Head-shot-park-700x466 What It Means to be a Woman in Physical Therapy

On Saturday September 23, 2017, Rehab Alternatives will be sponsoring the inaugural Women in Physical Therapy Summit organized by Dr. Karen Litzy, PT, Dr. Sandy Hilton and Erica Meole.

I recently reached out to Karen to inquire about the origin of her inspiration.   As CEO of Rehab Alternatives years, and a practicing PT for many decades, I’m always interested in learning of individuals, especially women, who take a leadership role in their career as well as their community.  For the Women in PT Summit, Dr. Litzy and her team curated a group of speakers with extensive roots in the healthcare and entrepreneurship.

Dr. Litzy remarked to me that she’d observed a lack of female representation in the PT profession including diminished participation and conferences, discussion forums ranging from panel discussions to social media, and, overall, a sense that women were less likely to be though of as leaders in the profession.   

In the press release for the event Dr. Litzy stated: “Our goal is to amplify our collective voices to break down the traditional female archetypes in physical therapy and show that women in the profession are, and can be, meaningful leaders in their clinics, universities, communities and beyond.”

As I contemplate Dr. Litzy’s words, I naturally reflect on the earliest stages of my career, working in acute care hospital in the Bronx.  At that time, I often wondered if I was physically capable of managing the weight of totally dependent paraplegics, quadriplegics, CVA patients, and amputees, including those in the bariatric population.  I wondered if my job would be that much easier to perform if I were a man, six inches taller and that much stronger.  With limited availability of transport aides and rehab departments often operating short staffed, I found myself performing maximum assists of two on my own, barely able to negotiate the transfer from wheelchair to bed, or mat.  Back strains were not uncommon.  Some of those early injuries taught me painful lessons about respecting my own limitations that I carry to this day. 

As experience took hold I realized that with the proper planning, enhanced core strength and amped up body mechanics, I was able to work just fine in my woman’s body.  I learned to adapt within my limitations, which opened up another perspective: perhaps experiencing my own limitations in this way may be just a little more nurturing and empathetic to my patients. 

I have always believed that women posses an innate ability to connect on a level that may not be natural for men. In providing PT services, understanding and compassion bring us closer to our patients. Yet maintaining boundaries is essential to excellent therapeutic outcomes.  We are required to motivate and push our patients, while demonstrating empathy as they re-learn their new body schema. If this dance between the physical and emotional is performed well by both clinician and patient, the clinical and life outcomes can  be outstanding.   

Furthering my career as Founder and CEO of Rehab Alternatives, PLLC, I found the hurdles to be tenfold of that which I’d experienced as a practicing clinician. Despite years of training on clinical, business and financial fronts, my knowledge and skill as a businesswoman felt diminished each time I walked into a room of “suits.”  Contracts nearing close would be handed to a male competitor with half the proven skills set or ability that my company and I had demonstrated.  As the trend progressed, I overheard back door comments insinuating a negativity and prejudice that had no merit or basis whatsoever. 

It takes hard work and firm determination to overcome prejudice, whether in regards to race, color, gender, religion or – closing deals.  And as any agile business person knows, you pivot and adapt to the nature of the landscape to do what’s necessary to grow.  While this may not be the solution to overcome social or political prejudice, business doesn’t adhere to the same set of strict ideologies. 

Our mission is to create meaningful work for the healthcare community – and as a result, we provide care to tens of thousands of community members annually.  To accomplish this, we engage hundreds clinicians, who provide care 7-days a week.  I believe our services are invaluable, and yet concurrently, I’m forced to acknowledge that sometimes, certain client contracts will be better closed and/ or managed male counterparts in my employ.  It’s a disappointing feeling, no doubt.  But I’ve learned to stay focused on the end game, and towards that end, I am willing to compromise with myself for the betterment of those who will receive quality care from clinicians I can vouch for. 

Having recently attended the Zimmett conference on nursing home reimbursement, it was apparent that the SNF industry is completely male dominated.  Yet, with thousands of female PT success stories waiting to be told, the Women in Physical Therapy Summit struck me as precisely the opportunity to support a forum in which these stories – and their potential to influence others, can resonate. 

After seventeen years in business, I believe my company and I have earned a reputation as a leader.  Sure, the “old boys club” philosophy may prevail in some places, but women like Dr. Litzy, PT will inherently drive growth and interaction not just in healthcare, but in the greater social structures in which we operate.  Any effort in this regard I find inspiring, and worth supporting because it servers as a reminder that, in the end, we’re caregivers in an industry whose true measurement for success isn’t profit but positive outcomes.