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Is Being a PT Similar to Being a Basketball Coach?

As couple after couple formed in my PT school class, I remember hoping for their sake that each member of the pair would go into different specialties. Perhaps a Neuro expert would date someone who wanted to work in Peds. This, in my mind, would make things easier at the end of the day. You’d be able to talk about work to an empathetic listener without having to hear, “Well, did you try this technique?”

While I enjoy talking about my day each night, I think I’d go crazy if the physical therapy talk never ended. At the end of the day, I want someone to listen to me, not offer suggestions. When I need work advice, I’m more than happy turning to one of my colleagues.

This made it weird when my husband and I discovered how unexpectedly similar our jobs are. When we first met, we bonded over both wanting to be writers. Later, we supported each other as we embarked on different career paths. I became a physical therapist at a private, outpatient clinic and he became a college basketball coach. Besides the fact that our jobs can both be described as “sporty,” they’re pretty different. I work a strictly scheduled 40 hours per week, while he works much longer days and rarely has off on weekends (yes, coaching at the college level is a full time job). My job is nebulously assessed by how well patients recover, whether they return to see me again, and various productivity statistics; whereas his job is measured in black-and-white win-loss records. And whereas I have an ever-rotating schedule of patients, he coaches the same players every day, every year until they graduate (this is the Ivy League).

Aside from these differences, our conversations at the end of the day often take on similar themes:We’re both striving to improve others. I am trying to help

We’re both striving to improve others

I am trying to help my patients recover from injuries and function better, while he is trying to assist his players in becoming better basketball players. Our jobs ultimately depend on the performance of others rather than anything we can do in isolation.

Each person we work with is different

Just as there is not one single cause of low back pain or one single way to treat it, there is no single method with which to improve someone’s basketball ability. Our jobs rely on our skill to know what to do in which situations, but also how to work with different types of people. Some people need to be positively encouraged to do better, while others need to have all the facts. Knowing who you’re working with can make all the difference.

There’s only so much we can do

I can assign exercises and do manual therapy, but it is up to my patients to follow through at the end of the day. Similarly, my husband leads his players in drills, but it is only the most exceptional players who come into the gym to shoot on their own everyday. At best, we successfully motivate and educate our patients/players using our experience and expertise. I can advise someone on which activities or positions to avoid to avoid reinjury, and he can suggest which drills will help them the most. Success happens when not only are we performing at our best, but so are the patients and players we work with.

Some things are out of our control

Whether it’s the patient who reinjures herself accidentally falling asleep in a funny position, or the player who gets knocked over and sprains an ankle, even on our best days, bad things can pop up unexpectedly. While frustrating, these setbacks are part of the job.

We’re constantly seeking to better ourselves

During our free time, we try to read up on the latest techniques and ideas to better ourselves. We ask questions of mentors and think up ways we can improve. As we are both at the beginning of our careers, the pressure is on to advance ourselves in our respective fields.

Everyone else thinks they’re an expert

I have a middle-aged family member who refuses to discuss his knee arthritis with friends. He says they all have a “solution” based on their own experiences, without realizing that knee pain can have numerous causes and that people respond differently to various treatments. Similarly, anyone who has ever watched a college basketball game thinks they know what it takes to coach one. At times, it can be necessary to remind others of the value of our expertise and skill sets that set us apart from others.

What do you think? Would you want to share a similar career with a partner?

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About Jasmine Marcus

Jasmine Marcus
Dr. Jasmine Marcus, PT, DPT is a writer and physical therapist at an outpatient orthopedic clinic in Upstate New York. She graduated with her Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Columbia University and received her undergraduate degree in psychology from Cornell University. She combines her passions for physical therapy and writing on Twitter and Instagram @JMarcusDPT and on her blog: http://jasminemarcus.com/

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