It is Steph’s passion to not only change the lives of her patients, but also inspire the next generation of Doctors of Physical Therapy.
Steph — also known as DPT Steph on her social media— started her Instagram account in 2019 when she began working as a Doctor of Physical Therapy in a New York City hospital. She was thrown into work as a new graduate at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and had to quickly adjust to turbulent times.
Within the past three years, her Instagram account has grown to over 16,000 followers, and she is constantly using her platform to encourage and inspire other people in her field, especially students and new graduates.
On her website, she shares resources and advice for new students to help prepare them for physical therapy (PT) school, and she provides resume editing and job interview tips.
In February 2021, she started her own podcast called “All Things PT,” where she hosts discussions within the PT community and with medical professionals in other disciplines. The podcast aims to bridge the gap between students and clinicians.
Steph always aims to help others in her field all while balancing her own career.
Q: How did you become interested in PT?
I wanted to be a physician and when I applied to college I was doing a pre-med track. I really enjoyed the anatomy-based classes and movement-based classes. I ended up doing a bunch of shadowing with pediatrics, working with children with different disabilities as well as the inpatient setting. I ended up enjoying that so much more than my pre-med shadowing. I changed my major to exercise science and applied to PT school.
The reason I wanted to be a PT was because of pediatrics. I always enjoyed working with kids, and once I started going through my clinical rotations and getting more experience, I really enjoyed the acute care, or hospital setting. I haven’t looked back, and that’s where I’ve been since graduating.
Q: You work in acute care. Can you describe what this entails and the types of patients you see on a day-to-day basis?
Acute care is synonymous with the hospital setting. Physical therapists work in every unit, and when you’re in a large NYC hospital that does almost every surgery in the book as well as provide medical care for every specialty, we are helping patients who are elderly with heart problems or COPD, patients who were in traumatic incidents, as well as major cardiac surgeries, vascular surgeries and gender reaffirmation surgeries.
We help all these different types of patients. It’s really hands-on. When you’re a patient in a hospital, you can become very deconditioned or weak very quickly when you’re lying in a bed for so many hours a day. So it’s really important for us to be present for any and all patients that are there.
Q: You started working at the beginning of the COVID pandemic. What was it like being a new graduate and having to immediately adjust to life with COVID in a hospital setting?
I graduated in June 2019, but I had to wait until October to officially pass and take the [board] exam. Then, my job started a couple weeks later in November. From November 2019 to February 2020, it was a few months of learning and just being a new grad in the hospital setting. Then being in NYC, which was the first place to get hit by the pandemic, we experienced everything.
In the beginning, we were waiting because we didn’t know what to do, and the patients were super medically sensitive to move or be helped. We weren’t touching anybody because the few patients that we did touch in the very beginning unfortunately would have rapid declines and some of them even passed away. That’s how crazy it was.
But then fast forward to April, May, June and even July when the patients coming out of the ICU were more medically stable. Normally, in ICU, you are debilitated. But now add this insane virus that causes bad respiratory issues, blood clotting issues and all these other medical issues on top of mobility issues, we were dealing with patients that were requiring two or three people to be assisting to mobilize or even just sit on the edge of the bed, really putting your mental and physical stamina to the test.
It was a lot of rehab-ing in an acute setting, which is something you normally don’t do. But we couldn’t send patients to the nursing homes or inpatient rehab facilities because they were also overwhelmed with COVID patients or prior patients. It was a lot — a steep learning curve.
Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Being able to show people just how much their bodies and themselves can tolerate. Even when you’re just home sick, you don’t want to do anything, but what your body really needs is movement.
I’ve seen patients who were in so much pain, feeling so crummy, and I’m like, “Let’s just move a little bit. Let’s walk to the bathroom or sit up at the edge of the bed.” Twenty minutes later, they tell me, “You know what? Actually, I feel a lot better,” and the next day we’re able to do a little bit more. When you’re in such an acute setting, you really get to see a lot of progress being made.
[I love] being able to work with physicians and nurses and really hone in on your skills and make a difference in a patient’s outcome and life.
Q: Tell us about your podcast! What made you want to start one?
Through social media, I was meeting so many other physical therapists, physicians, nurses, physician assistants, etc., and I wanted to showcase more of an interdisciplinary approach to everything we all can do and play a role in patients’ care.
When you have a following like mine, which is mostly students in PT school or fresh out of school, they want to know what else is going on in the profession and even in other disciplines, so it was a great way to have that format and showcase these conversations that highlight what all of these fields entail. Especially during COVID, a lot of those clinical rotations and day trip experiences that students usually had were canceled, so they weren’t seeing and learning as much as they maybe would have in other ways.
Q: Is it difficult to find balance between work and your online presence?
It is, absolutely, and it did burn me out badly last year. I had to take a break for a little bit because [social media] almost became a second job, especially because I do monetize certain areas of it. It’s been hard to juggle. I’m still trying to figure out the best way to juggle it.
But I think what I’m realizing is putting less pressure on myself to have to post. I want to post this for me and that’s all that really matters. Don’t worry about the numbers. Don’t worry about the traction it gets. Sometimes you just want to enjoy it, so I’m just trying to focus on getting back to enjoying it and stop putting pressure on trying to monetize it. It’s definitely tough.
Q: Are there any long-term goals or future plans that you wish to share?
I think because of the pandemic, I don’t think like that anymore. I just want to be present. I’m still finding my way and getting back into a routine that is finding more things that I enjoy outside of my career, rekindling all those little passions and seeing where it takes me.
I want to go back to what I was doing before the pandemic because [social media] became my other hobby. I love doing photography and traveling. Being so cooped up in city life, I’m ready to dive into nature and be in peace and quiet.
Q: What is your advice for other women like you who are juggling many things at once?
The hardest advice to swallow sometimes is to only worry about yourself and not what everybody else is doing. It feels like everyone is moving on with their lives in other ways that maybe you aren’t, whether it’s in their career or personal life, and I think you just have to really tune in to yourself and what you really want. Because that’s what really matters at the ending of the day — showing up for yourself.
If you’re feeling lost, revisit what it is that you want and figure out what it is you need to say “no” to and what it is you need to say “yes” to in order to get there.
Q: What does “she can be both” mean to you?
Empowerment is what we really need more so now than ever. I know personally being a PT, I’ve been recording season two of my podcast, and I’ve been interviewing 90% males, and I’m like, “Where are the women in this space?” Even as a content creator, most of the bigger PT accounts are run by males.
I think we needed a platform that showcases all that women can do and all that women can be, whether it’s in their career or outside of their career.