This year, we celebrated ten years of Ascend. That’s right—ten years of an industry-leading business summit that offers attendees the chance to grow, network, and innovate on the practice experience. Every year, we give the Innovator of the Year award to a practice that demonstrates the gusto and grit any clinician would hope to achieve. As we state in the application, the recipient should be a trailblazer who brings fresh ideas and unique approaches to the field of rehab therapy—and the Ascend 2023 Innovator of the Year fits the bill.
In fact, this year’s winner has redefined the award as someone who has literally been blazing trails both in practice and in nature. Dr. Morgan Brosnihan, PT, DPT, founder of Blaze Physio, has taken her passion for thru-hiking and physical therapy and created a truly unique and innovative practice without walls—but definitely wheels. I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Brosnihan in person, and I was able to ask her a few questions to help others find the kind of inspiration and drive she has. See her answers below.
For those who may not know, what was the origin of your rather unique practice?
I thru-hiked the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) from Mexico to Canada. During my hike, I noticed many people were sustaining injuries—and there was a lack of resources for learning how to manage these injuries and continue hiking. Most of the towns and rest points along the PCT are very small; hikers are lucky to find a medical provider, let alone an orthopedic provider, who understands the unique needs of thru-hikers.
This problem stuck with me, and in the two years after wrapping up my thru-hike, I refined my skills to become the provider I felt the hiking community needed. So, in perhaps an unconventional way, I hit the road to meet them where they needed help the most—on the trail in my mobile practice.
What noteworthy business results has your practice achieved this year?
I have treated over 1,000 hikers in under two years of practice. That experience has led to exponential growth in internal marketing, as the thru-hiking community is tight-knit. Recently, Outside Magazine did a feature piece on my mobile practice, where on the trail, I am simply known as "the Physio." Fortunately, I have had to give very few hikers trail-ending news as we can often manage their injuries successfully to keep them hiking and rehab as they continue their journey.
How has working on the trail developed your skills as a PT?
Owning and operating a mobile PT practice on the trail has made me resourceful and adaptable. I have become adept at doing more with less and leaning into education a bit harder. Most of these people will be seen for a one-time visit, and they need to leave that visit equipped to manage their injury while walking hundreds of miles—often without any cell service to ask for additional help—to complete their hiking goal successfully.
Given that you're working so far outside a traditional setting, how do you measure your success?
I measure success by keeping hikers on the trail. I have done my job as a physical therapist and primary care provider if they're able to continue their hikes to a successful outcome. Success to me doesn't look like scaling to 20 clinics or 100 employees. Instead, I see the net benefit of people being able to successfully complete these hikes and the impact that has on their lives.
That impact has proven to be a useful barometer for my practice’s success, as many of the hikers I help on the trail schedule telehealth visits for follow-ups or other issues they would like my assistance in treating. Internal (word-of-mouth) referrals have skyrocketed for me, and I remain busy through the PCT hiking season.
What advice would you have for anyone considering stepping outside traditional PT models and meeting patients where they're at?
Take the time to sharpen your clinical skills first. If you're evidence-based and truly bring value to the clients you serve—regardless of the setting—the marketing and word-of-mouth referrals will have a huge impact on the number of people you can reach.
What are your goals for Blaze in the coming years?
I plan to continue to provide more online resources for my clientele and educate providers who might be seeing thru-hikers in their clinics or perhaps aspire to join me on the trail. Currently, Blaze Physio comprises myself, my registered therapy dog, Honey, and my van. I would like to bring on more therapists, but that remains an evolving situation. Also, I anticipate telehealth to continue being a practical option for current, former, and future clients. While I love vanlife, it's certainly not for everyone.
Blaze Physio fully embodies the “innovator” part of the Ascend 2023 Innovator of the Year award. Dr. Brosnihan continues to serve thru-hikers for the remainder of the hiking season and looks forward to continuing her business at the start of next season. In the meantime, if you would like to learn more about Blaze Physio, check out the website or follow Dr. Brosnihan on Facebook, Instagram, or her YouTube channel.