Adrienne Parry, PT, DPT, ’08, alumna of A.T. Still University’s Arizona School of Health Sciences (ATSU-ASHS) tells us about her journey to a career as staff physical therapist at El Rio Community Health Center in Tucson, Arizona.
Q: Tell us about your career. What are you doing now?
A: I love being a physical therapist! I currently have three jobs: teaching musculoskeletal classes as an adjunct instructor in the ATSU Post-Professional Doctor of Physical Therapy program, working as a staff physical therapist at El Rio Community Health Center, and working as a per diem physical therapist at the University of Arizona Campus Health Center. I owned and managed an outpatient orthopedic private practice for 22 years. My work in the private sector led me to seek out opportunities to help patients who otherwise may not have access to physical therapy.
Q: What attracted you to ATSU-ASHS?
A: I was attracted to ATSU for the small class sizes, individualized instruction, and supportive faculty and staff. I looked at several post-professional DPT programs, and ATSU had the most flexible and comprehensive program for working professionals. The focus on evidence-based medicine and collaborative learning with highly diverse physical therapists was important to me.
Q: How do you serve the underserved in your work?
A: At El Rio, we serve patients and their families by providing comprehensive, skilled, and compassionate care for every person, regardless of their ability to pay. I am honored and humbled to be part of a team that is so genuinely engaged in the community and in caring for the whole person. Each patient is treated with respect and dignity. We are able to offer many services for free, including wellness classes and eligibility counseling. Many of the patients that we see in physical therapy are getting care for musculoskeletal problems for the first time in their lives.
Q: How did your education at ATSU prepare and inspire you to work with the underserved?
A: My education at ATSU was focused on whole person care and evidence-based medicine. Collaboration with other professionals was discussed in each course that I took and now in each course that I teach. Respect and appreciation for each individual’s story, culture, family, values, and experiences were emphasized. ATSU has a nurturing and caring culture. I feel so well-supported by my department, including Tammy Roehling, PT, DPT, Jim Farris, PT, PhD, and Ann Lee Burch, PT, EdD, MPH.
Q: What do you love about working at a community health center?
A: I absolutely love working at El Rio! Daily, I am inspired by patients who demonstrate resilience in the face of life and medical challenges. My professional colleagues and the wonderful support staff are kind, generous, and collaborative. Currently, we have a small team of three physical therapists, with plans to expand into more of the 11 El Rio health centers all around Tucson. We have a great need for physical therapy in this community, and our primary care providers and sports medicine doctors are highly collaborative in referring to physical therapy to prevent unnecessary pain medication use. We have a real “hallway consultation” setup, in which we participate with the other providers on a regular basis to best serve our patients.
Q: What are you most proud of in your work?
A: It is an honor to treat each of our patients. There are so many stories. I feel that the most meaningful difference we can make is getting integrated care. We collaborate and communicate to get patients the surgeries, urgent care, and behavioral health they need. For example, I worked with a patient who was experiencing homelessness and needed a hip replacement. Without advocacy from the team of physical therapists, sports medicine specialists, and the primary care physician, this patient would have gone without necessary surgery. Every day, I communicate with our resident sports medicine physician and the primary care providers about patients who need additional services. I really enjoy working one on one with patients who have chronic, complex medical issues. It takes compassion, patience, and commitment to be with people through their difficult times. I feel that the time I get to spend with each person, listening to their stories and sharing in their joys and sorrows, is a gift. Every day I see resilience and success in our patients.
Q: What are your goals for the future?
A: My goals for the future involve helping to facilitate interprofessional collaboration between the ATSU Doctor of Physical Therapy program and the community health center where I work. I am very excited to know that ATSU’s School of Osteopathic Medicine in Arizona (ATSU-SOMA) already has a medical residency at El Rio. In the physical therapy department, we frequently get to work with the DO residents, and it is wonderful to see their level of preparation, compassion, and true commitment to working with underserved populations. The missions of the community health center and ATSU are aligned, with emphasis on whole person care, community engagement, and excellence in medical care provision. Ideally, I would love to be part of a robust teaching facility within the physical therapy department at El Rio, in collaboration with ATSU.
Q: What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a similar career path?
A: Advice that I give to physical therapy students is to follow their hearts. There are so many opportunities in physical therapy, from neurological, orthopedic, pediatric, oncology, and women’s health specialties, to teaching and mentoring. The field of physical therapy is exploding, with many advances in research and treatment emerging. We are an important part of our patients’ lives, and it is a great pleasure to help people achieve their goals.