Jeremy Duane Houser, PT/DPT, splits his time between Integrity Rehab Management in Alabama, Martin Army Community Hospital in Fort Benning, GA, Jack Hughston Memorial Hospital in Alabama, Restore Therapy, and Home Rehab Inc. Houser earned his bachelor’s degree in exercise science with a concentration in pre-physical therapy from Auburn University in Alabama in 2006, then went on to earn a doctor of physical therapy (DPT) from Alabama State University in Montgomery in 2009. He served clinical internships in acute care at both Jackson Hospital in Montgomery and Springhill Medical Center in Mobile, AL; inpatient rehabilitation at Mercer Medical in Daphne, AL; and outpatient at The Orthopaedic Clinic in Opelika, AL.
Houser is a member of the The National Scholars Honor Society, American Congress of Electromyography, American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), and Alabama Chapter of APTA. His advanced training includes dry needling for craniofacial, cervicothoracic and upper extremity conditions; cervicothoracic dysfunction and cervicogenic headache diagnosis and management with HVLAT and exercise; and cervical, thoracic, lumbar and SI joints.
When did you first decide to become a PT? Why?
Prior to PT school, I was actually majoring in computer engineering at Auburn University for approximately three and a half years. I wasn’t content with engineering at all, and my grades were a reflection of that. It’s hard for me to put forth the effort into something if I don’t enjoy it or if it’s unfulfilling to me. At that point, I didn’t know what career path I wanted to pursue or which of my skill sets that I wanted to hone in on. Fortunately for me, I started working as a fitness consultant for Auburn University and my interest in the human body began to grow. I started exploring various medical careers, and initially podiatry, chiropractics, and physical therapy all sparked my interest. In the end though, it was physical therapy that suited me the most.
How/why did you choose the PT school you went to?
Location definitely influenced my decision in determining which PT school that I would ultimately attend. I’m originally from Prattville, Alabama, and Alabama State University’s Physical Therapy Program is approximately 15 minutes away from my home. Since I was living at home and had received a scholarship towards my educational pursuits, I had the opportunity to save more money, which was an added benefit for me. Another factor that was extremely important to me was that I wanted to experience a HBCU (Historically Black College and University). After going to a predominantly white high school and undergrad, I desired something different from my previous experiences. Fortunately for me, I still managed to encounter an extremely diverse group of peers and faculty staff, which I thoroughly enjoyed and benefited from.
What surprised you the most about PT school?
What surprised me the most about PT school was the complexity of the courses and the intricacy of the workload that I had to complete. I was informed by numerous people about how difficult it would be, but I didn’t comprehend the magnitude of that difficulty until I began my schooling endeavors.
What was it like finding a job in your chosen career field? What were your options and why did you decide what you did?
For me it wasn’t hard finding a job, it was difficult choosing which job that I wanted. During Physical Therapy School I had a strong interest in electrophysiology (EMG/NCS). As a result of that, I had the opportunity to learn in with the Indian Health Service while commissioning in the United States Public Health Commission Corps (USPHCC), as well as Integrity Rehab Management (IRM). After visiting an Indian Reservation with USPHCC, I decided to go with IRM due to the professional development opportunities in entrepreneurship, clinical mentorship, and the opportunity to work as a credential army physical therapist.
If you had it to do all over again, would you still become a PT? (Why or why not? What would you have done instead?)
Absolutely! I can honestly say that I have never experienced a bad day as a PT. My patients are the driving force that motivates me. All day long I help alleviate pain and help patients achieve their full functional potential. What is there to not like about that?
Has being a PT met your expectations? Why?
Yes and no. Yes, because I enjoy what I do 99.5% of the time. My patients are great and they are extremely appreciative of what it is that I do for them. No, because much of the general public, as well as many of those within the healthcare sector, don’t truly understand everything that being a PT entails or the requirements of becoming a PT. Those are the only moments that I get frustrated with my job, but those moments are few and far between.
What do you like most about being a PT?
The thing that I like the most about being a PT is being able to help patients without surgery or having to medicate them. I love seeing people recover and get back to their optimal help; it’s just a great feeling. Also, the most important clinical skill I believe that physical therapists have is the ability to recognize conditions that we can’t treat (through clinical examination and indentifying red flags) and referring to the most appropriate provider.
What do you like least about being a PT?
What I like least about being a PT is that prior to working in a military setting, I didn’t enjoy the limitations that I encountered or the hesitancy that I was met with, with regards to requesting diagnostic imaging or testing when clinically deemed appropriate.
Describe a typical day at work.
I usually get to work around 6:45 a.m. I see patients between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m., which includes evaluations, reevaluations and manual therapy treatments. About three days a week I see home health patients after work, for about two hours each on those days. Additionally, I also work two weekends a month doing acute care orthopedics.
Do you work with mid-level providers, and if so, what kind(s)?
In the military setting, PTs are considered primary care orthopedic specialists (physician extenders). Consequently, I believe the collaboration between PTs, PAs and case managers is likely a more frequent occurrence. Many times before a patient can see an orthopedic surgeon, they must first have seen a PT previously. Due to increase scope of practice and autonomy for PTs in the military setting, case managers, PAs, and physicians collaborate more frequently with the PT to better determine if a patient is ready to return to duty.
On average: How many hours a week do you work? How many hours do you sleep per night? How many weeks of vacation do you take?
On average I usually work between 50 to 55 hours per week. I typically sleep six to seven hours per night. Taking vacations is an absolute must for me. I think I’m already over my PTO for this year. That said, I take vacations to relax, but I also try to attend two to three continuing educations courses a year, which is also included in that time off.
Do you have family, and if so, do you have enough time to spend with them? How do you balance work, and life outside of work?
No, I’m single. I really do enjoy PT and I believe that while I’m single this is the time to work hard and to pursue many of my professional endeavors and ambitions, because once I start a family I would like to be debt free and financially stable so that I can offer them the best life possible. In terms of balancing life and my personal time, I am a strong believer in taking care of my patients as well as myself. If I am not at my best, then I can’t provide the best care for them. Thus, I still make time to workout, to visit friends and family, and to just enjoy life.
Are you satisfied with your income? Why?
Yes. While I am truly grateful for this opportunity and satisfied with what I make, I also realize that there is potential for greater wealth.
If you took out educational loans, is/was paying them back a financial strain?
No. I had a high financial burden when leaving PT school, but even prior to beginning PT school one of my main objectives was to make sure that at the conclusion of my educational pursuits, I immediately begin repaying back any student loans that I received during that time. It amazes me when I see some professionals with brand new luxury cars and quarter of a million dollar houses, but complaining about their student loan debt. It doesn’t add up. Personally, I believe debt is debt. Regardless of a car loan, house loan, student loans, or credit card loans – pay it off! I know many will disagree.
In your position now, knowing what you do – what would you say to yourself when you started your PT career?
I wish I would have done a dual DPT and PhD program, and possibly a residency program. I still would like to obtain my PhD, but I think that it would be a bit more challenging now that I am already progressing in my career field.
What information/advice do you wish you had known when you were pre PT school?
Pre-PT, I wish I would have know the different specializations in the field of PT. I still remember my second semester of PT school learning and performing wound care; I had no idea that physical therapist specialized in wound care and I was literally grossed out thinking about it. One of my clinical internship in PT school was 75% wound care. Ironically, I enjoyed it a lot. Many people just know about orthopedic and acute care PT, but there are many more specializations within the realm of PT.
From your perspective, what is the biggest problem in healthcare today?
Where do I start? I believe that it’s the limited access to health care professionals, especially in rural areas. If the civilian side of medicine would try to foster and incorporate some of the military methods of healthcare, PTs and other midlevel service providers could have increased but still limited scope to provide more efficient healthcare to the general public. I also believe that it’s important for insurance companies to acknowledge direct access to patients. Forty nine out of the 50 states have some form of direct access for physical therapists, but if they don’t reimburse for those services then it really doesn’t matter.
The cost to obtain clinical degrees (any degree for that matter) is also a disturbing factor.
Where do you see PT in 10 years?
Due to the current state of healthcare, I can honestly say that I’m not sure. Hopefully, the general public and policy makers will begin to grasp all of the components of PT and what we offer within the realms of healthcare.
What types of outreach/volunteer work do you do, if any?
I currently volunteer for the Hopeful 41 Foundation. It’s a non-profit organization founded by one of my best friends, Roman Harper of the New Orleans Saints, which strives to strengthen those individuals in various communities who need the supplemental support. Through the use of economical development, various educational programs, and a variety of self-development activities and exercises, this organization goes out into the community and helps to further assist those individuals who are in need of the additional support and training being offered through the NGO.
What advice do you have for students or recent graduates regarding salary negotiation?
Do your research and make sure that it’s a win-win situation for all parties involved. For example, sometimes it’s better to take less now for the opportunity to receive a great mentorship and the additional training that you may need, and then later to be able to refer back to those resources and thus to obtain a greater range of professional development and success. In terms of making sure that you secure the financial income that you deserve while completing salary negotiations, research what is happening in the market and ask your peers and counterparts who share the same skills and educational background as you what they are making. You know what is important for you, and you should strive to obtain that as long as it is reasonable and practical.
For me personally, my main objective was, and still is, paying off my debt. Fortunately for me, I started off with a good salary, and the harder that I worked the more potential there was for financial gain and various bonuses to help supplement my income. As a result, I have had the opportunity to work in numerous settings including military, acute care, out patient, home health, and nursing homes. Some of these opportunities were more profitable than others, but they have been great from an educational and professional development standpoint. So while your salary matters, the most important thing that you should remember and focus on is doing what you love and being happy while doing so; money should just be an added bonus.
Do you have any final piece of advice for students interested in pursuing PT as a career?
Yes. My first year I was a bit discouraged about the limited scope of a PT’s practice until I started working in the military sector. I actually contemplated applying to medical school. I would suggest that they try to research as many of the specialties and sectors within PT as possible before determining what course of action they ultimately deem suitable for themselves and their future objectives. I would also remind them that although they do receive a doctoral degree and a strong clinical and educational background in neuromuscular anatomy, that they are not physicians. PT students should not confuse the meaning or the medical responsibilities of these two professions. Realizing this can help to alleviate a bunch of misconceptions and frustrations.