• Alex Bryce, NSE, CSCS

Finding Inspiration in Advancing Physical Therapy Education

I have been obsessed with the human body and how it works for as long as I can remember. As a boy, I would venture into the woods and look for the heaviest rocks that I could find to pick up and carry back home. I told my mom that I wanted to be a police officer because “they get big muscles.” Back then, exercise, sport performance and learning how our bodies adapt to physical stress felt like fun for me, and it still does!

I was lucky enough to go to high school right next to the University of Connecticut (UConn), which has one of the top Kinesiology programs in the country. I knew I wanted to be a student there as it would provide me with an opportunity to build a career around exercise and sport performance. UConn’s unique program offers a specific bachelor's degree in Strength and Conditioning. It also requires sitting for the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s (NSCA) Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) exam to graduate. The CSCS is the gold standard in strength and conditioning, and I was proud to have earned such a distinction. I went on to complete my Master of Science in Kinesiology and Exercise Science at the University of Kansas.

In my 10 years as a Strength and Conditioning Coach, I have worked with hundreds of clients from a variety of sports, ranging from rugby Olympians, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) world champions and WNBA/NBA All-Stars, to professional MMA fighters and collegiate All-American athletes. I have also trained just as many clients from everyday life, anyone from busy professionals balancing work, life and a family, to weight loss patients and even those battling severe eating disorders. This exposure to a wide array of clients gave me an appreciation for the enormous variety of body types, and movement abilities. Working with individuals' variations in movement while promoting movement as medicine is one of my biggest life goals.

On a Path to Deeper Learning and Education

During my master’s degree program, my advisor asked me if I wanted to pursue academic research or strength and conditioning. I answered: “Both and neither. I want to treat the weight room like a classroom, and the lab like a gym.” The NSCA mission statement used to be “bridging the gap,” and as a young student this goal resonated strongly with me. At the time I thought only of bridging the gap between academia and athletics, but I have since learned that there are many gaps between basic movement health and medical industries. Too often researchers, coaches, physicians, and physical therapists operate in their own silos. My vision is to forge a unique path that facilitates collaboration across these many fields to improve communication and knowledge sharing about movement health.

The most concerning ‘gap’ I’ve witnessed today is between the provider and the patient. To bring my vision into focus, I am now pursuing a doctoral degree in Physical Therapy (DPT). I come from a family of teachers, and I passionately believe that the greatest value of any professional, whether an exercise coach, physical therapist or medical professional can provide, is that of education and understanding. I have dedicated my life to improving health literacy, busting myths and misinformation, and empowering patients to take control of their individual health journeys. Becoming a licensed PT is the next step in this never-ending pursuit.

My Place in the Future of Musculoskeletal Care

The pieces are in place for transformation in musculoskeletal (MSK) care and specifically in the field of Physical Therapy (PT). With the huge demand for care, delivering PT in the most accessible and cost-effective way is paramount. Our roles as physical therapists must reach beyond rehabilitation. With half of American adults suffering from a MSK condition, we must also be promoting health literacy, education and a movement health culture to combat the risk of chronic pain and disability. The greatest factor in positive outcomes for PT is the patient's perception of a therapeutic alliance, which includes perceived value, attitudes/beliefs, strong rapport with the PT, feeling heard, empathy, etc. Finding that education and health literacy sweet spot can make or break a PT-patient relationship. When patients have the right amount of education from their PT, the more likely they are to be engaged and stay the course of care. This focus on patient understanding and engagement is what I’m really looking forward to being a part of as a PT. The practice of physical medicine is moving in the right direction, but in order to create real change in MSK care and movement health, it just takes time. I look forward to further contributing to this progress as a physical therapist.

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