My name is Kelly Clark, and I am the founder of Patient Physical Therapy, a direct-pay physical therapy clinic in Bloomington Indiana.
Before I went back to school to become a physical therapist, I worked for fifteen years in a meandering career that made stops in many industries – aerospace, finance, real estate, information technology, education, and scientific research. My roles were varied as well — customer support, data management, quality assurance, writing, grants administration, project management. In the midst of all of that, I got my massage therapy certification and ran a part time private practice for several years. For many of those years, I let my career go wherever life took me and felt more or less content with that. However, when I made the decision to change careers, I was prompted by an intensely personal motivation… I needed to make sense of my father’s death.
My dad was only 58 years old when he died, less than six months after receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis. In that brief but intense brush with the medical world, I saw a side of healthcare that I did not understand and had never previously guessed might exist. My family and I were so ill-prepared to deal with what we found that we made many mistakes during that six months — mistakes that cost my father valuable time and likely caused him unnecessary pain — both physical and mental.
At the time, I did not know how formative that experience would be to me as an aspiring healthcare provider. I was simply traumatized and confused and needed something positive to channel my energy into, and could not think of a better way to honor my father than by using the inheritance that should have been his retirement to make my own dreams come true. However, as the years have passed and my understanding of the human body has grown, my understanding of my father’s illness and medical treatment has also changed. I have come to understand that modern medicine is not exactly what most of us think it is.
While my father was sick, everything was so confusing. In retrospect, I can see that often it was only confusing because the doctors were telling us so many things that we did not want to hear or believe. We would seize upon anything hopeful and misunderstand everything else based on that unconscious need for everything to not be so terrible. The doctors seemed so detached that it was often hard to believe they were talking to us about matters of life and death.
With the clarity of hindsight, I realize that the doctors must have also thought we were oddly unconcerned by the way we casually disregarded so much of their medical advice. Throughout his treatment Dad rejected procedures and refused medicines based on expense or side effects or even sometimes simple distaste, never understanding that he was rejecting crucial treatments without alternatives. All along we were assuming, absurdly, that if our protests about side-effects or difficulty were petty in comparison to the import of the advice, that the doctor would tell us so unambiguously. They did not. This was one of many things I did not understand when I decided to leave my job and go back to school to become a physical therapist, and I never expected to understand it any better. However, over the last five+ years of schooling and clinical training, I have come to see that there is a massive gap in understanding between healthcare providers and their patients.
Healthcare providers don’t understand why patients fail to follow their advice and seemingly refuse to take basic steps to ensure their own health and wellness. Healthcare consumers – patients – don’t understand why physicians fail to diagnose / heal / help so many health problems, including persistent pain. Patients and practitioners alike feel frustrated and hopeless with the state of healthcare in the United States and many believe that the system is broken. I’m here to start a conversation about why I don’t believe that is true, and how we can begin to usher in a shift in perspective that will help make us all a little more happy, healthy, and well.
Adapted from original publication on our sister blog, PT For The People.