PT Profile: Morgan Denny, DPT

Morgan Denny, DPT
Morgan Denny, DPT

Today we’re excited to welcome Morgan Denny DPT to our PT Profile Series. Morgan was born and raised in Omaha, NE and graduated PT School at University of Montana in 2006. She works with the STAND: The Haiti Project and enjoys playing on trails, traveling, and laughing so hard she can’t breathe. Read our interview with her below for some pretty valuable insights from a physical therapist who’s dedicated to making an impact on people’s lives.

What made you decide to become a PT?

Stumbling into the PT profession was a genuine stroke of luck. If the road down botany lane had involved more time in the woods and less time in the lab, I would likely be tromping through the Redwood forests counting stamens and checking out the amazing spore patterns on the back of fern leaves. Though I had fallen in love with the complexity of plants, I was yet to realize what a dance my brain would do once introduced to A&P! Western Washington University and the University of Montana guided me through the rest.

Is there an area of PT you’re particularly drawn to? 

Being a less-than-undercover detective is my favorite part of being a PT. And while I don’t look extra mysterious in a trench coat armed with a magnifying glass, I really enjoy the varying levels of complexity that each patient presents to you. The ability not only to understand how each joint, muscle, and nerve affect the actions of the other, but to integrate the systems at large! Our profession has long downplayed the psychological process of healing, the true physiology behind pain mechanisms, and the large role that nutrition and hormones can play in healing and in pain sensation. But these components fascinate me and I believe that I am a better Sherlock for it.

Tell us about STAND. How can PTs help/get involved?

STAND MIL

STAND (Sustainable Therapy And New Development) is a completely volunteer nonprofit organization that strives to improve the quality of life for the people of Haiti. There are two main goals that STAND is focused on: providing rehabilitative care to those with pain and disability AND creating Haitian specialists that can provide the same care, eventually rendering volunteer physical therapists in Haiti unnecessary.

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The volunteer groups are generally comprised of physical therapists, prosthetists, and orthotists. We treat patients in Port-de-Paix (NW Haiti) from dawn to dusk with every ounce of skill and wisdom we, as a group, possess. Our team addresses orthopedic issues (eg. chronic spine pain), neurological injuries (stroke or spinal cord injury), and pediatric cases; we treat chronic non-healing wounds and build arms and legs for amputees. While we can’t help everyone who walks through the door, we give everything we can to every case, whether it be following a tap-tap accident or shark attack. The crazy things we have seen while treating in Haiti are a book waiting to be written. I shall need a new pen name.

STAND’s motto is ‘Movement is life.’ This phrase rings true for every nation, but holds a particular poignance in relation to Haiti.

In the states, when you have pain or are injured, there are support structures: health care, insurance, disability pay, family to reach out to… If you can’t work, there are systems in place; if you can’t walk, you can take mass transit or use your smartphone to get work done. In Haiti, if you can’t walk, you’ve lost your independence and your participation in society. If you can’t work, your family will likely go hungry. Movement… is life!

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It continues to amaze me what a dramatic difference one solid manual therapy treatment can make in the life of my Haitian patients. People who practically stumble into the clinic, bent over as if they were checking out your shoes, can leave fairly upright with a giddy-up in their step. Many of these people have worked for years with pain or have had to stop working because of it. To provide them with relief not only brings them hope, but allows them to continue to be active members in their families and communities. This feels even more important and necessary to me within a country where people lack so many resources, where every little bit you can add to the proverbial pot really makes a difference.

We have a number of ways that people can get involved. Number one is fairly straightforward: volunteer with us in Haiti! I guarantee saying yes to this opportunity is one you will never regret. Number two: give us money. It doesn’t have to be your money per se, but STAND does rely on fundraising and donations in order to keep its clinic doors open and tables stocked with treatment supplies. We have many ways to get involved, just hit that magical Contact Us button on our website and we’ll see which option most suits you! Ok, I promise, that’s all the begging I’ll do in this post.

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What drew you to Haiti? 

Nothing necessarily drew me to Haiti specifically…though if I’d have known how much I like pikliz (spicy Haitian slaw), perhaps I would have a better answer for this question!

The older I’ve become, the less I want to just be a tourist. I love to interact, to learn, to be engaged. But it feels better to me when I can give something back. It is a privilege bigger than we perceive to simply have the ability, the permission, to travel. That is hard to appreciate until you have met amazing people around the world who do not have the ability to even leave their city, who have never seen the ocean that exists a mere 50km away, whose government will not issue them a passport for fear they will never return. I am a privileged person; so I should not only appreciate this, but also use it to positively affect others.

My involvement in Haiti, specifically, was a perfect mix of chance and timing. An opportunity arose and I jumped in with both feet! After four amazing treatment trips to Haiti, a few of us decided to start a new organization: STAND (Sustainable Therapy And New Development). We truly believe that building an effective rehabilitation profession in Haiti is the sustainable answer to Haiti’s lack of care, so now we are working hard to make this a reality.

Cofounder of STAND, Dr. Justin Dunaway PT DPT OCS

Additionally, working in Haiti has given me a new perspective on my skills as a physical therapist and has made me want to get better and learn more. Treating people who have never had access to any health care, ever, reminds me of the true breadth of my knowledge and skills. That statement sounds a bit egotistical, but really it’s a reflection of the fact that I am used to working in a society and culture that has access not only to medical care, but also information. In Haiti, I am the doctor, the nurse, the PT. All that I have are my hands and my brain. For many people, I am the last stop, the only stop, so I want to be good, as good as I can be.

How important do you think mentorship is when it comes to PT?

I’ve always felt that humanity and happiness are contingent upon hope. Envisioning a brighter tomorrow sounds so cliche, but I truly think that it’s this component that drives most of us (either that, or we still really want that gold star by our name). If we have no hope for the future, what is the point of driving forward? Hope generally inclines us to think that things are getting better, that we’re making progress. In this train of thought, it must be our innate goal that those that come after us are better than we are, that they have a leg up. Because physical therapy is what I know, it is my job to ascertain that every therapist around me, particularly the youngin’s, are better than I was at their age. It is only by passing on wisdom learned through experience and time that younger generations can start out on platforms more broad and solid, allowing them to make greater leaps and build taller ladders with more rungs. And it will be their job next. If we didn’t do this as a society, if mentorship didn’t exist, we would be bound to make the same mistakes and our growth as a whole would be slowed dramatically. So I guess that’s a fairly long winded way of answering: VERY.

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Do you think continuing education makes a difference for PTs? and their quality of work in the clinic with patients?

“If you’re not growing, you’re dying,” my partner in crime always says. And while I tend to believe that some homeostatic elements do exist, the phrase generally rings true…and makes him sound like a cute old curmudgeon! Stagnation is the direct route to apathy, disregard, and frustration. Everyone has experienced this ‘same shit, different day’ feeling. It sucks. But don’t dismay, there is hope; continuing education is the road of possibility. A good con ed class will present your brain with new ideas, allow your eyes to see the back alleys between major thoroughfares, connect those freeways with side roads, dirt roads, perhaps even introduce your train of thought to a new set of tracks! Basically, a good course will give you a new set of tools, both mental and physical, that will help you treat your patients more effectively and efficiently.

Part B: When you ask a patient what made their physical therapist good, I bet that the answers fall out like this:

  1. My therapist got me better, decreased my pain, etc
  2. My therapist really cared about me.

While I won’t delve into the matter of what actually does or doesn’t makes those two separate answers, I would focus on the second place winner. If you treat your patient with apathy, if it doesn’t seem to them that it matters to you what you’re doing…then it won’t.

Just say no to stagnation! And say yes to continuing education… What do you think, too long for a bumper-sticker? I think the NAIOMT logo would fit nicely. 😉

What are some of the changes you’d like to see made in PT in the next decade? How do you think those changes can be achieved?

This question could go on forever! In the bigger picture, I would like to see PTs step up, truly become primary care providers, be the first medical professional that gets called when someone has pain. But, with the ideation of making SMART goals (insert sly grin here), I will get specific. The change that I would like to see in the realm of PT is that our profession makes it standard practice to give back. We all became therapists because we wanted to help people, but we get so wound up and overworked by the system that we have ‘no time’ and ‘no energy’ to do anything beyond our 9 to 5 working lives. I believe that PTs should not only be encouraged, but required, to provide community service of some form in order to maintain their licensure. Whether it be a one week trip to Haiti to treat those without any care or one Friday each month working at a free clinic for the uninsured… it should be something!

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Think of the money that we all spend on con ed each year. What if those classes were a combo of learning and giving. What if we all could receive a certain number of CEUs via volunteer work each licensure cycle that go toward our state requirement? What if PT programs included a volunteer aspect as part of their psychosocial education segment?

During my trips to Haiti, I have learned to be a better manipulator, to trust my hands, to do cupping and introductory dry needling. One trip to Haiti (for an entire week with meals and everything!) costs about the same amount as completing 2 – 3 two day con ed courses. And I will likely change the lives of hundreds of people.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not at all against continuing education (in fact, I’m a bit of a junkie), but I believe that it can take many forms. And we, as physical therapists harbor the skills that so many people could benefit from, only don’t have the access to. This could become a particularly important conversation as many clinics shy away from treating medicare patients and move towards cash pay systems. The underserved population will only grow. If a requirement, some standard of volunteerism, existed within our profession, at least some of these people would perhaps have access to the care that they need, the care that we have the skills to give them!

In reality, I believe that aspects like volunteerism should be part of our cultural norm. But until they are, I believe that PTs need step up and make it part of our profession’s standards.

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