By: Matt Zanis, PT, DPT, ATC, CSCS
My journey into the profession of physical therapy began back in 2011 when I graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with my Bachelor of Science degree in Athletic Training. Before I graduated from the University of Pittsburgh I had been accepted into Duke University’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program, which I began in the fall of the same year.
While matriculating through an intense 2 years of academic work, I decided to utilize my athletic training degree and work at a local high school for the two years I was in Durham, NC. The idea of working while in graduate school made me a little anxious, but in the end it taught me how to prioritize my life and continue to be an avid learner in my profession. However, I needed to find a work-life balance. I needed an outlet to break away from bookwork. This is where I fell in love with Yoga and CrossFit. I immersed myself into these athletic lifestyles and became very familiar with their movements and common impairments. Needless to say, I relate very well to these athletes and I have already grown a big following during my short career as a licensed physical therapist.
At the end of my two years at Duke, I was both excited and anxious to use what I learned in school and apply it to the clinical setting where I would be treating real life patients during my internships. During my first rotation in Phoenix, AZ, I was seeing a variety of patients, mostly athletes of some background. At this point, I was convinced I needed to do a sports residency program upon graduation. However, during my second rotation in Atlanta, GA, I experienced a whole new way of treating patients that would change my view on where I was headed as a professional. I encountered a wide array of patients from high-level athletes, to weekend warriors, grandparents, young children, and everyone in between. What I realized was I could not help the majority of these patients with my current knowledge base. This is when Dr. Robert DuVall opened my eyes to the depth of patient centered care in the fields of manual therapy, orthopedics, and medical screening. My perspective on residencies switched from sports to orthopedics. With my background in sports medicine, exposure to manual and orthopedic therapy would broaden my scope of treatment and enhance my effectiveness as a physical therapist. Fortunately, near the end of my internship in Atlanta, I met Dr. Joseph Brence who was finishing up his Manual Therapy Fellowship through Sports Medicine of Atlanta with Dr. DuVall. After spending a week working with and learning from Dr. Brence, my decision was made enroll in an orthopedic residency program. Dr. DuVall informed me of a new residency program he had started and gave me the opportunity to sit in on a few classes that he and his current residents conducted via an online classroom. I instantly fell in love with everything NxtGen Institute of Physical Therapy had to offer. Their residents were being taught everything I envisioned where our profession was heading – educating physical therapists to be capable of providing autonomous direct access care through careful medical screening and holistic evaluation of the human body.
In February of 2014, following completion of my internship with Dr. DuVall, I began my “Pre-Residency” preparation with NxtGen Institute of Physical Therapy. While completing my last clinical rotation in Pittsburgh, PA, I actively engaged in weekly educational discussions with Dr. DuVall and other residents on didactic information that would prepare us for the OCS examination.
This was no easy task. I had to balance working a full clinic schedule preparing for the OCS exam, studying for my physical therapy board exam, getting ready for graduation, and planning a wedding. Despite what would seem like utter chaos, I passed my boards with flying colors and graduated. Best of all, I landed a great job working in sunny Phoenix, AZ while my fiancée and I put the finishing touches on our wedding. I currently have an amazing mentor who is a board certified orthopedic specialist with a focus in the pain sciences, manipulative therapy, and dry needling.
The prioritization skills I learned 3 years ago as a young athletic trainer in Durham, North Carolina have transferred over flawlessly into the life I live now as a full time staff physical therapist, per diem athletic trainer, orthopedic specialist in training, and a committed fiancé. I am currently 5 months into my residency preparation and actively utilizing all of the information I have attained thus far into patient care. As I progress further into the program I feel more confident that I will attain my ultimate dream job in the near future – a private practice located within my own CrossFit gym where I could treat patients along side my fiancée as she teaches yoga in an attached studio. My patients can’t grasp that I am a recent graduate and I attribute that experienced professional demeanor in my choice to join the NxtGen family and become a modern manual therapist.