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Physical therapy and engineering

  1. May 27, 2012 #1
    A little background: I am 22 years old, 3 years ago I got sick and lost a lot of weight. My physical condition deteriorated until I finally found someone who diagnosed me correctly (or at least correctly enough) and the physical deterioration halted. At the time I was in a lot of physical pain from a variety of different problems (cervical radiculopathies, sciatic nerve compression, medial epicondylitis, rotator cuff issues, knee/hip pain, etc, etc, etc…), mostly due to the loss of muscle and poor posture. That’s when the physical therapy started (and progress had finally begun to take shape)! It’s been 3 years now, and I’m still coping with certain levels of pain, but I’ve made a ton of progress and learned incredible things about biomechanics and the reengineering of the human body along the way!

    To make a long story shorter, and to focus on the real reason I am writing, I have become fascinated with the rehabilitation of the human body!
    I am currently studying Mechanical Engineering as an Undergraduate at Virginia Tech and am going into my senior year this fall. The engineering process is something I’ve always been captivated by. The highly-mechanical nature of the structures that make up the body is partly what fascinates me (from both an engineering and a clinical standpoint)! I’ve considered medical school, but from my experience in the healthcare system, and considering the areas I’m interested in, I’ve found that physical therapy is a better fit. I’ve found a great passion in educating people (as well as myself) about how to use their bodies! I am not sure what to do; I am wondering if it’s possible to study physical therapy after a bachelors degree in mechanical engineering?

    I’ve been through lots of information online about what it takes to become a licensed physical therapist- but one of the problems I’m running into is that, after I graduate next spring I have to work (I’ll be lucky to make it through to graduation, between school and the continuing onslaught of medical bills, I’m flat broke) :)

    Anyone have an idea if it is possible to use my engineering background to get a job at a company (maybe one that is involved with prostetics/orthopedics perhaps) that might pay my way for further education/licensure in physical therapy? Maybe in an attempt to use clinical skills and experience to improve the development of rehabilitation devices/technologies?

    I’m in love with engineering, and cannot imagine leaving it behind. I would love to try and find a way to integrate the analytical and math/science skills I’ve developed over the last few years with the clinical and R&D end of physical therapy/rehabilitation. Is this unrealistic?

    I apologize for the length of this post, it always winds up waaay longer than I intend.

    I greatly appreciate any feedback/thoughts/experiences/feelings!

    Thanks so much in advance!
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 16, 2014 #2
  4. Nov 17, 2014 #3
    Hey Lej,

    Thanks for the feedback; it's much appreciated! I was aware of Northwestern's interdisciplinary program in PT and Biomedical Engineering (discovered it about a year ago, shortly after my original post). It's seems to be quite an intriguing opportunity, especially for someone with at least a general idea of what he/she would like to focus their graduate research on.

    Since my original post, I graduated with my B.Sc. in Mechanical Engineering and moved to California to work on Energy Systems for a bit. I work at an Engineering Consulting firm out here that does a lot of work in the development of Natural Gas Transmission and Distribution systems.

    I still find my mind wandering towards the 'Biomedical' end of the engineering spectrum. I would not be surprised if I get the itch in the near future to jump into some area of Biomechanics for my next gig (even grad school perhaps).

    It's great to hear that you're looking to dive into engineering with your PT background! The application of a non-traditional approach to a traditional problem can be so exciting! Are you a working Physical Therapist? What's your plan to get your feet wet? Grad school perhaps?
  5. Nov 17, 2014 #4
    Hi mecheng212,

    Yes, I am a practicing Physical Therapist, currently in gradschool (on the last leg of my Medical Anthropology degree). You must be thinking: THAT and Biomedical Engineering sounds like an odd mix. :) I took great interest in Ergonomics and Human Factors in Work Situations while working on my research and course work. It led me to seek out avenues where these disciplines converge. Biomed Engineering is one. I am exploring possibilities but have yet to take definite steps towards that field though. My mentor said, 'Too much academe work can foil our effectiveness down there in the field.' :) I am a good mentee so I'd be on my clinical and community based PT work for sometime. I hope that will lead me to a more grounded decision-making as to where I am going and should be going as a PT and (almooost) Medical Anthropologist. :D

    Your current career track sounds great! And a field I am not familiar with. :) I hope you'd eventually find your niche in the rehab field! Your personal experience and professional background would make you an exemplary PT for sure. We, PTs, despite our clinical competence, struggle in genuinely understanding our patients' personal struggles.A PT who was once in their shoes would definitely make an insightful clinician who can help them not only as patients but also as persons facing complex challenges such as disability and handicap in the 'able' world.

    All the best! I enjoyed reading your post and your motivation for wanting to pursue our field. It warms my heart. :) Cheers to you!
  6. Nov 17, 2014 #5
    Right back at you Lej!

    Thanks for the inspiration. Perhaps I'll be fortunate enough to work alongside you some day. I wish you luck in your pursuits as well; I'd be interested to hear about your progress in the future.

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