APTA Michigan Lines is a blog to promote collaboration between professionals and students of the physical therapy profession in Michigan.

The goal is to create a space where individuals from many backgrounds can share knowledge and experiences with each other and the community.

We would love to hear from you about a topic you are passionate about. Posts are submitted by individuals and reviewed for posting. You can submit yours by emailing new blog items to contact@aptami.org


 

The Golden Retriever

                A long time ago in some undergraduate psychology class I vaguely remember taking a personality survey designed to best match an animal to your personality characteristics. One look at the title above and you can guess what mine was. My qualities of dedication, focus, playfulness, and loyalty forever cemented my place as…well a dog apparently. In all seriousness though I should have realized these qualities for what they were at that time, a prediction of my future role as a clinician and a leader.

                There is a reason golden retrievers are one of the preferred breeds as leader dogs for those with vision impairments or disabilities. This breed is caring when needed, but also committed and focused to accomplish a particular task and ensure safety. Golden retrievers are loyal beyond all else and exhibit a playful yet modest demeanor that cements them as a quiet leader. I possessed these similar qualities years ago and somehow have refined them over the years to carry over into my personal clinical and leadership style. How do you refine qualities similar to a leader dog and employ them in the world of physical therapy you ask? Well, let me try to explain.

Before I delve into this rabbit hole let me first say that this leadership style is by no means the best and is certainly not for everyone or every setting. This also is not intended to be a self-help guide; this is merely how I have evolved to think about leading over the last several years. One of the main reasons golden retrievers make good leader dogs is they listen. They patiently wait for a signal, noise, or action from their master to then quietly initiate a response. A quiet leader is quiet because they listen first. Listening to the verbal and non-verbal signals presented by others will enable you to understand their emotions, motivations, and fears. When people know they are being heard it helps diminish their stress reaction and introduce real communication.

Second, quiet leaders just like golden retrievers are genuine. A quiet leader believes in who they are and what they do. Confidence is equally important whether leading a person with a visual impairment across a busy street, or leading a department during a global pandemic. Any amount of hesitancy certainly will result in disaster, so the quiet leader calmly picks up the leash and their head and marches out. This does not mean you are always headed the right direction (even dogs get this wrong), but it means the people behind you will follow even if they are not sure because they trust you. This trust is not built solely on experience or skill, but on loyalty, focus, and dedication.  I have spent a lot of time over the past few years NOT reading leadership books. Instead, I read books on vulnerability, late bloomers, and the power of introverts.  These topics help me understand myself better as well as understand how to think the best of the patients and staff I work with. Knowing people and being intuitive help me motivate my patients and those I work with to get the best results.

Lastly, a quiet leader much like the golden retriever does not necessarily have to be quiet or silent.  The quiet is not a reflection on sound but more so calm, simple, and restrained. When danger lies ahead, the golden retriever might let out a short but emphatic bark to warn of an incoming threat. When necessary, even a quiet leader will give succinct direction, or speak forcefully to best advocate for their cause.  This action is only used though when imminent risk is present and immediate direction is needed. The rarity of utilizing your words in this way lends weight to them. When I bark, people generally listen because they know it must be important.

Well there you have it, my life as a leader dog. Ironic as it may seem, I really feel this is the best way to describe the style of quiet leadership. Even if you’re not officially in a leadership position, I can guarantee you that everyone is a leader to their patients. You are guiding them away from pain, towards recovery, strength, and independence. There are a lot of books on leadership, and I really could tell you I have not read that many of them. What I can ask you though is to think of people who you admire and follow, how do they inspire you? Now think of that golden retriever, who listens, is confident, calm, direct, and patient. I would follow that leader into a busy street, or a new project, or a global pandemic. Be the quiet leader that sets an even tone every day. Be a leader that listens first and waits patiently for a sign to act. Be the leader that is genuine and confident enough to be calm amidst chaos. Be the leader that is the role model for the ideal member of the group. Why not be a golden retriever?

               

 


Riding the Pine

Not familiar with the phrase? It is an expression in sports that refers to being on the bench…being on the sidelines and not having the chance to get in the game and contribute to the team’s effort.

I have found myself thinking a lot lately about my days playing basketball in high school. Those who know me may be shocked to know that yes, indeed, I played varsity basketball in high school. At 5’8 ¾” first thing in the morning when my intervertebral discs have been hydrating all night, “basketball player” is not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of me. And by “play basketball”, I really mean lots of playing in practice. And even when I got to play during the last few minutes of those games when we were crushing the opposing team, I missed a lot of shots and had several turnovers. There was a reason I was a pine rider.

So I got good at helping my teammates in practice to prepare for games and cheered them on, especially when the game was close or when we were losing. “Let’s go Blue!”  But I spent a lot of time riding the pine and enduring the frustration and disappointment that goes with it. I thought those days were long behind me.

Then came COVID-19.

My full-time employment is as an Associate Professor in a DPT program, and I try to squeeze in as many clinical hours as I can in my favorite practice setting: cardiothoracic critical care. I am blessed to have my academic office across the street from a large academic quaternary care cardiovascular hospital that offers the full complement of heart/lung transplant, mechanical circulatory support, and other services.

For those who know how little cardiopulmonary content I got in PT school and the dumb cardiopulmonary mistakes I made early in my practice, you would be surprised to learn that I now consider myself a “critical care PT”. And now, just as in high school, during the big COVID-19 “game”, I am riding the pine.

But here is where the COVID-19 pandemic and high school basketball are different. COVID-19 is not a game. It is life and death, and is leaving a wake of destruction in patients’ lives and the lives of health professionals. I am not in the game not because of lack of skill (or height), but because the pandemic has decimated employment opportunities for health care providers. Redeployment of full-time clinical staff means the part-timers like me aren’t (yet) needed.

So I sit on the sidelines and ride the pine. I am cheering for my friends and colleagues on the front lines, and am supporting them where I can. But I feel left behind. Powerless to make an impact on my community and help patients in need. Worried about the health and safety of my comrades in the game. But this is not a game- it is war.

I signed up on the State of Michigan volunteer provider portal. I signed up as a respiratory therapist as PTs weren’t yet listed. I volunteered to take advantage of Executive Order 30 allowing PTs to serve as respiratory therapist extenders. Over three weeks later I finally got the call to go to the East side of the state to help. I started the on-boarding process. I jumped off the bench, tore off my warm-ups, and ran to the timer’s table and took a knee waiting for the next stop in play.  Excited, nervous, but ready.

Then I got called off. Their needs changed. Back to the bench. Disappointed. Frustrated.

But here’s the thing that makes it all OK: My impact was made years ago. So many of my former students and who are now my dearest colleagues have stepped up and are leading. They are warriors.  They are fighting. They are making the difference. “Let’s go PT!”

The next group of first year DPT students are taking my cardiopulmonary course this summer. It is another opportunity to further develop our profession’s capacity to manage patients with complex cardiovascular and pulmonary conditions across the continuum of care. I hope they realize just how seriously they must take this course. It is life and death. These are skills they need. That our country needs. COVID-19 may be over by the time they are licensed, but they need to be ready for the next pandemic.

I have concluded that I am not riding the bench at all. No, I am fighting the good fight and am a critical part of the war effort. It is Rosy the Riveter kind of stuff, doing my part on the Homefront during a world war to prepare those on the front lines.

My clinical time will come. OUR time will come. For all of us not working clinically right now, health care WILL rebound.  Our country’s health care needs have not gone away. They have gotten worse. We will ALL be needed. Riding the pine sucks. But this game won’t be won until we are all off the bench and playing. This is a game we can’t lose, won’t lose, and we will all play our part. Get ready to tear off those warm-ups…

 


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