My physiotherapy story began in the Philippines, where, at the age of almost 16, I found out that I got accepted into my dream university to study Physical Therapy. At that point, I was excited despite knowing very little of the world outside the little town that I grew up in, and much less about what exactly I was getting myself into. But I was always convinced that I wanted to be in the field of healthcare and I knew that this line of work would allow me to help other people. Little did I know that this would lead me down a path that would enable me to engage with and empower people in uncountable ways.
Back home, I worked at the same University that I studied in. My days consisted of teaching students in the classroom and in the clinics and working as well as a physio primarily for children with disabilities and adults who have neurological impairments such as poor mobility after having a stroke. The clinics that I worked in served people who cannot afford therapy in hospitals or private clinics. Waitlists were long, and we were always aware that the ability to attend therapy was always a huge deal to our patients and their families. The people that I encountered often related feelings of hopelessness, of feeling devalued because of their socioeconomic status. In situations wherein family, meals were uncertain and sometimes even sacrificed to attend therapy, I found myself driven by my patients and their families’ motivation. Every day was challenging – we had to be resourceful since our patients cannot afford materials or mobility aids (such as toys, orthoses, exercise equipment, adaptive seating, and walkers) to help improve their quality of life.
I always felt compelled to pack a LOT into each treatment session, as there never was a guarantee that a patient will have the means to come in for a next one. Every session had to go beyond exercise and education, as we always had to ensure that the people we see would be able to cope outside of therapy. Even though it was challenging, I felt fortunate to be in a position where I was given the chance to restore a person’s feelings of worth. Ultimately, I was amazed by how much one hour of undivided attention, of listening and caring about concerns, of making someone feel that they are still a respectable human being, that there is someone who cares and wants to help, can impact a person’s life beyond their original goal of regaining the ability to move.
The limited resources that I worked with early on in my career, and the stories of struggle that I heard every single day will always stay with me and continuously influence the way I practice. While things such as insurance coverage and the availability of high-end therapy machines shocked me as I transitioned into Canadian PT practice, I still am the dedicated, one-on-one therapist that works hard to get to know patients to understand what they need, and works hard with everyone to make sure that their goals are achieved, no matter what they may be.