(Above: Hannah Okerstrom playing soccer at St. Kates)
St. Kate's Athlete And Former OSI Patient Aspires To Become A Physical Therapist
Hannah Okerstrom is an aspiring PT. She was a 2013 graduate of Stillwater
and is now attending St. Kates. I have seen her throughout her high school athletic career (she was a varsity soccer, hockey player), for various injuries
, including low back, exertional compartment syndrome, knee pain. She was asked to interview a PT and I thought this would be interesting readers for the OSI audience.
1. What made you decide you wanted to be a Physical Therapist?
I have wanted to be a physical therapist from my first encounter with it as little girl. I was in third grade when I fell off the monkey bars during recess and broke my right humerus. The fracture needed to be immobilized so I spent the next six weeks with my arm in a sling that was wrapped tight around my body by an ace bandage. When I finally was free of the sling, I was no longer able to move my arm for any functional tasks. I could no longer write, pull a shirt on, or eat. The doctor sent me to physical therapy. Within a couple of sessions that included stretching and strengthening, my physical therapist helped me to achieve full function of my dominant arm. Ever since that experience, every person who asked or career paper that was written was always about physical therapy.
2. What has been your best and worst experience as a Physical Therapist?
The worst moments I have had as a physical therapist often revolved around those difficult cases where I am searching for way for a patient to improve and drawing a blank when they don't seem to get better. It can be hard to accept... but we, as physical therapists, will not make everyone better. It can be helpful to have good relations with referral sources and be able to refer to a specialist when necessary and it is priceless to have coworkers to bounce ideas off of.
The best experience I have had as a physical therapist really centers around patients meeting their goals and returning to their functional activities as good, or even better, than before. That day of discharge, when the patient is happy with their progress, is a really gratifying experience. Luckily, I get to have these experiences nearly daily.
3. What is your favorite and least favorite part about being a PT?
My favorite part of being a physical therapist is the gratification I get on a daily basis helping people to achieve their goals. Whether it be reaching, running, returning to work, returning to athletic competition... every body is working to achieve goals and I get to be an integral part of that process.
My least favorite part of being a physical therapist is the sometimes daunting amount of paperwork. Meeting the needs of each different insurance company and the rules and regulations they have takes time away from patient care.
4. When were your hardest years of the job? Why?
The hardest year, thus far, of my physical therapy career had to be the first year I was a therapist. Being new out of school, my confidence of was low. It was sometimes a struggle to stay on time and keep up on paperwork during that first year. However, I had a supportive team of co-worker that answered by questions and guided me as I grew in confidence.
5. Explain your experience through PT school.
My undergraduate degree was in occupational therapy. I had 15 of my Occupational Therapy credits with the physical therapy students. Because of that, I didn't have to take them again in physical therapy school. That made my first year of PT school a bit less stressful than for other students that had to take a full load. My very favorite and also hardest course was neuroanatomy. I was, and still am, amazed at the human brain and how the nervous system controls our cognitive and motor processes. Because it was something that I was interested in and loved learning about, I had success throughout my physical therapy education. I enjoyed both the didactic work and the hand on internships. Although the hands-on practical testing was very stressful, it simulated actual clinical experience and made the transition to professional care easier.
6. As an aspiring PT, what advice would you give me?
Give your whole heart into learning the ins and outs of the human body, pathology, and injury and your will find success in physical therapy. Also, find a mentor to lean on for questions and learning. Whether it be a classmate, a professor, or a practicing physical therapist, allow yourself to seek advise from someone who can answer all of the questions that arise during this process.
7. Did you do an internship? If so, where? Explain your experiences.
During my final 6 months of PT school, I did 3 longer internships.
My first internship was at a hospital-based outpatient clinic in La Crosse. It was actually a last minute change as the facility I was supposed to go to cancelled just before the internship was about to begin. I absolutely loved the clinic and my clinical instructor. I learned techniques that I still use today. I saw a lot of chronic use injuries, low back pain, and was involved with some work conditioning for injured workers.
My second internship was actually at the same facility where I work today and at the same facility where I was a patient in 3rd grade. It is a private owned outpatient practice that focuses on orthopedic and sports rehabilitation. I had a great mentor who found a great balance of teaching/helping me and giving my space to find my way. I loved the patient load of post surgical, athletes, and other musculoskeletal injuries. I am happy to call this my work place for almost 8 years now.
My third internship was in Portland, Oregon. It was a hospital-based internship where I saw some very sick patients. I spent a lot of my time there working on a bariatric floor, where individuals had just received gastric bypass or other weight loss surgeries. My clinical instructor was a challenge to work with. She handed me a schedule on my first day and basically said, "go for it" as she spent most of the day sitting at her computer searching the Internet. I was frustrated during the experience as I found it difficult to navigate a huge hospital on my own. The patients, however, were fun to work with and I loved being able to experience physical therapy in a different part of the country (although my apparent Minnesota accent got made fun of daily).
8. What were some of the challenges transitioning from a college student into your career?
I think, because I was working as an occupational therapist during physical therapy school, my transition after graduation was relatively easy. It was nice to get paycheck that went along with treating patients... something you don't have during internships. I, like so many others, was just so excited to get into the clinic and start seeing patients after wanting to be a physical therapy for so many years.
9. Did college prepare you for the expectations of your job?
I feel like the combination of college and internships adequately prepared my for a professional physical therapy career. The real settings of the internships made the transition to work relatively easy.
10. What has been your biggest surprise since you’ve been in your career?
In the physical therapy profession... You are never done learning! You get out of school and quickly realize how little you actually know. There are unlimited continuing education courses to attend to help refine skills and develop specialties. There a board certified specialties one can pursue to further refine skills and identify yourself as a specialist. Its exciting to know that there is always more to learn!