My Life As A Physical Therapist

Written by: Yaffa Lierbermann, PT, GCS, CEO

In honor of Physical Therapy month, I’d like to share with you my learning experience.

I am a 75 years old Physical Therapist, who has worked for the last 53 years – and I love it.

I would like to thank all my teachers, family, friends, coworkers, and most of all my patients for teaching me and guiding me to give the best of myself to all who surround me.

Why Physical Therapy?:

1962-1966: During my junior year of high school in Israel, I started to look into which occupation I would choose for my professional life. I knew one thing: I wanted to help people get better. Nursing was a strong consideration. At the time in order to become a nurse, a student only needed to complete 11 years of schooling and did not need to complete high school. My parents learned about my intention to leave school without completing it and asked the principal to convince me to stay in school and complete the matriculation. I was so surprised by their action that I stayed. I thank my parents so much for taking the correct steps to direct me to finish school.

In my senior year in high school I was looking into options to continue my education. I went to a PT student and listened to her description of school learning, practicing, and delivering treatment. I loved what I heard, and I decided to proceed with physical therapy.

I chose the School of Physiotherapy in Asaf Harofe Hospital affiliated with Tel Aviv University. I went to the admission committee that consisted of 10 people: PTs, nurses and doctors. I remember forcing myself to overcome my shyness and had the courage to look into their eyes. One of the questions they asked me was, “why do you want to be a PT rather than a nurse?” My reply was, “A nurse needs to follow doctor’s orders, while a PT on the other hand can get a prescription to treat but the methods to treat would be for the PT to decide according to the patient’s needs and reaction.” To this day I don’t know where I got the courage to say what I said, I was honest with them because I wanted to be independent in my profession.

Later I learned that I followed APTA’s guide line through my life: “Autonomous physical therapist is characterized by independent, self-determined professional judgement and action. Physical therapists have the capability, ability and responsibility to exercise professional judgement within their scope of practice, and to professionally act on the judgement.” BODP03-03-12-28.

Good Mentors, Good Foundations:   

The first day of classes one teacher said: “If you give treatment and your patient leaves the session and he is not tired, you are worth nothing”, This statement was my guideline in therapy. I performed exercises with patients according to their level and guided them to do a little more. To do exercises without effort it means – no gain.

We were blessed to have good teachers: especially a kinesiology teacher who practiced with us on every muscle. He wanted us to know how the muscle performed in supine, side lying, prone, sitting and standing. To this very day I know how to get the best action out of a muscle.  The second one was an Anatomy teacher who was a general surgeon, and said in the first lesson, “History, you know. Mathematics, you know. How come you do not know your own body.” We knew anatomy very well at the end of his classes.

We should have only good teachers to establish a good base in any profession we choose.

Performing exercises a few times a day:  

A patient with strong discipline taught me a life lesson: After having back surgery, I practiced with him a few back extensions exercises to perform in his bed in the hospital. While I went from patient to a patient in the department, I would see patients lying in bed without movement.  This particular person performed the exercise every time I passed in the corridor. I needed to satisfy my curiosity and I asked him: “what are you doing?” He replied with an answer, “You gave me half an hour of exercises. This is not enough, I need to practice throughout the day, at least ten minutes on the hour, in order to get strong.” Lesson learned: No one will get stronger if he will not continue to practice at home and rely only on the therapist to practice with him half an hour three times a week.

Reteaching a muscle:

A patient underwent a meniscectomy and was assigned to me to teach him how to activate the quadriceps. I was sitting on a chair while he was lying on the bed. I took the bandages off and saw some inflammation around the surgery line. I asked him to lift his leg and he could not. I was sitting there and thinking: “Ok, this is a weak muscle and I have the knowledge of how to make the muscle remember its function.” I had no fear, I knew I had good teachers and it was the time to put it in action. We tried for a few minutes to wake up the quadriceps, with no result. Then I put a little rolled up towel under his knee and I asked him to lift his heel up, and it worked. The quadriceps started to shiver a little and in the next 15 minutes the patient was able to contract the muscles and lift his leg straight up. A feeling of victory spread throughout me.

Years later when my son underwent Anterior Cruciate ligament repair, a few hours after surgery, following doctor’s advice, I taught him how to contract his Quadriceps. He looked at me and said, “mother I do not feel the area” I replied, “the muscle is innervated, and you just need to look at it and move it.” It worked. A few weeks later, after attending PT outpatient, he said to me: “How come some people had difficulties in their knees for the same surgery I had?”  My reply was:” How many patients do you know have PT mothers who stayed with them helping them to put ice packs and instructing them to activate the quadriceps every hour post-surgery?” I felt blessed to be a PT and to know the importance of early intervention and consistent practice.

This will conclude my memories from being a student. I hope you enjoyed my story.  More to come.

6 Comments

  1. Alexandria Contino on October 23, 2020 at 7:54 am

    So beautiful Yaffa! Thank you for sharing 🙂

  2. Ranjana Hallur on October 23, 2020 at 12:53 pm

    Hi Yaffa ,
    your memories are inspiring to young generation to get into physical therapy profession . Thanks for sharing . I have enjoyed reading .

  3. Seema Wagle on October 23, 2020 at 2:15 pm

    Thank you for inspiring us with your experience .Yaffa

  4. Roxie J Jackson on October 24, 2020 at 10:43 am

    Thank you for sharing. Understanding the why in life explains your journey, your success and the impact you continue to have changing lives of the people you touch. Thank you again !

  5. Chris Davis on October 24, 2020 at 8:27 pm

    Wow. Amazing story and commitment to your profession. Thank you for always paying forward your knowledge and experience. We are truly blessed to you as our fearless leader and advocate.

    • Christina Giordano on October 31, 2020 at 9:30 am

      Finally taking the time to write a comment after reading that passionate post Yaffa!
      I aas very fortunate to have an amazing highschool guidance councelor whom got me a scholarship to community college via performing arts where I took several dance classses and completed my associates in business administration. When finished I went back to her and asked now what… I dont want to work in an office… She suggested PT and eager to move forward accepted entrance into Union County College PTA program and would be the first college graduate in my extended family’s generation.
      I owe my work ethic and passion to my 14 year ballet teacher my entire childhood, my amazing guidance councelor, and lastly but most importantly my supportive, hard workjng, and humbly caring mother,!!
      As Yaffa said it is amazing to be able to take a POC and run with an open treatment plan to provide time (although the biiggest challenge these days ) and care for patient progression. Everyday is dynamic with growth and challenge that have allowed me to enjoy going to work for 25 years!
      Thank you to those 3 amazing women in my life to provide me the skills that I have! Happy PT month… Like a therapist to cut it to the last minute to document what we love!
      Christina Giordano PTA

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