How to contribute to the future as a physical therapist.
Young Chicagoans participating in UCAN programs not only have big dreams – they also have the drive and the support to make them come true, no matter the depth of challenges they face. Case in point: Lataveya Williams, who recently ventured to the UIC Physical Therapy Faculty Practice, part of the College of Applied Health Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago to explore her dream of working in physical therapy. She sat down with Dr. Justin Payette, who heads up the sports residency program in the Department of Physical Therapy as its director.
Please watch the brief introductory video, then read the full interview. You’ll not only learn a lot about pursuing a career in physical therapy – you’ll discover how UCAN really does plug young people into The Power of Potential.
Lataveya Williams: Why did you decide to go into physical therapy?
Justin Payette, PT, DPT, SCS, CSCS: A number of things led me into the field – some previous family history, including a few people in my family who have physical disabilities, like my mom and a couple of my uncles. I wanted to contribute with my career to society.
But also, with my experience in high school and college, playing sports, having injuries, some that didn’t go quite as well as I’d hoped, I wanted to be able to give opportunities to others that I didn’t get. I wanted to help other athletes get back on the field, get back to the things that they love to do.
LW: What other kind of physical therapists are there besides sports therapists?
JP: There are a number of different kinds, different settings that you can treat in as a therapist.
There are hospital-based settings, where you might be working in acute care with someone right after surgery. There’s inpatient rehab, where people go after they are in the hospital, but they’re not ready to go home and they need intensive therapy. There are therapists that work in nursing homes, therapists that work in schools.
So, there are lot of different areas you can specialize in as a therapist. Mine is sports, but you can specialize in neurologic physical therapy, geriatrics, pediatrics, orthopedics and so forth.
LW: What are the pros and cons of working in physical therapy?
JP: There are a lot of pros, which is part of why I love what I do. There’s the opportunity to make an impact in someone’s life, usually when they are injured. You have an opportunity to walk alongside them, to really get to know your patients and get invested in their lives. You can help them make some of the physical changes that they want to make so they can do what they love to do, whether it’s playing a sport, being able to pick up their grandchildren, or just walking to the store.
LW: What advice would you give a person my age who is interested in a career in physical therapy?
JP: The tough part about it is that it is a very competitive field to get into. It seems a little cliched, but you need to really stay on top of your grades. And you should shadow different therapists, so you understand what you’re getting in to. It’s pretty rigorous once you’re in a program, so make sure you really want to do it.
LW: Can you tell me the difference between a physical therapist and a physical therapist’s assistant?
JP: A physical therapist will go to school for four years of undergrad and three years of grad school, traditionally. Most schools now offer a Doctor of Physical Therapy – you come out as a physical therapist with a physical therapy license.
As a PTA, or physical therapy assistant, there’s far less schooling. You get a two-year associate degree as a physical therapy assistant, which is a different program.
As far as the responsibilities and things that you get to do as a physical therapy assistant, versus a physical therapist – you don’t get to adjust the plan of care, perform the initial evaluation, some of those key things. But, day to day as a physical therapy assistant, you’re able to do many of the same things as far as treatment goes.
LW: Finally, why do you think physical therapy will be important in the future, and how do you think it will change?
JP: That’s a great question. I think it will always be important. There will always be folks trying to get back to doing what they want or need to do after an injury or surgery. And the field is ever-changing – there are so many different venues happening, whether it be telehealth, or doing therapy intervention over video to areas that are rural or hard to get to. It is something that continues to evolve, but physical therapy is also something will always be needed.
LW: Thank you very much, Dr. Payette.
Other interviews by UCAN youth, recommended for your reading:
The future of social justice: An interview with U.S. Senator Ricard Durbin, by Isabel Gaspar
How young people can get into finance: An interview with Kourtney Gibson, President of Loop Capital Markets, by Yusef Aljabri
How to become a veterinarian: An interview with Dr. Aaron Jackson of MedVet, by Taylor Kerr