A Physical Therapist’s Uncommon Journey

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Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation for Animals Cover copy

The journey starts down a familiar path.

Midwestern female attends college, and then grad school, gets license in her professional field of Physical Therapy, goes to work in a hospital, then another hospital, then another. The therapist's feet are wet, the ropes learned and the path begins to feel stale and stagnant.

The therapist desires more control of her destiny and that of her patients. She changes direction and goes into private practice, with an office, a partner, staff, and equipment. Challenge and excitement are at every turn. A career grows, her reputation builds, jobs are created, and community relationships fostered, patients and their families receive optimal care. The path has now turned into a road. It is a busy road and feeling more like a highway with each passing year. A second office is opened. A junior partner added. Responsibilities mount, payroll grows, patient levels increase, and now the highway is a busy turnpike filled with traffic.

Everything the therapist dreams of for her career has come true.

And it doesn't feel right. Her spirit wilts, the vehicle getting low on gas. The highway has many potholes and slick spots to navigate. Driving is rough as the therapist faces the realities of being an employer, a tenant, a trustee, a partner, a service provider, a government contractor, etc. Control over destiny is eroded by insurance regulations, declining reimbursement, threat of litigation, rising costs, corporate taxes and partnership disputes. It is becoming very hard to provide optimal patient care. Now she looks for the nearest exit ramp but there is none. Health problems arise and the therapist pulls off onto the shoulder of the road for a break in the action.

She regains her equilibrium and eases back into the lane. Things are comfortable for a while and she feels able to move into the passing lane. Before long, the navigating gets rough again and the therapist wonders why her fulfilled career dreams feel like nightmares. She desires a smaller practice scale, one that encompasses the reason she chose her field of study: working with and helping patients. She wishes that patients were focused on getting well and not distracted by agendas, manicure appointments, anxiety, fear. She is willing to take the worry off their shoulders and find ways to solve problems, if only they would have faith, stay positive, be consistent in keeping appointments and doing home programs.

A simpler time from childhood appears frequently in her dreams and threads her thoughts and memory while she speeds along the highway. Time spent on her grandparent's farm each summer as a child and early teen, being outdoors, tending to chores, spending time with animals. Animals give her joy and she feels at ease with them. She feels a type of harmony and rhythm with them. What does this have to do with Physical Therapy? Probably nothing at all.

Author photo - Susan DavisUntil she spots it off in the distance: an exit sign that reads "Canine Rehabilitation Program for Physical Therapists and Veterinarians". Here is a chance to combine her knowledge and skills with her passion. The therapist clicks on the turn signal, bears right, slows down and exits the highway.

She is back on the path again, and nothing is familiar, yet everything feels right. Patients are here and need her care but they are dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, goats, pigs, iguanas, camels and llamas. The "office" is a home, zoo, farm, shelter, and sanctuary. The animals teach her things beyond formal education. The way they respond to Physical Therapy, compared to human beings, is amazing. She feels an inner urging to share her perspective, knowledge and tell stories. The path is wonderful but she decides to add a new dimension, and goes "off road" into the wilderness, but still close to the path. She writes, first blog articles, then a manuscript for a book and she is now an author.

The journey continues, uncommon, yet spectacular.


Susan E. Davis is a New Jersey Licensed Physical Therapist with over 36 years of clinical experience, who transitioned from human practice to working with animals. She owns and operates Joycare Onsite, LLC, formed in 2008, providing Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation services exclusively to multiple animal species: in the pet's home, farm, in clinics, animal shelters, and a zoo. She currently provides pro-bono services once per week to the Monmouth County SPCA and prior to that at Associated Humane Societies/Popcorn Park Animal Clinic. Susan has been a member of the American Physical Therapy Association and its Animal Rehabilitation Special Interest Group and also belongs to the New Jersey Association of Women Business Owners (NJAWBO). In 2004, she received the Monmouth- Ocean NJAWBO Business Woman of the Year Award, and is currently a nominee for a Northwestern University Alumni Community Service Award. In addition to clinical practice, Susan is a writer and author, public speaker and consultant.

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