Today we welcome Nashville, Tennessee physical therapist Leah Sawyer, originally from Southern Oregon. She’s a passionate PT dedicated to learning and growing in our profession, and ultimately, of course getting people better. Below, Leah shares a little of her background, followed by her answers to a few of our PT Profile questions. ~
I spent the better part of my childhood playing soccer, running, riding horses, and generally sustaining some sort of athletic-related injury. This early experience with physical therapy gave me an appreciation of the human body and an innate curiosity for rehabilitation science. I consider myself lucky because I knew what I wanted to do at a young age.
I earned a Bachelor of Arts in Human Biology at Stanford University in 2007. During my undergraduate career I ran cross country and track as a walk on athlete. Although I frequently felt in over my head, my experience competing with such talented women allowed me to experience a level of performance that I would have never thought possible.
In 2009 moved across the country to pursue a Doctorate of Physical Therapy at Duke University. I liked the reputation of Duke’s program with its emphasis on critical thinking and evidence based practice. During graduate school I completed my first half ironman and put my Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) education to use as a part time, personal trainer. In 2012 I settled in Nashville to pursue my goal of providing hands on physical therapy to an outpatient population.
Since then I have continued to add valuable knowledge and skills to my practice. I have taken advanced courses in Trigger Point Dry Needling, ASTYM, and pursued numerous other courses covering the most up to date manual therapy techniques. In November 2015 I will become certified as a Complete Lymphedema Therapist.
Professionally, I strive to provide individual patient centered care, emphasize preventative education, maintain my status as a lifelong learner, and contribute to an effective, cost efficient health care system.
In my free time I enjoy cycling, swimming, cooking, reading, rock climbing and exploring the greater Nashville area. I also enjoy spoiling my cats and boyfriend, in that order
What made you decide to become a PT?
I consider myself somewhat lucky in that I ALWAYS knew I wanted to be a PT. I was a pretty athletic little kid, as was/is my mother, so we were both constantly battling some sort of athletic related injury. I found it fascinating how the body could heal itself and how we could change and facilitate that process. In high school I was always reading some sort of “running injuries” book and trying to help my teammates treat their shin splints, knee pain, etc.
Is there an area of PT you’re particularly drawn to?
I want to do it all! I’ve been told “you can do it all, just not at the same time” so I’m trying to remind myself of that.
My main focus right now is becoming really, really good at orthopedic manual therapy. I graduated in 2012 so while I am proud of the skill set I have built, it can sometime frustrating to realize how much I have to learn, practice, and experience.
I’m getting my CLT (Certified Lymphedema Therapist) training in November and I’m really excited about that. It’s a vastly underserved population and we can really do a lot for those patients.
One day, I’d love to get my CHT and treat some hands. Vestibular rehab is also on the docket.
Your Twitter profile says “My intent is to help others make informed, evidence based decisions about their healthcare and well being.” How do you go about doing that in your work?
I have a 1-2x weekly blog covering various topics, and I also have a website with some informative descriptions and links on it. Most importantly though, I make patient education a focus during all of my treatment sessions. I see patients for an hour. I know that what I do with my hands in that hour is very important, however, what about the other 23hrs of the day?
How can PTs help spread the knowledge that getting PT first can save time and money for all involved, and still be effective in most cases?
As a profession, we are so bad at this! I think about this all the time. As INDIVIDUALS, we need to become more vocal in stepping up and educating the public on what we do and how we can help them. Take ownership and pride in what you do. Be humble, but don’t be quiet. I saw a Linked in Post a few weeks back encouraging PTs to start using the hastag #ThereisPTforthat–I think that is so clever. If you work for a POPs or in a hospital setting and feel uncomfortable posting about this topic via social media, tell your friends and family. I’ve been a PT for 4 years and I think my family is just now starting to understand what I do. My uncle went to an ortho physician who diagnosed him with arthritis of the wrist. He gave him NSAIDs and told him to stop playing tennis. I took a 60 second look at it and told him he had De Quervain’s, explained what that was, and showed him some exercises. He was totally blown away, as is now back to playing tennis and stopped taking his meds. He is a believer in PT and tells all of his friends. Just spread the word! #ThereisPTforthat
Do you think it’s important for PTs to have mentors?
Um…YES! Professional mentors, personal mentors, business mentors, life mentors! As many mentors as possible! We are a profession of individuals who strive to be better all the time, and there are only so many hours in the day to gain experience. Let other people share their experience with you. Let’s push each other to be better, but let’s pull each other as well!
Do you think manual therapy continuing education makes a difference for PTs? Do you think it can affect their quality of work in the clinic with patients?
It just depends how you want to spend you money and time, and what you expect for yourself.
What are some of the changes you’d like to see made in PT in the next decade?
It seems like PT careers are moving in two divergent paths–one either has to be adept at seeing 18+ patients per day with high measures of productivity, or one has to be so skilled at what they do that patients are willing to pay out of pocket to see them. I hope that we move toward that later path as much as possible. To be quite honest, I’m not sure how we can get there as a whole profession. I can tell you that I will do everything in my power to get there myself, though!
I’d also like to see trigger point dry needling taught in school and become a standard inclusion in our scope of practice. We are currently battling this in Tennessee.
Do you have a motto or mantra when it comes to your approach to care?
Move well, live well, be well!