This year, De La Torre approached Melissa about co-hosting a free event that provides Pittsburgh-area women amputees with an opportunity for connection and education.
And so it was that on October 21, over 25 women came to the event at Chatham’s Eastside location where they met some Chatham physical therapy students and alumni, De La Torre staff, and—crucially—each other. The event allowed participants to assess their mobility challenges and to share their joys and struggles with fellow amputees.
Medicare, Medicaid, and many other health insurance companies determine an amputee’s eligibility for coverage of prosthetics based on that individual’s K-level. The K-level reflects the degree of (and potential for) the individual’s mobility, and is determined by a series of tasks often conducted by physical therapists.
The event was not to definitively determine the participants’ K-levels, but rather to provide some motivation, says Bednarek. “We took them through the tasks they’d need to do, and said ‘Okay, here’s what you’re scoring right now; if you’re looking to have a more expensive device covered, maybe think about these types of activities to help you improve your current level.’”
I had such a great time working with each participant and was honored to hear each of their stories! I was particularly inspired and humbled by their attitudes and outlook on their life’s path.” – Jill Claassen, DPT ’17
There was another goal, too: “sneaking in” some physical therapy, laughs Bednarek. “We wanted to give these women not just a chance to learn and connect, but also get them up and moving on a Saturday afternoon.”
The Chatham University Physical Therapy Program educates Doctors of Physical Therapy who will advance the quality of human life through excellence in clinical practice. The Program prepares professionals to meet the challenges of a dynamic health care environment and supports faculty scholarship that bridges science and practice.
Chatham Doctor of Physical Therapy alumna Nicole Stout (’98), DPT, CLT-LANA, FAPTA was the recipient of a Catherine Worthingham Fellow of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), the highest award membership category in the APTA, with only 250 Fellows among the roughly 95,000 members. The Catherine Worthingham Fellow designation honors individuals whose contributions to the profession through leadership, influence, and achievements demonstrate frequent and sustained efforts to advance the physical therapy profession. The award was made based on the contributions that Nicole has made in changing the landscape of the physical therapist practice in cancer rehabilitation. A renowned health care researcher, consultant, educator, and advocate, she is the chief executive officer of 3e Services, an information technology consulting firm.
In a recent interview, Nicole gave Chatham University some insight about her Chatham and life experiences.
Q: What brought you to Chatham?
A: I had applied to a number of graduate programs for a master’s in physical therapy and the admissions were quite selective. I was wait-listed at Chatham and was accepted into other programs in Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Chicago. I was born and raised in Pittsburgh so my desire was to stay in my hometown. So when I was accepted to Chatham, it was a definite for me.
Q: What is a typical day in the life of Nicole Stout?
Nothing is typical about my days. It is rare that I string together more than three or four days that are even similar. I might start my day on a call with the Chief Data Officer’s office at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA…yes, airplanes) to touch base on how our Enterprise Information Management project is running, review status of deliverables that my team is responsible for and discuss strategy for expanding the data management and data analytics services. I might then be running to the airport to catch a flight to…pretty much anywhere. Recently it’s been to Buenos Aires to speak at an International Rehabilitation Medicine Conference on a Global Initiative in Cancer Rehabilitation, Kansas City to teach a continuing education course on cancer rehabilitation, or Rockville, Maryland to participate on a health IT expert panel to talk about wearable sensors and personal health analytics on behalf of Zansors LLC, a start up company to which I provide Medical Affairs consulting services.
I’m usually working on several projects all around cancer rehabilitation, health IT and wearable technology, and various enterprise data strategies. As I move between client calls and meetings, delivering webinars, and writing, I am also pretty keen about keeping up with communication and engagement on Twitter (find me at @nicolestoutpt).
I might also be working, on a given day, on the family foundation that we established after the death of my father. Our memorial fund raises money to support community projects in Pleasant Hills and Jefferson Hills communities in southern Allegheny County. We are currently working to fund and kick off groundbreaking for a walking and fitness trail in my hometown of Pleasant Hills.
If it’s a really good day, I get to play 18 holes of golf with my ladies league or with my husband at our golf club in Sarasota, and the best days are when I am cooking dinner and sit down to have dinner at home with my husband and get to sleep in my own bed.
Q: How did your Chatham education inform your work today with your company 3eServices?
A: Interestingly, the Chatham influence was very indirect on the business that I am currently running. 3e Services is a technology consulting firm, helping clients solve their problems through better use of technology. The most important thing I learned at Chatham was how to hone my skills in problem solving. In fact, I might argue that there is no greater skill set.
I deal with the process problems and the problems are very similar regardless of whether we’re talking about airplane data, or patient co-morbidity data; people have a lot of data, they need to understand how to bring it all together, analyze it, and learn how to change operations or improve based on the findings.
This is what we do in Physical Therapy every day! We try to bring together all of the relevant data, analyze it and make improvements based on the findings. If we miss the relevant data, if we work from flawed assumptions, or if we fail to execute (or execute incorrectly) based on our findings, we don’t succeed. Being able to step back and really identify the problem and recommend ways to fix the root of the problem are how my learning at Chatham has informed my work today.
Q: What advice would you give to our current students or students considering starting their higher education at Chatham?
A: When I graduated from Chatham our commencement speaker gave us this message “Go For It”. I say that often when I speak to graduating classes. Go For It, do something different, create something, take a risk and go all in. Have the wherewithal and grit to do the unglamorous work because that is the only way people succeed and sustain success. You can get lucky once, maybe even twice, but a strong work ethic and an open, exploratory attitude will keep you on positive growth trajectory.
Q: What is the best advice or experience that you have gained that prepared you to do what you are doing now?
There has been a lot of good advice along the way, but my own personal advice to myself is always “There is never a reason to be mean. Ever”
But, I have to say that the best advice that I received came in the way of actions that I saw in my mentors. Senior researchers sitting on the floor with me at 9 p.m. on a Friday night going through medical charts in a data validation exercise because our back up computer crashed and we had to guarantee the data integrity (this was before everyone had a cloud and 15 forms of back up). How easy would it have been for them to walk out the door at 5:00 and leave me (the junior) with all of that work? I saw my research mentor asking thoughtful questions to a young researcher with very flawed results at a national conference presentation. How easy would it have been for her to slam this youngster for the inadequacies in his methodology? But they always took the time to do the right thing. The actions that I saw from my mentors are the behaviors that I have come to replicate and I am so grateful that I was exposed to such stellar experiences.
Q: What is your favorite thing to do outside of work?
A: Spend time with my husband is first and foremost on that list. We love every minute of every day together. I enjoy golf, yoga, travel, museums and breathtaking art, music…I can’t live without music. I love to cook as it’s almost therapeutic for me to cook at the end of a crazy long busy day. My paternal grandmother was Italian and taught me to make pasta, sauce, literally everything from scratch. Veggies came from our garden and wine was what she made in the basement.
Q: Anything else to add?
A: I think one of the most important things that I have learned about professional growth and success is to find way to find gratitude in all situations. Be grateful for opportunities that arise, appreciate that there was a really good reason that you chose not to take that job, even if you can’t fully put your finger on exactly why. Appreciate that not everything works out the way you want it to and that you don’t always win and you certainly don’t always get recognized. You have to be happy with your work and your choices and that has to come from within. Appreciating yourself and the hard work that you do is a huge first step in finding self-fulfillment. Until you love yourself and your work, it’s hard to truly appreciate much of anything else.
(An early version of this story appeared in the Fall 2015 Recorder.)
For many of the School of Health Sciences students, it would be their first time treating patients in such a context—navigating different cultures, different specialties, even different words. And if that weren’t novelty enough, they’d be doing it in Ibarra, Ecuador.
Since 2014, each summer a team of Chatham masters students from two different programs—Physical Therapy (PT) and Occupational Therapy (OT)—has teamed up to provide a week of interdisciplinary care for patients in different institutions in this small city in northern Ecuador, near the Columbian border. In 2015, they were accompanied by PT Assistant Professor Ingrid Provident and OT Associate Professor Sue Perry, and joined by Professional Doctorate in Occupational Therapy (OTD) then-candidate Elaine Keane.
Chatham’s OTD program is mostly online, which is how it’s able to count Keane among its students—she lives in Ibarra, where in 2013, she opened a clinic called CRECER. CRECER provides free OT services to children and adults in the community, and it’s where our story begins.
Treating patients at three centers
At CRECER, cultural differences were almost immediately apparent. “In the U.S.,” says PT student Laura Thompson ’15, “the very first thing we do is to look at the chart to learn the diagnosis. But many of the patients at CRECER haven’t been diagnosed; they’re just showing up with symptoms, which sometimes resemble those of cerebral palsy or Down syndrome.”
The second location was FUNHI, a daycare center for adults in their 20s and 30s . The clients were mostly non-verbal, with differing levels of physical or intellectual disability. Over the course of the week, students and clients did crafts, held a birthday party, played horseshoes, and kicked around a soccer ball. Some PT students noticed that one client’s wheelchair didn’t fit appropriately. They were able to adapt it with duct tape, and even provide the client with a cushion, fashioned from a piece of foam cushion found on the side of the road that they cleaned and covered.
The third location was a nursing home. Students knew that the residents lead relatively sedentary lives, so the plan was to get everyone engaged in big group activities. Students and residents danced together—which they loved, noted Thompson—and played balloon volleyball and pin the petal on the flower. Whenever possible, they found ways to incorporate individual therapy. “We helped one gentleman with Parkinson’s walk around,” says Thompson. “I’m not sure how often he gets the chance to do that.”
Sharing best practices
At the end of the week, the students gave presentations to the staff of a nursing home in a nearby city. Topics included helping patients with osteoarthritis, how to make items like heating pads and ice packs out of everyday materials, and building awareness of the experience of elderly individuals with low vision and hearing. For this, students distributed glasses to the audience that mimic the effects of eye diseases such as glaucoma and cataracts. Then they passed out magazines, strings and beads, and the audience realized how hard it was for some of their clients to do such simple things.
In the end, one of the students’ biggest takeaways was how much can happen when you approach a situation with flexibility, creativity, and an open mind, as OT student Hannah Huffman ’16 witnessed while working at the nursing home. “We made a shuffleboard game with duct tape on the floor, a balled-up sock as the puck, and a PVC pipe as the stick,” she remembers. “We wanted the residents to get up and stand in line to play. They wanted to hit the ball from where they were already sitting. So we made it so that they could up one at a time to play, and the others would cheer.”
Name: Steve Karas
Title: Assistant Professor (PT, DSc, CMPT)
Joined Chatham: Jan 2009
Born & Raised: Pittsburgh, PA
Interests: Cycling, Running, Travel, Hemingway
1. What was your first job and what did you learn from it?
My first PT job was at Shadyside hospital. I worked with athletes, patients after joint replacements, patients in the hospital, and those receiving cardiac care. I learned that although medicine tends to compartmentalize, having experience in several areas will strengthen your personal discipline and ability to think and reason.
2. What aspect of your life before teaching best prepared you to do so?
My mom was a teacher, and even when she came home she worked on lesson plans and creative ways to teach. She taught at a lower-income schools with disciplinary issues, but she loved to teach and would talk about the successes of individual students, some of whom were first to attend college in their family. Watching someone who loves what they do played a role in my decision to teach.
3. What makes teaching at Chatham special for you?
I graduated from the first PT class. I was able to come back to be a teaching assistant, then help in class, and when the faculty position was offered to me, I was very grateful. I felt like it was my opportunity to influence the next generation of physical therapists and work among a very impressive faculty. I feel bad for people who don’t like their job, because I love mine.
4. What is your favorite thing about working with Chatham students?
The moment I realize they know more than me.
5. What one thing would your students be surprised to know about you?
I am jealous of them. They are learning at a time when information is readily available and the world is smaller than ever. They are all in a position to change the world.
Steve Karas is an assistant professor in the Physical Therapy program. When he’s not working, he’d rather be watching the sun set over Grace Bay with a San Pellegrino and lime.
Developed by physical therapists at the University of Delaware, Go Baby Go is an initiative with clubs across the country that modifies ride-on toy cars so that they can be used by children with mobility deficits. Erin Gaffney, DPT ’17 brought the idea to Chatham.
Erin and some of her classmates rewired a Hello Kitty car so that it can be used by Ella, a four-year-old who has used a wheelchair since surgery to remove a tumor on her spinal cord left her unable to use her legs. Ella can now use her hand to operate the “gas.”
“Being able to move independently in a play situation does so much for kids’ social skills, and that’s really the whole idea,” says Erin. “Mobility matters for children of all ages, and that’s why we’re doing what we’re doing.”
Part of Chatham’s School of Health Sciences, the Physical Therapy program educates doctors of physical therapy who will advance the quality of human life through excellence in clinical practice.