PT Profile: Gary Kearns, PT, COMT, FAAOMPT

In this PT Profile we’re excited to introduce you to Gary Kearns, PT, COMT, FAAOMPT. Gary graduated in 2002 from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) with his MPT, followed up with NAIOMT coursework and completed our fellowship program in 2010. He’s currently completing his Doctor of Science (ScD) at TTUHSC and practices in an outpatient clinic in Dallas, TX, where he’s also an Education Coordinator. Let’s ask him a few questions, shall we?

Gary Kearns, PT, COMT, FAAOMPT
Gary Kearns, PT, COMT, FAAOMPT

Why did you choose PT as a career?

My freshman year of high school I broke my ankle sliding into second base.  Once things were healed my doctor told me to go to PT to begin rehab.   I had never heard of physical therapy before, but was always interested in how the human body worked.  I had a great experience and was instantly hooked.  The depth of my PT’s knowledge and how he was able to answer my questions and make a complex concept very simple to a teenager was awe inspiring.  I consider myself blessed that I knew from such an early age that PT is what I wanted to do for a living.

Is there a specific area of PT you’re particularly drawn to/enjoy doing?

Manual therapy and orthopedics.  The aspect I love the most about orthopedics and manual therapy is that every patient is unique and will pose various challenges.  You can never place yourself on autopilot.

What has surprised you about PT so far?

The amount of marketing that goes into driving referrals.  This was something that I either completely missed in PT school or it wasn’t addressed.  When I first graduated I naively assumed quality service and outcomes would translate into referrals.  Not so, unfortunately.  I used to hate having to market to physicians until I came across an orthopedist that treated me as a colleague and enjoyed teaching.  From that point on I always try to use my time interacting with physicians to pick their brains and learn as much as a I can, rather than feeling like all I’m doing is begging for referrals.

Tell us about a PT-related challenge you’ve faced so far and how you worked through it.

Nothing specific comes to mind, but we all certainly have challenges that frustrate us at some point in PT school or while we’re clinicians.  The common theme amongst these questions seems to be mentors and mentoring.  In retrospect, I could have made things so much easier on myself if I would have leaned a little more on mentors or colleagues along the way when I was faced with a roadblock.

Do you teach or participate in PT continuing education and/or learning new manual therapy techniques? Why?

Yes on all accounts.  Part of my role within our company is to coordinate and teach as part of our New Graduate Mentorship Program where we meet 2 hours a week for nearly the entire first year to aid in trouble shooting problem cases, facilitating a transition from academic to clinical reasoning and, most importantly, not have them feel like they’re thrown to the wolves without having someone they can turn to for mentoring.

Recently, I’ve developed a dry needling curriculum and have had the opportunity to teach it for our company’s Dallas Fort Worth market.

Part of what it takes to be successful is to be very self-reflective.  You have to identify holes you have in your tool bag and then seek out whatever will best fill that hole.  Whether it’s a new manual therapy technique, pain science, radiology, motor control, etc, PTs will never be at a loss to better what we have to offer our patients.

Do you have any influential mentors? Are you currently mentoring someone? How important do you think the role of mentorship plays in the PT field?

Absolutely.  The two biggest that come to mind are Michael Lucido and Phil Sizer.  To put it bluntly, I was lost orthopedically and manual therapy was an after-thought.  Michael Lucido took me under his wing over a decade ago and guided me to the NAIOMT curriculum.  He served as my primary fellowship instructor and I get the pleasure of working with him on a daily basis.  He told me a long time ago that if you really want to learn something, be it a technique or a concept, learn it so well that you can teach it.  That continues to light my fire for learning and teaching.

Phil Sizer was my orthopedics instructor in both PT school and now the ScD Program at TTUHSC and I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone with such a heart and passion for teaching.  Needless to say, it’s refreshing having known him for over 15 years and seeing that, if anything, he’s more excited and passionate about our profession today than 15 years ago.  He’s served as a mentor and role model for me becoming interested in teaching and revealing the science behind becoming an effective instructor.

In addition to leading the weekly New Grad Mentorship Program for our company, I usually take a 3-4 PT students each year.  Mentorship plays such an integral role in fostering development of both PT students and clinicians at any level.

What are some of the changes you hope can be made within PT in the next decade?

Texas, unfortunately, is one of the remaining states that does not have true direct access.  I’d love to see direct access and having PTs be first contact providers be the norm.  With the medical model being what it is, we’re one of the few health care providers that get to spend time with our patients and listen to their stories.  I envision PTs taking on a triage-type role where we can treat patients that are appropriate for our care or direct them to the health care provider that would serve their needs the best.  In the next decade, health care in general must get more efficient in caring for our patients to cut down on unnecessary office visits and testing.

What is it that makes you a PT worth seeing?

God has truly blessed me and put me in a position to come across so many interesting patients over the years and walk along with them in their rehabilitation.    What we do isn’t just a job or a paycheck.  I feel like every patient that comes through the door is an opportunity to make a connection and pass on the blessings God has given me and the wisdom all of my mentors have imparted to me.

What advice would you give to new physical therapists and students about to embark on their careers?

Your learning and education truly starts once you graduate and pass the licensure exam.  Your entire career will be an ever evolving process of learning, but don’t be worried if you don’t know the answer.  One of my professors always joked that your career is an open book test.  Jump in, hit the ground running and don’t be afraid to fail.  Our profession has a way of humbling you through your failures, but it’s in those failures that you learn some of the most important lessons that allow you to grow into the clinician you’re destined to be.

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