As brand new PT students, some of us know exactly where and with what population we want to work with. This was not the case for me. In fact, I had a hunch that maybe I would work in geriatrics or with dancers, but I always had an open mind. I have always loved kids but to be very honest with you, I did not think that I would work with kids every single day. So you may be wondering how I ended up in the pediatric world, and here is my story.
I was sitting in class as a first year student in my doctor of physical therapy program at Elon University. I quickly developed a liking for this man who sat behind me in class- enter Doug (my boyfriend of 4 years for those who are new around here). We became best friends and I found myself talking with him during our 10-minute breaks at school. He told me during one of these breaks that he had to go to Abe's after school. I am immediately wondering who Abe is and what Doug is doing with him. Doug explained that Abe is a 10-year-old boy with cerebral palsy and that he spends time with him a couple times a month. He asked for me to join him next time.
Sure, why not? I enjoy kids, so I'm thinking this should be fun. But he mentioned something about cerebral palsy and I had NO idea what it was at that point. So we get to Abe's house and I meet him and his sweet family. After talking with him and his family, I find out that cerebral palsy is a neurological diagnosis that affects movement and function. Abe had a stroke around the time that he was born, and as an effect, his right arm and leg are not quite as strong as the left side. I learn that Abe goes to school and plays just like every other child, but he has difficulties with certain tasks due to his cerebral palsy. Abe's family is happy to bring me onto their team to be one of his "helpers", as they called us, like Doug has been doing. I agree since I loved spending time with them.
So I spend about 4-5 days per month (or really whenever I had the time outside of school) with Abe. Our job was to help him after he got home from school to finish homework, be active and strengthen his right side, and get ready for bed. My initial thought with this job is that I would learn a lot about strengthening and conditioning. But there was an eye opening part of this job that allowed me to enter into this world of pediatric early intervention.
As I continue with this job of being Abe's helper, I realize that my main focus is NOT on squats, jumping jacks, or bicep curls. My job is to help Abe with everyday tasks in his natural environment. I learn that Abe's biggest challenges are with part of his everyday routine, and that's where I wanted to make a difference.
Here are a couple examples. Abe struggled with homework. He had a difficult time holding a ruler with his right hand while he drew a line with his left (dominant) hand. He struggled with holding a fork with his right hand and cutting with his left. It took him more time and focus to learn how to ride a bike to the park. So these are activities that I focused on improving when I spent time with him. I realized that I can make a huge impact in kids lives if I can help them in their home with everyday tasks that are hard for them.
What Abe Taught Me
Abe and his family have made an enormous impact in my life. They have taught me what it is like to have a child with physical challenges. He has not only taught me how to make kids stronger, faster, and more coordinated, but how to adapt when a task is too hard. He has taught me that kids learn best in their natural environment. I decided that I wanted to help kids where it matters and is functional for them. He also taught me that kids have a large chunk of my heart. From the minute I met Abe, I felt an immediate connection that I feel with all other kids that I work with. Last but most certainly not least, he taught me that there is SO much more for me to learn. All kids are different and have unique challenges. Not one case of cerebral palsy is the same, and I have something to learn about each one, and all other pediatric diagnoses out there.
The Rest of PT School
After I started watching Abe, I start changing my mind about my career path and think that maybe my calling is in pediatrics. To learn more about my interests and strengths as a PT, I chose to do an outpatient clinical in pediatrics. I happened to have the best clinical instructor out there and learned a lot about myself and pediatrics, which made me want to continue pursuing this direction. I spent my last clinical at UNC Children's Hospital learning more about the pediatric world of PT and fell in love even more. I had a great pediatrics professor at Elon who convinced me that I can do it and more importantly, I can do it directly out of PT school!
The Journey to Finding a Job
A pediatrics PT job is hard to find directly after graduating from a PT program. Most companies and hospitals want to hire PTs with at least a couple of years of experience and even more credentials to their names. But once I realized my calling is in pediatrics, I did not want a job in any other setting. A wonderful professor reached out to me and mentioned that Angela from Everyday Kids is looking for an employee and asked if she could give her my contact information. I said yes!
I had Reservations
I went to my interview with Angela (my now boss) and she explained the early intervention and home health world to me. This sounded exactly like something I would love, but I was nervous. As a new graduate, I would be going into homes alone with no one to immediately fall back on if I didn't know an answer. What if I made a fool of myself? What if I knew less than I thought I did? What if there is no opportunity to have a mentor? These were questions that I pondered during and after my interview.
The Perfect Fit
Angela had more faith in me than I did. She reassured me that I could do this. I observed with her for a couple days before going out on my own. In these couple days, I developed strength and confidence that this is where I am meant to be. This is what I am called to do. My heart is in pediatrics, and Abe taught me a lot about helping kids in their home. I realized that I can make a difference in this world, and God called me here to this moment. I accepted the job and have enjoyed every moment since then. I am constantly learning and seeking out research and advice to improve myself. This job is challenging and demanding, but I wouldn't want it any other way.
If You're Struggling with Career Choice
If you don't know where God is calling you at the moment, give it time. Good things happen all in the right timing. We are all in this world for a purpose and part of our journey is to figure out this purpose. I am so glad I've figured out my calling, and I cannot wait for you to figure out yours. Keep the faith and stick to what you love!