Release Date: 9/24/2010
Physical therapist calls one-on-one time with patient 'priceless'
A physical therapist assists a patient with exercises.
Vici Ruthenburg, 37, already knew she wanted to work in healthcare when she was in high school. But it wasn’t until her aunt sustained severe injuries in an auto accident that Ruthenburg became interested in physical therapy. Now she can’t imagine doing anything else.
The Crestwood resident and mother of 9-year-old twins has worked as a physical therapist for 15 years, the past eight at St. Anthony’s Sports and Therapy Center, across the street from the medical center.
“I briefly considered nursing, but physical therapy seemed more a path that would help me improve the quality of life for my patients, rather than just get them through a crisis,” Ruthenburg said. “Working in outpatient therapy, I can use my skills more creatively. Also, I’m able to develop a relationship with each patient, and that’s a part of the job I love. I get to meet new people all the time.”
Physical therapy is a challenging field that is continually evolving, requiring constant updating of skills, Ruthenburg said. She has a bachelor’s degree from St. Louis University, a master’s degree from Washington University and additional certification in mechanical diagnosis and treatment of the spine, lymphedema treatment and vestibular rehabilitation. She completes 30 hours of continuing education every two years and is considering further certification as an orthopedic specialist. Candidates entering the field of physical therapy today must have a doctorate degree.
“Things change so quickly in the medical field that you have to continually educate yourself,” she said. “I feel I should be able to serve any patient who might walk through the door. As an outpatient therapist – a good one – my duty is to know how to treat them and treat them well.”
During a typical 10-hour day, Ruthenburg sees as many as 14-17 patients in 30-minute sessions. “New patients take one hour to evaluate, which allows you to get a good history and do a thorough evaluation, so you can start them on the right path,” Ruthenburg said. “I write notes on each patient at each visit – how the patient is doing, what interventions were used and the results of treatment, along with a plan for the future.
“All of our patients receive one-on-one therapy – which is priceless, and which is why I came to St. Anthony’s,” Ruthenburg said. “It allows you to really get to know the patients, to figure out what is causing their problems and to help them toward a higher level of function.”
The majority of Ruthenburg’s patients come in with back pain, with neck pain a close second, followed by pain in shoulders and knees. She also treats a small number of stroke patients and amputees. One of the latter, a bilateral above-the-knee amputee in his 70s, is Ruthenburg’s “shining star.”
“He still works, comes to therapy three times a week and keeps pushing himself to go further,” she said. “His goal is to walk well on his prostheses, using just one cane or without an assistive device. He truly is amazing – he inspires everyone!”
Anyone considering a career in the field of physical therapy needs to be a compassionate person, a good listener and have the ability to work with a variety of personalities, Ruthenburg said. “Every patient is different, which, to me, is an appealing part of the job; you’re never in a rut or a routine,” she said.
You also have to like people, because they are not all at their best when they come to therapy, Ruthenburg added. “I always ask my patients, ‘What is your goal?’ and they often say, ‘My doctor sent me,’ ” Ruthenburg said. “I explain that my role is to evaluate their problems, strengths and abilities – a lot of the first visit is spent educating the patient. They might have a diagnosis written on a script, but they don’t understand it. I explain their condition, how it is affecting them and how therapy will help them get better.”
For Ruthenburg, it’s the perfect job. “It’s rewarding to see people get better and change the quality of their lives,” she said. “I love what I’m doing, and I hope to just keep getting better at doing it.”
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