiences on the topics. And it's interesting because when it became apparent really quickly is how diversity was highlighted almost exclusively at equity and inclusion. I think that as we try to shine more light to that and looking at what equity really means and inclusion and equity, meaning truly leveling the playing field and supporting people and giving them all the tools they need to have equal opportunities. It's not just saying here go, we're really building up individuals and letting them get to a place where they can create change and they can make their mark. And inclusivity is just ensuring that we're doing that with everybody and we're bringing them to that point.
Jenna Kantor: 07:29 I just want to express my appreciation for this. With the diversity, equity inclusion coming up in these conversations at this conference, at the house of delegates. It's great, although we do not have a game plan at this moment, which is very clear in this conversation. It's good that it's being brought up on the national level, not just at the state level. I definitely personally represent this being a person with a personality that is out of the norm. Now, if I went to musical theater people, I'm in the norm. My personality blends in and actually Cameron, you would stand out. So I do appreciate that it's beyond just the color of your skin. So I appreciate that the equity and inclusion is also being included in this whole picture with the actual definitions to provide the opportunity that people, so desire.
Cameron Massumi: 08:23 So the quote about diversity is being asked to the party and inclusion is being asked to dance. And I think that's a pretty powerful statement if you really break it down and you know, I commend APTA for their effort in or renewed effort in ensuring that we move forward with this as a profession. But it's really interesting. You know I see a very diverse group of people that come to these conferences and in my program back at Virginia, I see a vast diversity within our student population. Inclusion is one of those ones that's a little bit harder to utilize. Because you can't really force somebody to do something. You have to elevate them and promote a way in which they can take that opportunity to really get their voice out there and heard. And, and I think that we're moving in the right direction and it's exciting times and I can't wait to see where it goes.
Jenna Kantor: 09:24 Yeah, yeah, for sure. I think I really liked that you gave that definition. It was worth the wait. It was worth it. So for me, I was just at house of delegates to share a little bit and I'm new. It was my first time at house of delegates. So as a new Grad I went there and I was not voted in as a delegate, an elected delegate. But I was an alternate delegate and with that I was able to attend and sit in the gallery, which is in the very back in order to just listen and learn, which is very valuable during the breaks I am very extroverted.
Jenna Kantor: 10:05 And where for you Cameron, I mean you are present so people want to talk to you. You have that. It's amazing for me. I want to meet people. So I did find regarding specifically inclusion, which is why I wanted to, I was like oh I thought of this. I'm like, oh this'll be a great one with Cameron cause this is where your passion lies. I found myself in the room, you know when you see two people bonding that, oh they know who I am so I'm going to stand on the side and wait until you know you're kind of like smiling awkwardly on the side, you know, so I can get in the conversation and maybe have some bonding time. I think maybe one time, the whole time was it actually successful with me standing on the side because people were so focused in on their individual conversations.
Jenna Kantor: 10:46 So I did not get any networking at all in at house of delegates, which was a shame. And, as you are saying right now about that, inclusion is hard because you can't force anybody. I think what I experienced would be a perfect example of a very, very eager beaver wanting to meet people. Cause that's the thing. You need to meet people. You need to gain that trust and you develop those relationships. And I'm not important enough. That's what I'm assuming where they would go, oh wait, Jenna's here, let's include give eye contact, equal eye contact in the conversation where you can somehow become a part of it even as the new person. So I really like how you're bringing that up, the individual. What are ways that we as the APTA team members where we could start thinking outside of the box outside of our own world to maybe pay attention to when we are actively being exclusionary because of the own world that we live in.
Cameron Massumi: 11:46 Well first I like to say I'm sorry that you were made to feel that way. The House of Delegates is definitely crazy, especially this year when we had over 70 motions to get through. So you have a shorter amount of time and always so much to really get some of those meaty discussions out of the way that can present quite a problem to be able to communicate and network, I guess.
Jenna Kantor: 12:09 Oh, for sure. But these are half hour breaks.
Cameron Massumi: 12:12 Well my suggestion, I mean this really goes down to what are you doing to engage in conversation. You know, I recommend that if it's something that you're passionate about to find alternative means of starting dialogue, you know, it's fine to use the tact where you're kind of standing by respectfully and waiting, but there are other times where it may be more appropriate to interrupt but to you know, find a way to segway into the conversation and say, you know, I was just standing by and I really heard you discussing this. You know, it's actually something that I'm really passionate about. Would you mind if I shared my input? Or you know, maybe ahead of time, reach out and say, Hey, I know I'm a member of your delegation or I am a constituent and this is a passion area of mine I'd love to be involved in discussing this.
Cameron Massumi: 13:10 There's all sorts of different ways that you can approach individuals and it's going to vary based on your personality and the personality of who you're trying to reach out to. So that's where I'd say it took to really start and just find ways to do it. I mean, I'm a very extroverted person. I have no problem really walking up and saying, hey, you know, I would love to engage in some dialogue, but there's other people that are more timid and you just have to find different ways of doing it. I don't think that it is plausible to really expect people to just notice you at all times and be like, Hey, like I see you over there, come on in. And I don't think that that is an issue with inclusivity, more so than the fact that there's just a lot of things going on. So, it's important for people to take more active roles to get involved with things that they're passionate about.
Jenna Kantor: 14:09 This is really helpful. I mean and you make a very good point here Cameron, on just like seeing the real big picture of like the barriers, even though we may be all be in the same room of just the chaos that goes on in the rooms. And this isn't just like one thing. I mean we have these annual wonderful events, CSM, NEXT, we have the national student conclave. We had these other events which are also other opportunities and then of course the local opportunities as well. So for you, what are your future plans that you want to explore with the new grads? Because I remember us talking at Graham sessions, I believe. No, Federal Advocacy Forum. We're like plugging all these places everywhere, by the way, attend all these things at the federal advocacy forum. And you were talking about your passions, some things that you might want to develop one day for new grads. Would you mind starting to go into that?
Cameron Massumi: 15:04 I'm sure I don't have any true plans at this point. All I know is that I feel that the new Grad, early career professionals population is kind of a lost area. And what I mean by that is that there's no formal engagement targeting that group. And that's unfortunate in my mind. So I'd really like to see more active participation engagements available for that demographic. And currently myself, you know, I'm looking to kind of transition from the current role that I'm in and to more of one focused on my local chapter level for a little bit as I also work to you know, further my own practicing career and then really just find a final way to increase involvement and engagement with that population. So there's a good number of early career professionals that I'm friends with that live in my home state. So I would just want to collaborate with them and see what we can get off the ground going.
Jenna Kantor: 16:13 I love that. And for those who don't know, Cameron’s a champ. I cannot express enough how this is somebody you do want to meet. You do want to have in your life in some capacity because of just he is a person who really speaks his truth but really from the heart and has so much love for others and seeing everybody really have the ideal professional career that they so desire. And we had a great bonding moment at federal advocacy forum talking about this and though I have most definitely put you in the hot seat, but for reasons to really help identify that there is and what you just said, there is a gap on the support that's available right now. It's not the APTA is ignoring it, they see it, but it's still there. It's one thing to see it and then figure out exactly how can action be taken. That would be exactly what people need. It's definitely been discussed. So I really appreciate and I'm honestly happy and excited for people in your area to be getting your wisdom and you even just like figuring out what you can do. That's very powerful. So just honestly, thank you for that.
Cameron Massumi: 17:25 Oh, thank you Jenna. I'm just one person, you know, and I'll speak in, like you said, from the heart, and these are just my own thoughts, but I really think that that the heart of it is collaborative efforts. You know, people from various backgrounds are gonna be able to come together and really problem solve a lot. And then as far as APTA goes, I think that they do a terrific job of acknowledging areas for improvement. And they are really actively trying to pursue avenues in which they can rectify some things and improve existing methods. I don't think that they do a bad job by any means with early career professionals, but I just don't think that it's where it needs to. I don't think that where it currently is where it needs to be. But you know, everything's a learning process and as we continue to grow as a profession, things will inevitably improve.
Jenna Kantor: 18:18 Oh, for sure. I was looking at things like that as opportunities. I'm like, oh look, we have more opportunities. And I think, it is really good at looking at things as opportunities and you have to look at it in a positive light. So for anybody who might be listening and being like, ah, you know, waiting for us to say something bad. Like what is it going to, how in this particular conversation right now where we're really trying to reach out and pull in the new Grad audience, like, is it gonna do us any good to sit here and bad mouth or to actually acknowledge what the APTA is doing and how they're regularly acknowledging things. So that way it gives you a rightful reason to hope and believe in an organization that has the power to make a huge difference. They have a huge audience.
Jenna Kantor: 19:02 They have a huge following. Even if right now in June 2019 just for when this goes forward, and time passes, there's one third of the population. There's no denying. Even for nonmembers they have a huge, huge audience. So it is very important. Even if you don't currently believe are not currently a member which join if you're not currently a member, you cannot deny the outreach that they have. So what is very good news? You want to hear that they're talking about it. You want to hear that it's on their mind. You want to hear that they're seeing the opportunities and are trying their best to explore it to the right thing because you know, as soon as they take action on it, they got to stick with it to see if it works, you know, and get that feedback. Well Cameron, thank you so much for coming on here. Thank you for dedicating this time. You've been in meetings this whole time and I was able to fortunately schedule you here at NEXT 2019 and I could not appreciate it enough. Do you have any final words you would like to say? You're like Mic drop to people who are new Grad physical therapists or even soon to be.
Cameron Massumi: 20:14 Thank you Jenna for the opportunity. I think the biggest thing is just be an advocate for the profession and for yourself in whatever capacity that is. The APTA provides a lot of platforms for you to be able to get involved, for you to be able to get your voice out there and heard, support your PAC. You know, that's how we get things done legislatively. How we improve things regulatory too. As an example from a student perspective, you know, lots of lobbying has allowed for legislation to be enacted to help with student loan forgiveness. That's massive. You know, that helps not only students, but early career professionals and we're relieving a lot of their financial burden. Stuff like that is really powerful. Don't underestimate your voice. You have much more volume, your actions and your voice speak volumes and just find a way to get involved.
Jenna Kantor: I love it. Thank you so much.
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On this episode of the Healthy, Wealthy and Smart Podcast, I welcome Dr. Michelle Collie on the show to discuss the importance of outcomes and how they can make a difference in your practice. Michelle became the owner of Performance Physical Therapy. Under Michelle’s leadership, Performance has grown to a practice with 13 locations in Rhode Island and Massachusetts and over 200 employees.
In this episode, we discuss:
The Outcomes Summit: Use the discount code LITZY
For More on Dr. Collie:
Born and raised on a sheep farm in New Zealand, Dr Michelle Collie spent her childhood years training pet sheep, riding motorbikes, and eating enough lamb to last a lifetime. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Physiotherapy from the University of Otago in 1994 then moved to Rhode Island due to the United States Physical Therapy shortage. In 2003 while pursuing a Master of Science and Doctorate of Physical Therapy from Massachusetts General Hospital’s Institute of Health Care Professionals, Michelle became the owner of Performance Physical Therapy. Under Michelle’s leadership, Performance has grown to a practice with 13 locations in Rhode Island and Massachusetts and over 200 employees.
Michelle is an APTA member and serves as the chair of the private practice PR and Marketing committee. Performance Physical Therapy has received a number of awards over the years for its business success and philanthropy, the highlight being the recipient of the 2014 Jane L Snyder, Private Practice of the Year. She is a board-certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist
Read the full transcript below:
Karen: 00:00 Hey Michelle, welcome back to the cloud cast. I'm happy to have you back.
Michelle: 00:04 It's great to be here. Karen, thank you for having me.
Karen: 00:07 Of course. So today we're going to talk about outcomes, specifically outcomes within your clinic and with your patients. But I think before we get into the meat of this talk, I would love to hear from you what your definition of outcomes is.
Michelle: 00:24 Well, um, hopefully I'm not quoted by the Webster dictionary or anyone else out there, but for me in my practice is a physical therapist. To me, outcomes of the results that are numbers and they could mean practice management outcomes such as how many patients we see visits in an episode in here. They could be outcomes related to patient satisfaction such as your net promoter score or how many Google reviews did you get. Or they could also be clinical outcomes based on such things as the specific clinical outcomes means, Mitt measures that we use, whether it's related to the Oswestry or a disability scales. So those are just examples of some of the outcomes. But I think outcomes are like the results, tangible numbers of behind them. So you can actually give some, um, objective measures behind what these outcomes are.
Karen: 01:19 Right. And you S uh, I like that you kind of put those outcomes into different categories because when I hear outcomes I just get incredibly overwhelmed and think, well there's, there could be so many. Right? So thanks. No. So now we kind of have a defined how do we measure outcomes within our practice? And maybe you can give some examples of what you guys do, but is there, do you have any standardized ways that you are measuring these different outcomes?
Michelle: 01:50 So again, we can classify it into different ways and I will bring out one, one methodology actually is when it comes to practice management outcomes, that's something you hear often, especially with the benchmarking program that happens through the private practice section. We start looking at outcomes and using numbers to benchmark against each other. And those are things such as, um, how many, how many visits in an episode of care or how much revenue do you gain per patient visit? So these are things that are very much financial and operational defined and how you figure out business wise how well you're doing. So that's one side I'm going to flip to the other side, which I think is much more exciting to talk about for most people and that's actually our clinical outcomes. How good a job or how well are we doing when it comes to treating our patients?
Michelle: 02:47 And there's such a drive now to looking at our outcomes as far as our clinical outcomes and what does that truly mean? Does that mean that my practice or Misa physical therapists get someone better and less visits or at least amount of time or with more intervention or different combination when, how much better do we get someone? So the outcomes to me relate around time, which could also be actual number of visits or encounters and also is how much bitter someone gets. If I'm treating a runner and they, our goal is, Hey, I want to run a marathon in four hours, am I being sucks? Can I get them back to being able to do that? And can I do that just as well as not just the next physical therapist, but other fitness, health care provider, whoever that is. And how can these outcomes?
Michelle: 03:42 So how do measuring outcomes help to drive your practice? So I guess this is a really, what you're counting down to was the why. Why bother doing this? And so yeah, this is getting to the why, which is the most fundamental part is by measuring our outcomes and helps us differentiate. Now when we can differentiate ourselves, it makes it easier to do marketing and that marketing can, it can impact us in different ways. We can use it to market to get more patients. We can use it to negotiate, which is marketing messaging with a payer, whether that's an insurance company or whether someone's paying cash for services that we now have outcomes, which is data to help him messaging and differentiate, here's what I can do or my practice can do. Um, so I think there's many different levels, um, that it relates to, but it's all comes back to marketing and messaging and being able to differentiate and communicate to the consumer and will the payer about what our services can provide.
Michelle: 04:54 And can you give an example of how you, you and your practice might use your outcomes to market and you can choose if you want to market to a payer market to the general public, I'll let you choose. So we've done a whole bunch of things that our practice and hit a lot of success. Um, one is marketing and this is probably the easiest one for people to understand marketing to physicians. So with the data that we have, I can go to a physician [inaudible] physician group and say, Hey, here are end results. If you, when you refer a patient to us, we're going to get them this much theatre and here's what the national benchmarks are. So we're actually proving to you that we're going to get the results that you want and guess what? I can and we're actually gonna do it at least visits and what the national standards are.
Michelle: 05:51 Now I can compare as cells to um, we, I compare as to practice nationally or regionally or even over time. Look, we put these new systems in place or we started try needling or using this new blood flow restrictive therapy or whatever modalities or treatment methodologies we're using and say, because of this, now we're now we have the data to show how much better we're getting patients. And then for us it's actually really helped to Provo provide actually data to referral sources and they can actually say, Oh, so we're going to seam patients to you because you're actually going to provide solutions and get our patients better. It's not just about the fact that Oh, you've got more clinics or you are open on Saturday mornings and no one else is, or you had fancy equipment. I mean these are true differentiators, not just things we can do to make ourselves look better.
Michelle: 06:50 I think that's the big thing. I think, you know, years ago I always used to think that marketing and promoting your practice was just simply about relationships. And if people like you, they'll send you patients and patients like you, they'll come back to see you and all those. Although those things are true too a little bit when you've actually got the data behind you and really meant, helps you tell a story and say, Hey, this is why we should be treating your patients or to the general public. This is why you should be coming to physical therapy to help with your back pain or your ankle sprain or your pelvic health problem or your dizziness. You've got the numbers to show that we will get you better.
Karen: 07:31 Yeah, and I think it's great to use numbers because these are our facts, right? You're not fudging these numbers. This is the actual data that is coming out of your clinic. So I think it's great to be able to then instead of just have the data and say, Oh great, look what we did. But you want to use those outcomes in order to market your clinic.
Michelle: 07:56 Exactly. And I think the other nice side about it as when you're using the data to market, it actually changes the culture within your clinic and within your practice.
Karen: 08:07 That was literally my next question was how did outcomes affect that people working day to day in your practice?
Michelle: 08:13 Yeah, well I think it's really helped to make us practice and every visit make all of our clinicians and their patient care coordinators and our assistance and our exercise specialists realize, yes, we're very concerned about customer service and giving, um, you know, having beautiful clinics and all of these other aspects. But at the end of the day, we need to make sure that every moment we're spending with patients is designed to get them back to be doing the things they want to do in this got a show in the data. Yeah. And I think it's helped to really drive our clinic and the kind of care that we're providing. So it's not just about, Oh, I'll collect the data and now I'm going to get paid more by an insurance company. Or now people are going to come and see us or doctors or refer. It actually drives the culture within a clinic to ensure that you, I always feel like we've got rid of complacency which can sometimes creep and practices. Yeah. And how do,
Karen: 09:14 how do you use this, the outcomes data to kind of align with your vision or the or the mission of your practice? What would you say to other clinicians when it comes to aligning the data with the mission and vision?
Michelle: 09:30 Well, I think that's really a great point you bring up because people often say, well how do you know what to measure and why are you doing this? And I think it always starts with your strategic plan and figuring out, first of all, what is your purpose? Which is like your greater good. Why do you, why you in practice and what's it all about? And then thinking, okay, well then what's their, what's their mission, what are EMV values? And once you figured those things out, then you can challenge yourself and say, well how am I going to prove it and how am I going to measure it? So that when someone says to me, Oh, your purpose is about having a healthy, fulfilling the film happy community, and you're helping your community to be in that way, how are you going to truly measure that?
Michelle: 10:13 That's what you're doing? So I think you have to start with that strategic over powering, look at your vision, your mission, your values and names going on. How am I going to measure that and not the other way round. Mmm. We see like, yes, we're going to look after our community and then we're going to use innovative results given here and now it's like, well, how are we going to prove that? I'm like, the only way you can prove that you're getting results driven, innovative care is by showing the data because otherwise it's just talk [inaudible].
Karen: 10:48 Yeah, yeah. No, that's great. As you're saying this, I'm thinking about my mission for my company and like, Hmm, yeah, okay,
Michelle: 10:59 how am I going to measure this now? And it's not, you're not going to come up with it overnight and there's no perfect way to do it because this is quite a new area for physical therapists or we're only just part of this evolving healthcare environment where payments changing and with payment changes the messaging of how we're promoting what we do, but it is turning into much more a shift away from fee for service and much more to say like we're paying for the outcomes or the experience, not how many visits or how many units of charge per visit or how many visits and an episodic here we should be advocating improving our stamps for our outcomes. Neat. Good. The only way we can do that as some health, pulling out what clinical outcomes and how we're gonna measure those and basic jet.
Karen: 11:50 Yeah. And how do your outcomes from clinic aligned with
Michelle: 11:54 your vision and your mission? Like what is the mission of your clinic and how do you, how do your outcomes revolve around that? The way our mission is about providing innovative, results-driven, physical therapy services for a community. And the way that we measure the outcomes is that our goal is to get, use the hashtag better, faster. So we're all about getting people better, more better, and doing it in the least number of visits we possibly can. Now it's interesting because there's many practices out there, and I'm often challenged by this and this is where I butt heads with media, other people in private practice and like, but we get paid per visit. Why would you want to see people enlist visits? And I've had some really fun heated debates with some colleagues and peers over this Mike. But if we can do it and least visits, isn't that the right thing to do?
Michelle: 12:45 And then doesn't then allow us to advocate and, and, and prove ourselves and our value. And they're like, what? How can you afford to do that? Because you're basically sacrificing money because you're going to do it and least visits. So it's been a fun debate to have because we've had it now for many years. And I think the ties of changing, because I've been now in a position to actually go to payers and insurance companies and actually hit the data and say, look, we are doing at least visits. So let's talk about how we do some cost sharings. Let's talk about different ways to reimburse because we're doing it and at least visits and uncles to go to the outcomes to show that we're getting people just as bitter or more. That's really poor English with that. So I came up here. Yeah, that's okay. We get the gist of it.
Michelle: 13:35 So one of your outcome measures might be how many visits are in an episode of care? So we had the keys that we use, we use visits in an episode of care and the other one we use is the clinical more clinical um, change. So traditionally we've used photo focused on therapeutic outcomes of your system. Um, which has been great because that will, that will differentiate patients based on payer, um, diagnosis, body part, all of these things. So we can say, Hey, for a bag spine or all the Pedic on Euro or upper extremity, here's how, here's the change that we're getting in function and we can actually beat back and compare ourselves to other practices both in our region and nationally as well. You can do, it's an interesting time because now with MIPS and again I realized the assaults and people out there who don't know if MIPS are going to happen and we still don't have a lot of final rules, but again, we're still in with Mets. We're still using different, um, standardized clinical outcome tools that we're all very familiar with and I'm looking at opportunities to benchmark not just against it within their own practices, but between each other's practices as well.
Karen: 14:54 Yeah, I think that's great. I love looking at it that way of, of figuring out your mission and then how are you going to measure it and then taking those measurements and using it for a whole bunch of different things.
Michelle: 15:07 Well, I think that to me that's been the most interesting thing in our practice. It's, we've got this mission and a vision, which is what you have to start with. And your purpose. We've created the tools to measure it well. We've figured out what tools and how to measure it and it's, it's really helped evolve the culture of that practice. It's helped us with how we onboard our staff. It's helped us with how we recruit new people. It's helped us when we take on students. So it's had a big impact on every part of their practice. And, um, rather than just, you know, how just rather than just how we treat a patient, an everything embodied bodied, everything.
Karen: 15:47 That's awesome. And now you had mentioned photo and coming up in October, October 23rd to the 25th, and Knoxville, Tennessee is the outcomes summit. Uh, and you are one of the keynote speakers. So can you give us just a little sneak peek, a little taste of what your keynote speech is going to be about?
Michelle: 16:07 Well, so the keynote speak is all about on marketing with outcomes data, helping people understand the value, um, for outcomes data. When marketing your practice, I'll use my personal story because I think it helps to show that I'm, you know, really at the end of the day, just a little farm girl from a very remote part of the world. And um, so if, if I can use data to Mark it with anybody can, and I also like to talk a lot about the fear because I think there's a lot of fear out there. PTs are often scared. One of my deck data doesn't show what I want it to show.
Karen: 16:44 Right? Then what happens
Michelle: 16:46 then what happens? So yeah, that's like the million dollar question. And then what happens is people run away from fear and then they don't do it and so they're not moving forward. So I definitely had plenty of fears when I first started put up though the date and say what a for not as good as we think we are. Well, I find it interesting that it's really abandoned teach and if you're following what your purpose and your mission is and the results are going to happen because this changes all of the messaging and it impacts your entire culture. But I think it's a journey of how to address the fear of what if my data isn't as good as what I think it can be. Because when it comes to marketing, yeah, I can have beautiful brushers and amazing weird site. I can be open all different hours and think those things are going to differentiate me and they will a little bit.
Michelle: 17:37 But at the end of the day, I do think it comes back to data is the real differentiator and if you want to get serious about marketing and messaging what your practice does, and I think this goes, now I'm going to get on a, and this goes for our app proficiency as a whole and list were privy. At least we're proving that we really are the base caregivers for muscular skeletal and your a muscular disorders and diseases. Then we, you know, we're still lists, we're just not doing a good job, but at the moment like how do we differentiate ourselves from the other healthcare providers and fitness people out there who also say we'll take care of someone's back pain or help them get trained for a five K. so again, we have to, as a profession, as a whole, use that data and be comfortable using it to prove proven value.
Karen: 18:31 I love it and it sounds like it's going to be a great talk. So all of the people who are going to the outcomes, the clinical outcomes summit are in for real treat. Um, so that's awesome. Now, uh, before we, and here I have a one more question and that's what advice would you give to yourself as a new graduate? Fresh out of PT school. So that farm girl from New Zealand, she just graduated from PT school. What advice, knowing where you are now in your life and career, would you give yourself back then?
Michelle: 19:11 Oh my God, it's so much advice I would give. I think it would be about the key advice I would say is that your, we all have fear. We're all nervous of things. Whether it's, Oh, I'm going to make a mistake when I treat a patient or I'm going to have a practice that's not successful, or I'm going to open my mouth and sound like an idiot, but we're all gonna do it in. That's fine. And the only way to conquer those fears is just push through it and just keep, keep moving forward. So I think it would just be letting myself know at that shy Tinder age in my early twenties that, um, all the challenges that I had, just the same of everyone else's. And so yeah, just put on your big girl panties. They would say base the fears and move forward. Sorry.
Karen: 19:57 Great advice. And now where can people find you, whether it be on social media and or your clinic?
Michelle: 20:04 Um, so we have a multi clinic practice based out of Rhode Island with some clinics in Massachusetts as well. So performance ptri.com is our website and all their social media handles all reflect their performance. ptr.com P firstname.lastname@example.org. So, um, feel free to check out her website and we are you on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, all of those, all of those places.
Karen: 20:30 Awesome. Well, Michelle, thank you so much for coming back onto the podcast. I appreciate it. You gave me a lot to think about, so thanks so much. Thanks very much, Karen and everyone, thanks so much for tuning in. Have a great couple of days and stay healthy, wealthy, and smart.