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The Story of a PTA (Interview)

WebPT are big advocates for the rehab therapy industry, including the incredible PT, OT, & SLP assistants who positively impact the lives of their patients.

Charlotte Bohnett
5 min read
October 7, 2013
image representing the story of a pta (interview)
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Daniel Timm

We here at WebPT are big advocates for the rehab therapy industry—and that includes all the incredible PT, OT, and SLP assistants who positively impact the lives of their patients. So today, we thought we’d give you an inside look into the life and times of a fantastic PTA (and Twitter friend) Daniel Timm (@DaneTimm) of ATI Physical Therapy in Pewaukee, Wisconsin. Check out our interview with Daniel below.

WebPT: Why did you decide to become a PTA?

Daniel Timm: I was 20 years old—taking general education courses part time, training in martial arts, and playing semi-pro football—and I had no idea what I wanted to do professionally. I had enrolled at Spartan School of Aeronautics in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I was going to be a pilot, but it just didn't feel right. So, I moved back to Wisconsin after two days and started detailing cars, boats, and planes. I loved it, but I always knew I wanted to help people.

In eighth grade during the spring of 1997, I had surgery to address my osteochondritis dissecans—the result of a soccer injury. Flash forward to my 20-year-old self: with the martial arts and football, I was hurt all the time. By 2003, I had surgery on a broken scaphoid, sprained MCLs in both knees, and suffered a fairly major shoulder subluxation, so I had my fair share of rehabilitation experiences. Around the same time, my father had surgery to "clean up" degenerative changes in his elbow, and they severed his median nerve.

It wasn’t long after my dad’s surgery that I was sitting in a fluidotherapy machine, wondering what I was doing there and thinking about my dad. That’s when I realized I could make a positive difference in people's lives through physical therapy. I never looked back.

WebPT: What steps did you take to make your PTA career happen?

Daniel Timm: I realized I couldn't afford to go back to school for a DPT degree, so I began to look at the local community college for courses that might apply to PT school. That’s when I learned about the PTA program. After reading the description and doing a quick Google search, I knew I wanted to be a PTA. During school, I joined the national technical honor society and Phi Theta Kappa. I spoke with a friend who went through the same PTA program; she gave me all kinds of advice, but my favorite was to get a job as a rehab aide or tech, so I did.

My first job in health care was a weekend position (5:00 AM to 3:30 PM every other weekend) at Aurora Sinai hospital in downtown Milwaukee. It is a teaching hospital, and I couldn't have asked for a better learning experience. I worked mainly in their inpatient rehab unit, a mostly neurological floor with a large population of stroke survivors and patients receiving Parkinson's medication adjustments. I also worked extensively with orthopedic, outpatient, and acute medical patients as well as patients in both ICU and CICU. I loved every minute of my five-plus years there, working with world-class therapists and soaking up information like a sponge.

During my last year of general education courses, I had the opportunity to find my true passion in private practice outpatient orthopedics. At the outpatient clinic, I had a great boss who served as a mentor during my time there. My community college, Waukesha County Technical College (WCTC), had a shared program with Blackhawk Technical College in Janesville, Wisconsin, about 90 miles from where I was living and working. I decided the opportunities I had to gain experience as a rehab tech were worth the commute. School was great. Susan Griffin PT, DPT, GCS, was our main instructor and another amazing mentor.

Halfway through my two-year program, I got a job working with a 10-year-old boy with spastic quadriplegia cerebral palsy. I was responsible for coordinating his therapies—two speech therapists, PT, and OT—and working with him at home to further develop his functional ability. Working with this child was an amazing experience, and through it, I learned about the wonderful world of pediatrics.

At this point, I had three jobs: working at Aurora Sinai hospital, at the outpatient orthopedic private practice, and with the 10-year-old boy. I had no personal life, so something had to give. I left the hospital. By the time graduation came, I had my pick of settings and several offers. I had a difficult choice between the private practice clinic I was working at and the site of my final clinical rotation, ATI physical therapy. I chose ATI.

WebPT: What’s a day in the life of a PTA like?

Daniel Timm: I work four 10-hour shifts: Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. I start by reviewing my caseload and my to-do list (DCs, chart reviews, emails, etc.). Then I see eight to 15 patients with varying diagnoses, functional levels, socioeconomic backgrounds, and ethnicities. No two days are ever the same.

I am also involved with a spine education committee, and I’m a board member of the southeast district of the Wisconsin Physical Therapist Association (WPTA) and a member of the PTA special interest group. I’m also active in several charitable organizations. My days are busy.

WebPT: What do you feel is the greatest challenge facing PTAs both personally and professionally?

Daniel Timm: Personally, I believe complacency is a big problem with PTAs—whether it’s following a protocol, using clinical decision-making skills, or never speaking up when someone refers to the PTA as "just a PTA.”

As a profession, we hear so frequently about the changing environment of health care, specifically reduced reimbursements. Those practices that do not adapt could end up sacrificing quality of care in order to increase productivity, poorly or over-using PTAs, and decreasing employee pay and benefits.

WebPT: What is your favorite part about being a PTA?

Daniel Timm: Hands-on helping people. Seeing people achieve functional goals and knowing I played a big part in keeping an EMT on the job, a police officer on the beat, a high school athlete in the game.

Just today, I heard from a past patient who was training for the Madison Ironman and was unable to run six weeks out from the race due to pain. He finished pain-free somewhere around 13:20 and couldn't be happier. I was so proud. I’m proud of the results my patients can achieve, and I’m happy I’ve had such a positive impact on my patients’ lives. I also enjoy the advocacy, inspiring other PTAs to make a difference.

WebPT: Thank you, Daniel, for the great interview!

Are you a PTA? What challenges is the profession facing? What’s your favorite part of your job? Share your experiences and feedback in the comments below.


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