On this episode of the Healthy, Wealthy and Smart Podcast, I welcome Dr. Keats Snideman, PT, DPT on the show to discuss the non-traditional path to physical therapy school. Keats Snideman is a results-driven Rehab and fitness professional with over 20 years in the Fitness/Athletic Performance and bodywork industry and most recently the field of physical therapy.
In this episode, we discuss:
-How Keats’ background in health and wellness enhanced his learning in PT school
-The personal and professional pros and cons of being a non-traditional PT student
-The benefits of diversity within a PT cohort
-Time and resource management to avoid burnout
-And so much more!
For more information on Keats:
Hello, my name is Keats Snideman and I am a results-driven Rehab and fitness professional with over 20 years in the Fitness/Athletic Performance and bodywork industry and most recently the field of physical therapy. My educational background includes a doctorate in physical therapy from Northern Arizona University (PHX Biomedical campus) and a B.Sc in Kinesiology from Arizona State University. Other certifications and titles held include: Certified Strength & Conditioning Coach (CSCS), Certified Orthopedic Manual Therapist (COMT, through OPTIM Manual Therapy), a Strong First Gyra (SFG) Level 1 Kettlebell instructor, a certified Kettlebell Functional Movement Screen Specialist (CK-FMS), a certified neuromuscular therapist (CNMT), and a licensed massage therapist (LMT) in the state of Arizona.
Read the full transcript below:
Karen Litzy: 00:01 Hi Keats, welcome to the podcast. I’m happy to have you on. So today we’re going to be talking about the non traditional path to physical therapy school. And the way we’re kind of defining this nontraditional path would be you didn’t graduate from high school, go to undergrad and right into physical therapy school. So there was some time off in which you had a completely different career. Well, yeah, a different career and then decided to go into physical therapy school a little later in life. And I use that in quotes when I say that. So what I would love for you to do Keats is can you kind of tell your story to the audience so they get to know you a little bit more?
Keats Snideman: 00:45 Yeah, absolutely. So like a lot of PTs, I have a fitness background, I ran some college track, got into working out and decided to become a personal trainer. This was like mid nineties, so quite, quite a long time ago. And that sort of led me down a little bit into the sort of functional fitness was kind of becoming a thing kind of in the 90s. And people who are beginning to use that word function a lot. I have a twin brother also in the fitness world and we got exposed to a gentleman named Paul Chek. He’s the guy who kind of popularized the Swiss ball, the physio ball doing the weight training on it, standing on it, doing all that crazy stuff. This was in like 97 to 99. And Paul Chek was also very rehab oriented, not a physical therapist himself, but started opening my eyes to sort of the world of sort of biomechanics and you know, it’s sort of high level physiology, and started reading, you know, more technical sort of physical therapy type books and it really interested me and I was like, wow, there’s more there than just being a personal trainer.
Keats Snideman: 02:00 So I sort of made a decision at that point that I wanted to go on and get, I think it was a masters degree. Most of the programs at that time. But then life happens. Got married, had our first child. I had my own business and eventually I went back to school to finish my bachelor’s degree at Arizona state university. And really had the idea of going kind of into PT school pretty quickly after that. Had another child, open up a different location for my business. And time just goes by, you know, very, very quickly. And the next thing I knew it was 2012, 13. I was like, if I don’t go to school now, I’m never gonna do it. But all the time through that I ended up getting a massage certification or I got in the early two thousands.
Keats Snideman: 02:47 So I started putting my hands on clients who needed it. I started getting some soft tissue clients and basically really trying to find out, you know, what’s the best way to use that tool? Cause I wasn’t really like a massage person per se. I kind of came into the sort of the manual therapy body work world as more of a fitness person. How could I get somebody out of pain is pretty much the number one thing why people were seeing me so that I could get them more active to get them more mobile, that really fits in to what a lot of physical therapy does. Sort of our modern understanding of pain as it’s changing that the therapy is just sort of a, you know, like a brief reset to try to then help, you know, we get that window of opportunity to try to make a change.
Keats Snideman: 03:43 And so that, you know, that finally allowed me to make the decision to go to school because I want to be able to do more than just what a massage therapist can do. And more, you know, I wanted to be able to do, if I want to do a joint mobilization or manipulation like a chiropractor could do, you can’t do that as a massage therapist. And so that was the final decision. I closed up my shop, I went back to school, I bit the bullet. It was a very challenging road, but even with the family and everything and I got through it, finished a few years ago and here I am.
Karen Litzy: 04:18 And I mean that’s quite a story and we’ll get into some of your words of wisdom and advice for other people who might be in the situation where they have a family, they have children, they don’t know if they can do this because it is very time consuming. But before we get to that, I would love to know if you could name a couple of your top struggles during PT school that you were obviously able to overcome. Cause you did graduate, you’re now a physical therapist. So give us some of your struggles and what you did to help get over them.
Keats Snideman: 04:53 Absolutely. So I would say the first thing that was really, really the hardest for me and my program was at Northern Arizona university. And we were the first class to be sort of accelerated instead of a three year program. It was a two and a half year program. So we didn’t get really a lot of breaks. So the coursework I think was condensed a little bit more. And so that meant a little bit higher level of information that we were obtaining. So that first semester was a bit like hazing for me. I’ve constantly been learning and taking continuing education courses my whole career as a massage therapist, personal trainer, strength coach. But I wasn’t quite prepared for the onslaught, sort of the drinking from a fire hose type of thing, if you will, that that first semester did.
Keats Snideman: 05:42 And I end up getting a C I think in pathophysiology, which was, it was like in memorizing a thousand PowerPoint slides and two every two weeks. It was brutal. And that put me in academic probation. You can’t get a C in PT school. I mean, are you going to get many of them C B’s and above? And so that was, you know, I was worried, I thought, man, am I gonna flunk out? You know, I just started after all this, you know, what am I going to tell my family? This is terrible, but I got through it. The rest of my grades were actually quite good after that. But if you haven’t been sort of in the academic setting for a while, you’ve really got to kind of give yourself a little bit of an adjustment time and not be so hard on yourself to the expectations for like getting these great grades needs to be tempered because it’s intense.
Keats Snideman: 06:35 Obviously you went through it. The amount of information that a physical therapy student will be exposed to is pretty insane. I know medical doctors get a tremendously crazy amount of sort of, you’re sort of a general as first, but I think PTs have gotta be some of the broadest sort of scope practitioners out there and me, it was sort of like med school light, you know, a lot of our classes are actually with PAs because we were actually kind of getting sort of the university of Arizona medical curriculum that was given to the PAs at NAU and we were sort of teamed up there with them and some of the occupational therapists as well. So that was my biggest struggle was just the amount of information was just overwhelming. But once I kinda settled in and really focused more on comprehension and learning instead of just getting good grades, I’ve never been a grade person. I couldn’t really care less, unfortunately you need to get good enough grades to pass and then not get kicked out of the program. But I’ve always been about, I want to understand. So I think if someone who hasn’t been in school in awhile, kind of a non traditional student like myself, you’ve gotta be easy on yourself and you’ve got to give yourself time to adapt and to adjust to that, just that amazing, wildly overwhelming amount of information that you can get, especially in that first semester, that first year.
Karen Litzy: 08:07 And how did you balance the amount of information, the studying the comprehension. And I liked the fact that you said you’re there to learn and comprehend, not just memorize, but that was in PowerPoint slides which I think is great advice for anyone. But how did you balance this with a wife and two kids?
Keats Snideman: 08:27 It wasn’t easy. I wouldn’t really say that you can, it’s not balanced and you know, the family has to be on board. Obviously my kids are a little bit older. My wife obviously she knew how much this meant to me, so she was very supportive. I wasn’t able to be as involved with my kids and their sports and stuff. So there’s definitely sacrifices. You can’t pass PT school. Even if you’re just a single younger person who doesn’t have any problems, your life will not be balanced if you are in any doctoral program, especially one like physical therapy. So I wouldn’t say I really balanced it, but when I had the time and I needed, because you can’t just study, study, study, study, you will literally burn yourself out and there comes to a point, kind of like a sponge that’s just saturated with water.
Keats Snideman: 09:15 It won’t take any more. It just doesn’t work. So you have to give yourself little breaks more frequently. And for me, you know, I grew up sort of this ADD never got diagnosed until I was an adult. That’s even more important cause I think my executive functioning skills burn out very, very quickly. So I do very well with like the Pomodoro technique where I do like 25 minutes and then take a five minute break or maybe that’s 15 minutes, right? Things like that where you do like little mini sprints rather than a marathon of learning. So you give yourself time to get into what’s called like a diffuse mode of sort of learning where you have the focus mode, where you’re really putting a lot of effort, but then you gotta just walk away, go for a walk, juggle play ping pong. We played a lot of ping pong. If you have a ping pong table and you’re like, that really got me through school. I love ping pong. I love it. I have a thing on the table in my house. And just doing something completely different. I’m very much into exercise activities, sprinting, little mini workouts, little mini resets. I feel that helped get me through it. You can’t just sit there for hours upon hours and hours. You will just literally just be wasted time.
Karen Litzy: 10:35 Yeah, that is wonderful advice and I think that carries over nicely even when you start working as a therapist as well. Great advice. Now let’s talk about some of the positives of going back to school as a nontraditional student.
Keats Snideman: 10:58 Yeah. Well for me, there’s a lot of positives because I had already been working with people for so long as a personal trainer, a strength coach and a massage therapist and sort of a hybrid of all those kind of at the same time that I’ve been dealing with people for so long. And a lot of these young millennials that are just, you know, like you talked about more traditional which is definitely a good way to do it. Don’t get me wrong, I kind of wish I had done that, but they don’t have sort of the life experience and the ability to deal, I think with a lot of the psychological and more of the interpersonal issues that will come up when you’re dealing with people in pain and dealing. Like once you lived a little bit longer, I feel like you just get it a little bit more. A lot of people in PT, at least sort of in traditional outpatient or even acute, they’re a little bit older and I feel like you can relate to them a little bit better.
Keats Snideman: 11:51 And it helps me to think about something like soft skills that the professors would talk about and I’d be like, wow, I guess I’m kind of lucky in that respect because I’m older. I kind of already have had to develop those over the years. Those interpersonal communication skills and they would tell, you know, my classmates, these younger sort of millennials that it doesn’t really matter what you get. Like, yeah, you got to pass the boards, you gotta pass this, you gotta be smart. But you know, being first in your class, like it doesn’t mean you’re necessarily gonna be the best therapist. And nobody’s going to ask you, Hey, Karen, you know, can you tell me what you got on your NPT boards, et cetera? Oh no, that’s too low. I want to work with this person over here.
Keats Snideman: 12:36 Or Hey, what’d you get in your patho though? First? Because it doesn’t matter, right? You’ve got to get through it. You can always, you don’t need to memorize everything, just you need to know it enough to pass the test. But the most important thing in physical therapy is your ability to empathize, to be empathetic and to deal with another human being that you’re dealing with. And I felt like as an older student that was something I kind of already had. So that was like a big plus I think. And when I’m working with my a little bit older clients and patients, I think that helps. So that’s a big plus that you can’t really get except through time and going through all those different sort of client and patient interactions over the years that will sort of, you know, cause you have these fits sometimes with clients, they don’t work well. You don’t always buttheads so you develop a certain amount of grit that I think as a bit of an older student you don’t have to develop as much as the newer, younger ones.
Karen Litzy: 13:45 I think that’s a huge positive. I mean experience counts. Experience counts. What other positives did you find even maybe as you were going through the program or looking back on it now?
Keats Snideman: 14:03 Well for me with my background and there were other students in there that were like in their thirties. There was one other guy in his forties, you know, it was like the real grandpa. He, you know, he was a little younger than me. But my background was in fitness and in massage. So I had already kind of educated myself a lot on anatomy and physiology. Since we had this sort of medical curriculum. We spent like six weeks or something on the organs and the guts and I didn’t really know that too well, so that was pretty hard. But the rest of this stuff sort of with my background wasn’t too hard in terms of it’s like I felt like I had already prepared myself for that. Contrary to popular belief, you go to PT school more to learn about differential diagnosis and how to not really hurt somebody, you know, it’s more like med school light than it is about, like, I’m going to become sort of a mild personal trainer. Like you don’t spend a ton of time on the ins and outs of exercises.
Keats Snideman: 14:57 They sort of say, well you’re going to get that in your rotations. So a lot of people who are more non traditional that had come maybe from like insurance or a different world, they didn’t have a much of an exercise background as me. They were really looking for that in school and we didn’t get that as much. It’s not really what it’s about. You get that more on your rotation. So I felt like my previous background had made up for that gap that we weren’t going to get in school. I had already sort of gone through the sort of the painstaking self studied it just really sort of figure out like you know, which exercises are appropriate for all the different muscle groups and movements and doing sort of like a needs analysis for the sport or the activity.
Keats Snideman: 15:52 Cause that’s not really what you’re getting in PT school. And I think people don’t always understand that they think they’re going to learn like everything about exercise. And that’s kind of not what it’s about. It’s more like I keep saying sort of like this being sort of a primary care provider light. You know, and now most States have direct access. So, you know, like taking blood pressures, understanding cardiovascular concerns, understanding pharmacology and like the basics of like protecting, these are real things that are very important that that’s what I got out of PT school the most was sort of that thing being sort of, I’m trying marry care provider and the exercise stuff is sort of secondary.
Karen Litzy: 16:40 Yeah. So because you had had this other career before you came into PT school, you were able to kind of be on top of your game I guess. And like you said, you were able to fill in some of those gaps in PT school with what’d you already knew. So that is obviously a huge positive. Any other positives that maybe if someone out there is thinking, Hmm, maybe I want to go into PT school, but I’m like over 40 or I’m over 30 or 35, you know, or I’m married, I have kids. Were there any other positives that maybe not even related to physical therapy but maybe spilled over into your home life or your personal life?
Keats Snideman: 17:19 Well I think it was good for my teenage boys to see that even as an older adult that, you know, the amount of effort they saw, how much I was putting into it, how much it meant to me to just to show them that if you put in the work at any age, like you can still do some pretty cool things. And, you know, you can teach an old dog new tricks. I mean, I think the younger brain learns a little quicker. I don’t think there’s a lot of debate about that. You can still do it. So for me, I think the positive was it gave me a sense of belief that if I’m really determined that I can find a way. So gave me like a new level of confidence in myself that I have the grit that I have, that I had to take the GRE three times.
Keats Snideman: 18:09 And for those who don’t know, that’s the graduate record examination that’s put on by the people who create the SAT. So it’s sort of a SAT for college grads and I hadn’t done like high school math, since like 80s and early nineties. So, you know, I did well on those other parts, but I just couldn’t remember like basic stuff. I had to get the book. So it gave me sort of a new level of confidence that, you know what, even when things are really tough and you feel like you can’t get through, like you can and you know, and you just got to kind of plow through it, like the time will go by anyway. And you just gotta figure it out. How can you work with yourself? To try to, you know, accomplish the goal as challenging as PT school at any age.
Keats Snideman: 18:54 It’s challenging but definitely harder if you have a family you’ve been out of sort of that test taking mode. I used a lot of like some of these other like apps where it sort of makes you keep doing the ones that you’re not good at. Cause you do have to memorize some stuff for the test. Let’s face it. But if you take the time and you’re just, you don’t be so hard on yourself, you can get through it, you will get through it.
Karen Litzy: 19:25 Absolutely. And now again, the question I ask everyone on the show is, and I feel like you kind of just answered it, but I’m going to ask the question anyway because maybe you have a different answer, but what advice would you give to yourself, your pre PT self knowing where you are now in your life and in your business and in your work? What advice would you give to your pre physical therapy school self?
Keats Snideman: 19:54 Well I think I was very hard on myself for like initially doing poorly in that first semester especially in that pathophysiology class. But I really thought that I could get through it easier. You know, I just thought like, Oh, this, you know, this is going to be good. I’ve already sort of learned a lot on my own. I sort of underestimated. So I scheduled my sort of personal training and my sort of my whole clientele in a way that was not realistic. So, you know, working I think is good if you can do it, but giving yourself sort of the permission to say no to certain things that this is an important commitment. And that, you know, not to beat myself up that I’m not earning as much as I could potentially earn by working more because this is an important goal and I need to focus, you need to get it done.
Keats Snideman: 20:56 There’ll be plenty of time to work after, but I did work throughout my whole schooling. I was trying to bring in a couple thousand dollars a month, you know, for my own clientele. And I did, but that was about probably about a third of what I had originally sort of thought I could do. So I did have to take out a little more loans than I wanted to, but once I sort of realized that it’s okay, that sort of like lowered that stress levels for myself, that just is a huge commitment that I’ve put on myself that I can do, I could commit to all these different elements. And there’s only so much time in a day. Like, you know, there’s only so much energy you have, you know, sort of like money in a bank. You don’t have the, we call it like units of energy.
Keats Snideman: 21:40 I don’t have a hundred units of energy for school and a hundred units of energy for my family and a hundred and some energy for my clients. I have a hundred units total and that’s what I sort of figured out. So I would give myself the advice then manage your units, you know, manage your physical and emotional capital because there’s only so much and you just have to be realistic. And I just, I was not realistic with myself with what I thought I could do versus the reality. And once I sort of kind of had that sort of come to Jesus moment, I was better cause I was okay with it.
Karen Litzy: 22:13 Well I think that’s great advice. So giving yourself permission to prioritize things in your life and doing it all to 100 percent. Excellent advice. Now is there anything else that you wanted to let the listeners know before we sign off about being that nontraditional student in physical therapy school?
Keats Snideman: 22:34 I think we need more non traditional students. I mean I think it only helps the programs. I think if any of my classmates that are listening to this, hopefully they are, they can agree. I think a lot of people appreciated me in the class because I would ask the questions. I find if I didn’t, interesting kind of being with sort of this younger generation, it’s like they’re just programmed and it’s kind of like robots that just like get the information, figure out how to you know, memorize it, regurgitate it on a test, move on. And it’s more about like passing and getting to the next level than it is about mastery and comprehension and not a lot like questions are asked about things that I thought maybe that the teachers explained that were confusing. So I would ask the questions, I’d be like, well what about this and what about that?
Keats Snideman: 23:32 And because I’d been in the real world for longer. So I think having that older student and maybe some people thought it was a little bit annoying and that’s okay. I’m okay. To me, I’m that guy, because I think it was helpful for the betterment of the class. And when you have somebody who’s lived a little bit longer, like you just don’t care as much. You just, if something’s important to ask, it’s important. Like you don’t have to go, Oh, I’m not going to ask cause I don’t want to like offend anybody or you know what I’m saying? So like having those little more seasoned, non traditional students, I think it spices things up a little bit. And I felt that I kind of provided that for my class and it really sort of, it kinda helps sort of broaden the curriculum by bringing in more real life experience of working with people.
Keats Snideman: 24:25 Not that I was a physical therapist, but I was working with people in pain, working with people who had weakness and you know, fitness issues, which is what we do a lot in PT regardless of your setting. So that’s my advice is that if you’re really, really passionate about helping people in that domain, that we need more nontraditional, a little bit older students in these programs because it really helps to just sort of broaden the scope because of what we can bring with our experience as everybody else in the class. Everyone has their own experiences. Even, I mean young, middle age, older, it’s all good. Like to have a variety instead of just everybody being the same. Like I’m all about diversity and I think we should just embrace more diversity. And like I saw something on the news, I think it was the other week on CBS or something and it was some guy like he was like a car mechanic and he went back to school like in his late fifties and he got his medical degree that just like, I love it. That’s stuff just like juices me up and he’s bringing all his experience to that program. That must have been really neat for the other students.
Karen Litzy: 25:37 Yeah, I could not agree with you more. And now where can people find you if they want to chat about your experiences or if they have any questions for you?
Keats Snideman: 25:47 Yeah, I’m a pretty Googleable guy. I’ve got a couple of websites that are sort of in shambles right now, but if you just Google my name, Keats Snideman, I’m on Facebook, I’m on Twitter and Instagram. I think it’s a @coachKeats and then I think it’s Keith Snideman is what I’m on for Instagram. I’m trying to figure out this whole social media thing. For my own business. I do a combination of PR and work and then just my own, I’m too much of an entrepreneur to work full time for anybody else. But if anybody wants to email me, it’s firstname.lastname@example.org. I love helping people who are non traditional to sort of, you know, make the decision. I mean it’s not for everybody, but if you’re on the fence, I talked to people frequently who sort of find out about me and I would love to talk to you about it.
Karen Litzy: 26:43 Awesome. Absolutely, all of that information will be in the show notes for this episode at podcast.healthywealthysmart.com so that people can one click and get to you in any way possible. Perfect. We’ll have it all there. So Keith, thank you so much for taking the time out while you’re here in New York, dropping your son off at NYU.
Keats Snideman: 27:01 I know. Crazy. Yeah, it’s been a blast. I’m so glad we got to meet up today. I’ve always wanted to, you know, talk to some other PTs when I come out here and I’m just, yeah, I’m very, very glad that I was able to get on your show. I’ve been a big time fan of your podcast when I was a student. I’d share it with my fellow classmates. Your doing an amazing job of just getting amazing people and concepts out into the world.
Karen Litzy: 27:26 Well, thank you very much. And, I again, thank you for taking the time today and everyone else have a great couple of days and stay healthy, wealthy and smart.
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