A Day in the Life of a Physical Therapist

A Day in the Life of a Physical Therapist

In a typical day, Debby Compton might see patients from the age of 2 to 102. Her duties related to each patient can vary as greatly as the individuals themselves.

Compton is a physical therapist and the director of rehabilitation services for Van Wert County Hospital & Therapy Solutions, which is owned by the hospital and Vancrest Health Care Centers.

In one day, Compton might help a child with motor development, teach an adult to walk with crutches following an accident and assist an elderly person in getting back to the point of walking following a hip or knee replacement – and that would be just 3 patients. Compton generally sees around 10 people every day who need physical therapy.

“I have a set schedule of where I’m supposed to be and I have a few meetings that are at certain times every week, but my day is different every day,” Compton commented.

Compton generally starts her day at 8 a.m. For the next four hours, she typically sees at least four patients, spending about an hour with each. In between, she must also document the patient’s treatment – including things like what exercises they completed, pain levels and treatment goals.

Some of the common reasons outpatients need physical therapy are shoulder or back problems, the need to work on walking more independently, or recovery from a sports or work injury. Such injuries could be torn rotator cuffs or ACL’s, a broken ankle or a dislocated elbow.

“We’re working on getting them back to their sport or job quickly, but safely,” said Compton.

Sometimes, Compton sees patients for neurological reasons, like if they had a stroke or head injury.

Physical therapists use many exercises and tools to improve a patient’s range of motion, strength, endurance, balance, coordination and motor function. A patient might be “prescribed” general exercises using their own body weight, latex bands (or Thera-bands), cuff weights, dumbbell weights, Swiss (commonly known as stability) balls, “peanut” balls, a treadmill, a stationary bicycle and/or a stair stepper.

“We do a lot of exercise with your own body and Thera-bands, because we can send bands home with people,” said Compton. “We always have people do things at home because, pretty much with this type of stuff, if you don’t do it everyday, you’re not going to get better.”

Even though a patient may not recognize why they have to be able to lift their leg straight up in the air 10 times at first, the seemingly simple exercise can be very important.

“We try to make things as functional as we can. Hardly anybody has a house where you don’t have a step to get into it. Do they need to be able to do those 10 reps – no – but they need to have the strength to be able to lift their leg up to step up into their house,” said Compton. “We try to think about what the patient really needs to do and cater their therapy towards that.”

In the afternoon, Compton tends to managerial duties, when she has time.

“If I don’t have time, it’s because we have inpatient evaluations and I head over to the hospital,” said Compton.

At the hospital, Compton evaluates patients who have generally just had surgery. Most commonly, they have had a total hip or total knee replacement, or are debilitated from an illness like pneumonia.

“We look at ‘what does the patient need to be able to get out of the hospital.’ That could be working on their strength, endurance, balance or helping them decide if they should go home or not,” said Compton.

Sometimes, the physical therapist makes the determination that the patient can learn to use a walker and go home. In some cases, the person may need other adaptations, like a raised toilet seat. Other times, it may not be practical or safe for them to go home if they can’t do certain things on their own, or especially if they need 24-hour assistance.

“We’re mainly trying to help them get home, but if they can’t go home, we figure out what’s safe for them,” said Compton. “If it’s not safe, maybe we’ll decide they’ll go to a skilled nursing facility for two to four weeks before going home.”

Following her day with Therapy Solutions, Compton heads over to Foster Family Chiropractic for more outpatient care. There, she sees people who generally have orthopedic problems like lower back or neck pain.

For both in and outpatient care, physical therapists can also do wound care. That can be helping to decide how to wrap an injured area or what ointments to apply. Compton admits it’s not her most favorite part of her job, but still enjoys taking care of the patient.

Of course, being a part of health care means some weeks there may not be an “end of the work week.” Compton and other physical therapists take regular turns being on call for inpatient care over the weekends. Yet, in the end, it is all worthwhile.

“I really like being a therapist because I like helping people and helping them get better,” said Compton. “And I enjoy the problem-solving and teaching parts of therapy.”

Courtesy of All Healthcare

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