Welcome to this edition of Feature Friday where I sit down with current Physical Therapy students and professionals. Today I have the honor to share my conversation with Dr. Marie Whitt, @dr.whitt.fit . Dr. Whitt is a sports physical therapist who graduated from the University of Michigan’s Doctorate of Physical Therapy program in 2018. During this Covid-19 Pandemic, Dr. Whitt has created an online business, where she helps athletes with pain or injuries return back to their sport confidently and stronger than ever. Without any ado wait I present to you my conversation with the extremely personable and knowledgeable Dr. Marie Whitt.
So in your own words, who is Dr. Marie Whitt?
Thanks so much for the opportunity to chat! I’m Marie Whitt, or @dr.whitt.fit on instagram. I graduated from University of Michigan in 2018 with my Doctorate of Physical Therapy (go
blue!). I’m a knowledge sponge. I love learning from other therapists and healthcare professionals, even if our treatment philosophies are different.I believe in keeping an open mind and having honest discussions.
I’m a sports physical therapist- and let me tell-there aren’t many female sports PTs out there. But I love a challenge.
I’m a workout and sports enthusiast and I try it all! I’ve done dance and gymnastics (wasn’t very good at those). I’m already an avid runner and weight lifter (decent at these). I’m terrible at frisbee golf. I learned to ski in Jackson Hole last winter (surprisingly good at this!). And I want to try boxing or some kind of MMA style sport in the future!
I’m passionate about constantly pushing my own boundaries, bettering myself and my practice, standing up to a challenge, and putting in 100%. I believe in failing forward, pushing through fear, and finding what you’re made of on the other side.
Dr. Marie Whitt as a Physical Therapist:
What is your favorite thing about being a Physical Therapist?
What I love most about being a Physical Therapist is our view that movement is medicine. The fact that we can treat, solve, cure pain through movement—–WOW! Makes my head explode every time. It’s not the advil or oxy that took away the patient’s pain—-those are bandaids. It’s YOU, the physical therapist, that figured out what MOVEMENT that patient needed, that alleviated their pain. You gave them something better than a pill. You gave them an exercise that puts them in control of their symptoms. That’s powerful!
Who has been the most impactful patient you have ever had?
Most impactful patient- wasn’t an athlete at all. He was a 16 year old young man with 2 scoliotic curves, Charcot-Marie-Tooth, ADD/ADHD, was on the high level functioning end of the autism spectrum, and had some behavioral issues..or he was just being a teenager. Hard to tell haha. But it was a practice of patience, understanding, and fortitude. I wouldn’t let him give up or give in. I realized to a certain extent, we were fighting a losing battle due to his comorbidities…until we weren’t. Instead of treating just the back (because of the scoliosis) or just his feet (because of the muscular dystrophy), we focused on treating his functional movement. Together, we tested and re-tested different exercises until we created a program with a number of different workouts that improved his ability to LIVE. We improved his squat, hip hinge, his upper extremity strength which was neurologically impaired due to the scoliosis. We (myself, the patient, his mom) all knew the nature of his disease, but that wasn’t a reason to write him off and just give him glute bridges, bicep curls, and send him on his way.
I realized I had the opportunity to put in the work, find what TRULY worked for him, and create a series of movements that just might prolong his quality of life…much more than what a simple glute bridge was going to do.
He taught me to look past the ornery teenage attitude and confront with him what must be a terrifying prognosis and life expectancy. And he trusted me to listen when he had bad days and gave me the opportunity to walk that journey with him, at least for a little while.
How has your clinical practice changed during Covid-19 Pandemic?
It’s changed drastically. I’m doing something I NEVER saw myself doing. I saw myself always doing clinic work. But now, I’m doing telehealth and movement performance using the FMS (Functional Movement Screen), either in person or over Zoom. I never considered myself a business person before this. I’m learning and growing into that. The impact of covid has forced me to grow and own my niche; to present myself more confidently and hone and adapt my skills.
How do you use the Functional Movement Screening(FMS)?
I use it as a movement performance tool to take an athlete’s workout to the next level.
I also use it to tease out any “hidden” deficits during a PT treatment session.
FMS is a series of 7 standardized movements that evaluate your “movement foundation”. Can you squat and meet these 3 criteria? Can you successfully lunge while your upper body is locked in a reciprocal pattern behind your head? Can you step over this string-hurdle
without falling over?
Sounds simple, right? And some of it is! But you’d be surprised which movement is challenging, which ones you get “stuck” on and you can’t complete!
As a movement performance tool, the FMS helps me unlock your lunge, deepen your squat, make your shoulder mobility equal bilaterally. We undo any faulty movement patterns your body has stashed away and compensated on for years. Once those movement deficits have been addressed, you back squat gets easier, your weight goes up, and you’re making gains you only dreamed about!
I’m religious about testing and re-testing the corrective exercises I give you after your FMS assessment. Correctives are the exercises you do on your own to improve that squat, lunge, shoulder mobility, etc. I don’t believe in giving you an exercise for the sake of an exercise. It has to make the cut. The exercise has to make a difference and make that movement test better.
That’s what sets my physical therapy practice and movement performance apart from others. I guarantee, once your movement foundation is addressed, you will feel a change and see an improvement in your lift session, spinning class, on your next run!
How do you find virtual clients?
I’ve been finding clients through instagram, personal connections, and good old fashion “meet and greet” marketing, just talking with people and saying, “hey, I can help you”.
Do I wish it was easier? Yes, I do. Am I still growing my practice, absolutely. It is still in its infancy stage. But I’m passionate about what I do so I’ll keep hustling.
What are the benefits of having a “professional” instagram?
I have connected with so many cool, incredibly smart, and passionate physical therapists out there! It’s been a real blessing honestly. I’m glad I finally pushed my fear aside, and made an instagram account. (I know, it sounds really dumb, but I was terrified to have an instagram. Like, what do I have to offer? All these cool people out there…it’s intimidating!)
Having this professional platform during “rona-tide” has given me an outlet for patient education, which I’ve found is another passion of mine. I love sharing knowledge about our profession, the benefits of movement, and cool exercises!
How do you balance your time?
I’m a list maker. It’s what I gotta do to stay organized. My to-do list includes work tasks and “self care” things -why not? Those are equally important! So my list looks like documentation, instagram planning, grocery shopping and errands (real glamorous, I know), workout, meditation, and time to play with the cat. This way, I hold myself accountable not just to the work that needs to get done, but also to the things I need for myself!
Views on Physical Therapy profession
What do you view as the biggest problem in physical therapy?
Oh geesh, breaking out the hard questions. I genuinely think it’s us, physical therapists, not acknowledging our own value. We are AMAZING health care providers. We make life-changing differences in our patient’s lives every day.
But what do we do?
We dumb down our own expertise. We tolerate mediocrity within our own profession. We let ourselves be used as cash cows by *some*corporate PT business. We let ourselves get so burnt out that it is COMMON for physical therapists to question whether they made the right career choice in as little as 5 years out from graduation.
Let that sink in for a second.
We are graduating with a doctorate level education. We know our stuff! We need to act like it. We also need to be humble enough to realize, we don’t know everything. We need to do our homework on unfamiliar diagnoses, constantly update our exercise repertoire, and not be afraid to consult other healthcare providers. Because we’re a healthcare team for this patient. And we need to remember that.
Where do you see physical therapy going in the future?
Wow, great question especially considering how much PT has changed due to the pandemic. I’m hoping that as a result of these growing pains, physical therapy will become more independently owned again. There have been so many therapists, including myself, displaced because of Covid. I want us to realize that each individual PT is a power house- YOU are your own practice! I hope we take it upon ourselves to start shaping a different future for physical therapy-one that looks like easier access, lower cost to the patient, and more individualized, specific treatment plans.
What is your least favorite thing about being a PT?
Or phone calls to insurance companies bargaining for more visits.
Yup….the phone calls suck more.
Dr. Whitt’s advice for current Physical therapy students:
What recommendations do you have for current Physical therapy students?
Don’t be afraid of failure and don’t be afraid to experiment! You go into school thinking you’re going to love one thing, and lock yourself into that expectation. If you’re even mildly curious about a field within PT, go find it! Do a clinical there or go and observe for 1 day! Don’t be afraid to go outside your original plan. That’s not failure; that’s growth.
Same goes for grades. Excel, do your best, but please, don’t kill yourself over an B+. You made it; you passed! You’re a freaking rock star for just having gotten into PT school. Don’t forget that.
What should students who are preparing to graduate look for when they are beginning their job search?
Well, looking back, I know what I would tell my-new-graduate-self:
Define your dream job that values your worth.
Write it down.
Will you find that dream job? Just maybe. I’m lucky enough to have. But this will be your measuring stick to compare your future job prospects to.
As you’re starting your job search, don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions. Do you have a certain treatment style you love? Ask them if they’re familiar with it-are they comfortable with you practicing that way? (yes, this is a real concern. Believe me.) Based on your clinicals, how many patients are YOU comfortable seeing in an hour? How many hours a day can you work effectively? What is the productivity requirement aka how many units do you need to bill per patient?
Remember that each clinic has its own vibe, it’s own culture. Some clinics are super laid back; some are go-go-go 100% of the time. Which environment do you thrive in? What you’re getting paid IS important, but keeping your sanity and avoiding burnout…I think that’s more important than money.
What things can current Physical therapy students do while in school, to separate themselves from their peers?
I love this question! Don’t be afraid to follow your passion, especially if it means being different! I know I felt pressure to “enjoy” or do the different extracurricular activities my peers were doing. I didn’t love those activities though. I knew myself well enough to know being the class representative, a graduate assistant, etc was going to make me miserable. So why bother doing that for the sake of my resume?
My passion was and is sports. So I actively sought out different clinicals than my peers. I also deliberately chose types of clinicals that were NOT sports related. Example-one of mine was a neuro ICU and regular ICU, CCU (cardiac care intensive unit), gen med surg, post op ortho. My clinicals were deliberately all over the place. I loved how it gave me such a diverse background and proved to myself that I can adapt and do anything.
Last thing: never underestimate the impact of pro bono mission work. I did one PT service trip while in school (part of a school course) and I chose to do another one as a professional. I can’t begin to tell you how much these set you apart from everyone else. Not to mention, what an impression they leave on you personally. Both trips also challenged me to change and fine tune how I treat. They made me think fast and on my feet-skills that will serve you well in the clinic!
Fun Facts about Dr. Whitt
What podcast/youtube series do you watch?
Oh! I love Ross Tucker and his blog and podcast Science of Sport. He is a Ph.D. in exercise physiology (I believe) out of University of Cape Town. I’ve been fan-girling over his stuff since I was in undergrad and did my capstone project on athletes like Pistorious (not the murderous kind; the disabled kind). But Tucker…so crazy smart. So many levels to his analysis.
Youtube series: Anything from FMS and Gray Cook. *more fan-girling moments* At first, everything they say seems sideways, but the more you think about it and listen to the explanation, the more it makes total sense.
Favorite muscle in the body?
Maybe serratus anterior? This is such a hard question haha! It’s such a cool muscle that’s misunderstood or forgotten.
Favorite health/fitness/ physical therapy accounts