On this episode of the Healthy, Wealthy and Smart Podcast, I welcome Dr. Gina Kim, PT, DPT to talk about making the move from a physical therapist assistant to a physical therapist. Dr. Gina Kim is the owner of Maitri Physiotherapy, LLC in Central Ohio, the producer and host of The Medical Necessity Podcast, is certified in Integrative Dry Needling, is pursuing certification in MDT, and also uses her 10-year background in Tibetan Buddhism to educate her clients in mindfulness meditation.

In this episode, we discuss:

  • How to transition from a PTA to a PT
  • What is a bridge program for PTAs
  • The benefits of being a non-traditional physical therapy student
  • The ups and downs of physical therapy school while juggling work and life commitments.
  • And much more!


Maitri Physiotherapy, LLC

Dr. Gina on LinkedIn

Dr. Gina on Instagram

Dr. Gina on Facebook

A big thank you to Net Health for sponsoring this episode! Learn more about the Redoc Patient Portal here. 

More about Dr. Gina Kim:

Gina KimDr. Gina originally wanted to play the trumpet when she grew up. Performance anxiety in high school changed her mind. But what was more worrying was the low back pain that began around that time. She endured that pain for years, but X-rays and muscle relaxers didn’t help. She was fortunate to work with a physical therapist. 

Being free from back pain was so dramatic that she decided that’s what she wanted to do with her life: Help people change their lives by treating pain, especially back pain, without drugs or surgery.

She stated at the bottom as a rehab aide. Next, she earned her license as a Physical Therapist Assistant and worked for years in settings ranging from outpatient orthopedics to acute care to home health. While working as a PTA, she completed her Doctorate through the University of Findlay Weekend College Bridge Program.

Dr. Gina is certified in Integrative Dry Needling, is pursuing certification in MDT, and also uses her 10-year background in Tibetan Buddhism to educate her clients in mindfulness meditation. She is also the producer and host of The Medical Necessity Podcast.

Read the Full Transcript below:

Speaker 1 (00:01):

Hello, Gina. And welcome to the podcast. I’m so happy to have you on,

Speaker 2 (00:06):

Well, I’m happy to be here, Karen.

Speaker 1 (00:08):

So you’ve got two podcast hosts here. So now you’re on the other side of the mic.

Speaker 2 (00:15):

Oh goodness. It’s great to be.

Speaker 1 (00:20):

So today we’re going to talk about sort of your non-traditional route to becoming a physical therapist. So as, as a lot of people know, or maybe some listeners don’t know the physical therapy profession, we’re now a doctoring profession. So people are going to school for an undergraduate degree and then usually going right into physical therapy school as their graduate school of choice. But Gina made a definite detour from college through to where she is now as a physical therapist. So I will throw it over to you, Gina, and just kind of tell us your story, because I’m sure it will resonate with a lot of people.

Speaker 2 (01:04):

Oh my goodness. So my bachelor’s is in computer science and I won’t say how long ago, but let’s say windows 95 was the hot new thing. Everybody was getting a computer science degree. I was even, I was even a company’s webmaster for a time. So here’s the thing, here’s the thing. I have zero patience for technology longstanding low back issues. Okay. And especially sitting at a desk job, you know, we all, you know, PTs, you know, now I, now I know well when I was working one particular job, you know, and couldn’t take the back pain anymore. And what do I do? I go to see my, go, to see my family doctor and it’s x-rays and muscle relaxers, and guess what? Didn’t help shocker shocker. And I can’t tell you how many years passed between then. And finally, someone I remember I had hired a personal trainer who was himself, a physical therapist, and he said, Oh, you need to see someone who really specializes more in the low back, you know, cause so sky was kind of more on the equipment sales end of things.

Speaker 2 (02:38):

So I found I found my PT and he it’s it’s so trite, you know, saying he did his magic on me. It’s like, I know what he did on me now. But I went from unable to touch my toes. You know, being in pain, you doing, doing that shuffle walk too. Hey, I don’t hurt anymore. Yeah. And his reaction was right. And I’m like, wow. And I kind of went away and being kind of in the transitional phase that I was in with a kind of not loving, you know, computer, you know, computer science, you know, that kind of field and also being kind of a gym rat myself. So I was hanging, I was hanging out with with my PT and kind of, you know, kind of doing my own observation hours and doing my due diligence and asking about the education and everything.

Speaker 2 (03:46):

And he said, well, you know, because I was already I think at that point out of my twenties, right. He S he said, well, you should think about getting, becoming a PT assistant. So I looked into that, it’s like, okay, I’ve got my bachelor’s let me go to community college now, which, which involved you know, of course there was like a well years waiting period. And, you know, so I’m taking my anatomy and this, that, and the other completed that in 2013 and then worked as a PTA and all the time thinking, you know, I, I just want to go ahead and be able to practice on my own. So then that led to well basically looking at my, looking at my options for grad school and especially being someone by this time, let’s see, what was I doing?

Speaker 2 (04:57):

I, I was, I w I’m trying to think about my day as a, as a like during my PT assistant time, I was going to school and then going to work as a rehab aid. And that at night I was going to skate with the Ohio roller girls. It’s like, I don’t know how I did it. So then I’m thinking if I go into a graduate program in, you know, physical therapy, I there’s going to be this age difference at age and experience difference. And I remember I interviewed with one school and the she was, she was the admission secretary. And I won’t say which school, but she said, you know, people are working later in life.

Speaker 3 (05:55):

Yeah. Yeah.

Speaker 1 (05:58):

So I,

Speaker 2 (05:59):

I had heard about the bridge program up at university of Findlay. We can college bridge program. So that required preparation, as far as retaking physics taking, you know, my chemistry series, you know, thank goodness I had already taken exercise fits, but doing, you know, doing the thing so I could apply. And then that I got in, and at the same time, I was still required to work as a PTA as we went up to Finley every other weekend. And when I say we, I say, I met with my cohort from who came in from all across the country. So I had a two hour drive. There were people flying in from Seattle.

Speaker 1 (06:51):

And where is, so is Findlay college in Ohio

Speaker 2 (06:55):

And like colleges in North West.

Speaker 1 (06:59):

Okay. And can you explain a little bit more about what a bridge program is, should that people kind of understand what that means from like a PTA to a PT?

Speaker 2 (07:10):

Sure. So it’s a bridge in the sense of you’re a PTA and you want to become a PT, here’s the thing. You will need your bachelor’s degree. Okay. So I had that check you know, plus prerequisites, you know, check. And then since part of the requirement for working was to help with assignments that we would have, you know, and we would be given so we could focus more on the evaluation part of because we were all over the treatment part, you know, and there were people in my class who were already directors of rehab. So I, I was in a very very well-experienced and pretty, pretty smart class. It was, it was pretty intimidating. But also you get that benefit from, you know, all this co-mingling. So then it’s basically like any other DPT program. It was three years, you know, with clinicals at the end, and then you take your boards and your, then I became dr. Dr. Gina.

Speaker 1 (08:38):

Right. And so within that, those bridge programs, how many of those programs exist in the United States?

Speaker 2 (08:46):

My understanding is only two, this one and one in Texas whose name is escaping me. Right. But but yeah, and here’s the thing too because I always always kind of had in the back of my mind, well, I can always apply to the bridge program. It was, it was kind of like in my, in my back pocket, right. University of Findlay is a private school. So you also have to keep in mind the two wishes that goes with it, right. Plus travel accommodations, and also time off work when you need to, you know, do certain things, you know, such as your, your research and projects and, and all that. Right.

Speaker 1 (09:38):

And when it comes to then your clinical affiliations. So at that point, do you have to leave your PTA job in order to do your clinical evaluation or your clinical placements?

Speaker 2 (09:50):

Yes. And I would say it was a little messy because we were, we were pretty much we work, we were kind of responsible for finding our placements. Right. so yeah, so then you are going off, you know, working someplace now you don’t have the income. Okay. So you have, you have that to deal with. And there were Oh, I don’t even know how many people in my class had children, some had young children but you know, somehow they managed, you know we got a big heads-up from the class before us, you know, like in our orientation, spoke to us and said, you guys are gonna need a team to help you get through this. You have to rely on each other. You have to rely on your spouses, your partners, your friends, you know, some things as basic as have a food plan. And I’m not even kidding because, you know, between, between working, coming home and studying, you’re done, you’re done. You know, so my, my husband, you know, I, I started out, you know, like with the food prepping and the making the healthy food and every, by the end, we’re eating pizza.

Speaker 1 (11:26):

Yeah. I was going to say, are you going to be, yeah,

Speaker 2 (11:30):

Can you, can you please, you know, pick up, pick up something? Yeah,

Speaker 1 (11:34):

Yeah. It’s it’s pizza and take out at the end. So I think that brings up a lot of really important considerations for people. So if you are a physical therapist assistant and you are looking to become a physical therapist, we know there are maybe just two bridge programs in the United States. And that there are a lot of considerations that you have to think about before you go into that program. Like when did you do your clinical placements? You kind of can’t work at your job as a PTA anymore. Right? Absolutely. And what did you do? What would be your best tips for time management? We know, obviously you just gave away that by the end you’re it’s pizza and take out now I’m just joking, but what, what are some good tips on, on time management, as you said, you have to study, do research, and you’re still working as a PTA.

Speaker 1 (12:33):

My, my time management, I think number one you know, God love him. I, you know, I have cats, I don’t have children, you know, on it, honestly, I didn’t know how the parents did it. And I think they were even better time managers than I was. So for them, it was, you know, working around, okay, the kids, the kids are in bed or it’s before the kids are up. And for me, it was kind of the same thing. Like if I wanted to, you know, spend time with my, with my husband, you know, occasionally it would be up, you know, first thing in the morning because I’m more I’m and it also depends, you know, if you’re morning person, evening person, you know, cause I’m like out like a light, you know, if I’ve got something to do, I’m up at 5:00 AM, no problem.

Speaker 1 (13:32):

And I guess the thing that I’m taking away here, and this, this might be my like naive T here, but I thought like a bridge program going from a PTA to a PT would be, I don’t want to say easier than your traditional program, but that, because you’re already in the field, that it would be easier. Do you know what I mean? And that’s clearly not the case. Like I didn’t realize it was three years. I thought, Oh, maybe it’s like two years and most of it’s clinical. So I think this is really painting a clearer picture for people of like, no, this is still a three-year commitment, three years of financial commitments, perhaps loans, everything else that goes along with it. Was there anything about the bridge program that surprised you? Because I’m surprised number one, that it’s three years and that it’s, you know, I don’t, I don’t know what I was thinking, but this was not it. So I’m glad that you’re bringing all this up. So is there anything about the program that really surprised you?

Speaker 4 (14:35):

And on that note, we’ll take a quick break to hear from our sponsor and be right back with Gina’s answer. This episode is brought to you by net health, helping you maintain strong relationships with your patients. The redox patient portal provides secure line of communication between you and your patients conduct virtual visits and have follow-up conversations with your patients via secure messaging. When it’s convenient for you, patients have 24 seven secure on-demand access to their therapy, health information without phone calls and voice messages, video conferencing for tele-health secure messaging, shared documents and photos and view health information, and appointments to learn more, contact them@redocatnethealth.com.

Speaker 2 (15:23):

Biggest surprise for me was for a program that had been a browned, as long as it had been that we still had to work around a university and kind of the cap, the system that I think really, really wanted us to be a traditional program, you know in the sense of, for example, I know after us clinicals were starting to be changed to, I think, get people into the field earlier, which was, which was, you know, once again kinda messing with people’s employment. So they were, they were serving us, you know, would you prefer, you know, to do like two weeks at the beginning and we’re thinking, well, how, how are we going to do that? If you know, our, you know, our clinic, our staff, you know, wherever we’re working needs us. Yeah. Not that, not, not, not what you would have expected.

Speaker 2 (16:32):

And yeah, I guess the next question is and you sort of alluded to this when you said you were looking at other physical therapy programs and the woman said, Oh, well, you know, people are working later in life, but let me ask you, which is kind of an interesting thing to say, but what, what do you feel like, or would you feel that you’re kind of coming into the doctorate of physical therapy, not coming straight out of high school or straight out of college? What advantage did that give to you? Coming into the field as a newly-minted DPT? I think it gave us a huge boost of confidence because I know that in, in my career, as a PTA, I worked for probably a dozen different PTs seeing how they worked you know, what what they could have done better, you know, what they did great how patients responded, you know, and plus you know, I’ve, I’ve got all my treating already, they’re already in place. Okay. so I even, I even find it a little hard to imagine. Wow. If I were, if I were coming out of a traditional program and I’ve heard this spoken about a little bit of, you know, just trying to build that confidence in that first year. Well, I came out and it was kind of like, well, you know, I just had evaluations to what I’m doing.

Speaker 1 (18:20):

And when, let me ask you this, when you were a physical therapist assistant, what was your experience like as a physical therapist?

Speaker 2 (18:31):

It really depended on the PT. A lot of them, I felt had a lot of trust in me because they, you know, they saw that, you know, their patients were getting results and I had good rapport with them and, and so forth. Had a few, it became, it became a little more interesting once I was in school. Because I know there was, there was one particular person who he was, he was pretty fresh out of school and he seemed to want to challenge me a lot, like, you know, kind of like, you know, pop quizzes and, you know, things like that. It seemed a little light gatekeeping a little bit. But I mean, that was, you know, that was minor compared to, you know, the other the other PTs that I worked with.

Speaker 1 (19:33):

Yeah. Well, that’s interesting. I know, cause I, I, I often wonder what that experience is like. And then, so for you moving from the physical therapist assistant to the physical therapist was all about having a little more autonomy and agency over your career, is that right? Absolutely. Yeah. And when you graduated, what were your, how did you feel then? So, you know, cause it’s, it’s, it was a difficult to make that transition. Did you kind of fall back into old habits after you graduated? Or was it more like I got this, I’m doing it,

Speaker 2 (20:10):

You know, I, I would think it, it really felt like I was ready for this. Now, the part that I didn’t expect, and I think this was from my experiences in my clinical rotations as a PTA and then do it in doing it again as a PT and also couple of affiliations. They were kind of more in kinda more of those mill like settings. So I didn’t go into PT school thinking I’m going to become a owner, but once I was finished, I was adamant that I needed to create my own career.

Speaker 1 (20:57):

And you knew that. So when did you graduate from physical therapy school? Couldn’t get your DPT.

Speaker 2 (21:03):

So let’s grow graduation was end of 2018. Yeah. And then test it for my boards in what was wow. May how, sorry, how soon we

Speaker 1 (21:20):

Forget. I know you seem to have blocked that out.

Speaker 2 (21:22):

Yeah. I’m sorry. April, April. Okay.

Speaker 1 (21:25):

Okay. So, so it sounds like the experience that you have previously really set you up to then say, I’m ready to, to become that entrepreneur. I’m ready to kind of do this.

Speaker 2 (21:39):

I think as far as mindset. Yeah. Still in our, our business class was kind of the classic. Okay. Let’s write a business plan about how to build a brick and mortar clinic. So then the business knowledge some of, some of it I, you know, took away from the free resources on the AP TA website but being a solo clinician and cash based I felt that I needed to look for kind of more support, you know, as far as networking and, and all that. And because I was dealing with different issues than say a larger clinic with, you know, accepting insurance and several therapists and whatnot. Yeah.

Speaker 1 (22:38):

Right. So, I mean, and of course, like moving on through the business, that’s a whole other discussion, which, you know, maybe one day we will have on here as well. But what I think it’s important to note is that, you know, you mentioned it briefly is the mindset part of it. You’re like, Oh, I had the mindset part and kind of skimmed over that. But that is so important because like I said, when I graduated from PT school, no way in hell, did I ever think I’d be able to own my own business? Just wasn’t even on my radar, you know? So what advice would you give to, I guess, newer, newer grads, whether they’re traditional or non-traditional like yourself who are thinking about starting their own practice

Speaker 2 (23:25):

To find people in and hang out with people who, who were doing what you would like to be doing, you know? Yeah, there were already folks in my class who, you know, they were, they were having their plans in place. Like one of them was going to be, become a partner in a clinic. You know, I mentioned several were directors of rehab someplace, another guy he already had, you know, his his athlete and sports training practice up. I mean, he was, I mean, he was running that well, he was doing everything else.

Speaker 1 (24:07):

Yeah. So it seems, I think what’s so interesting is, is that sort of non-traditional path to physical therapy. It seems like it, you know, because people have already gone through so many life experiences or maybe different jobs and they feel like, boy, they’re really ready to be in the space that they’re in and own it. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Yeah.

Speaker 2 (24:34):

And I definitely, I definitely know that confidence was there. And even, and at the same time, I know of a few classmates, they were already looking at residencies, you know, they were looking at specialization.

Speaker 1 (24:54):

Yeah. So, I mean, I, so I think to my big takeaway here is to all of the more traditional PTs out there who maybe have a non-traditional student or a physical therapist in their class, or who are in class with people who may be were our, our physical therapists assistants and, and going for that DPT is to make sure that you seek them out and learn from them because they’ve got these life experiences that when you’re 21 and 22, you just don’t have, you know, and so seek those people out in your class and, and definitely learn more about them and learn where they’re from and where they want to go. Because I think that as a, not as a traditional student, and when I say traditional, I mean, you know, you came out of high school, went to college and now you’re in PT school is sort of straight linear track. That there’s so much more that the non-traditional student can can offer because you’ve got some more life experiences under your belt. Absolutely.

Speaker 2 (26:05):

Let me add another point to that. As far as the confidence part, because especially working with older clients, they seem to have a little bit more comfort working with someone my age.

Speaker 1 (26:23):

Mm. Yeah. And yeah, that makes sense. Sometimes kind

Speaker 2 (26:29):

Of already assumed that I was a PT

Speaker 1 (26:33):

Working there even as you were a physical therapist assistant.

Speaker 2 (26:41):

Yeah. As I said, I was a student

Speaker 1 (26:44):

Yo, as you were a student. Yeah. Oh, that’s interesting. That’s interesting. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I didn’t even think about that. So, so the, the confidence, not just that you exude, but that, that the patients can kind of feel it and yeah, that’s interesting.

Speaker 2 (27:01):

Yeah. And also I think the the ability to quickly develop rapport and all those, all those good skills, you know, like listening and responding and, and hearing and seeing how people are presenting instead of, you know, being, you know, well, you know, I’m still learning these basic you know, I have to learn all the things I, I have to learn how to evaluate, you know, but also how to treat and progress and this, that, and the other I’ve already, I’ve already got the, you know, I’m already thinking ahead, you know, to what their course of treatment is going to look like, you know, because I’ve seen it. Right.

Speaker 1 (27:47):

Yeah. You’ve got the experience. Yeah. Yeah. And experience, as we know, is, is so important. So, so let me ask you as we start to wrap things up here. So I gave you what my biggest takeaway was, what’s your biggest takeaway and what would you like the listeners to take away from, from our discussion of your journey of this, of being a non-traditional PT?

Speaker 2 (28:10):

My biggest takeaway. So you have the benefit of the non-traditional experience, you know, meeting all these people with different, you know, different knowledge bases and certifications and things like that. Also at the same time, there’s a, there’s a challenge to doing things such as, you know, say going to a conference, you know, like CSM, because you’re, you have to think about, you’re going to be in school when a lot of these events happen. So it’s like you, if you really, really want to go, you have to plan, you have to make plans for it and, and, you know, get, get an excused absence, you know, for want of a better word. So that, that can really, I, I think you need to then really, really work on your networking when you’re finished. I think because of that. Yeah.

Speaker 1 (29:20):

Yeah. That may be aware of that. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. And then, you know, I’ll ask you the same question I ask everyone, and that’s knowing where you are now in your life and in your career. What advice would you give to your younger self? And let’s not say when you graduated PT school. Cause that was like a year ago. So let’s maybe go back little bit more like maybe when you graduated undergrad or something. Yeah.

Speaker 2 (29:45):

Back in the day. Not, not everyone who gives you advice knows what they’re talking about.

Speaker 1 (29:58):

True story. Yes.

Speaker 2 (30:00):

Because that’s how I ended up in computer science, which was not the right career path for you, which was not the right career path. Right? Yeah. So yeah, the thing, the thing that I wish I would have done a lot more of was extracurricular, so I could have, could have known myself a whole lot better. That’s great. But to make, yeah. To make make a better guided choice.

Speaker 1 (30:29):

Mm great advice now, Gina, where can people find you? So first of all, talk about your podcast and then where can people find you?

Speaker 2 (30:36):

I would be happy to, so I am the producer and host of the medical necessity podcast where I help guide people through the flood of medical information out there. I love it. Yeah. Available on wherever you get your podcasts, pod, bean, Spotify iHeart radio at iTunes and my business is called my tree physio-therapy LLC. You can find me@maitri.physio. And I practice in Ohio. I’m licensed in Ohio. I bring a world-class world-class physical therapy to your home or via tele health. So you can, you can find me there and I would love to treat that

Speaker 1 (31:36):

Awesome. Well, we will have all of the links to everything at the show notes at podcast out healthy, wealthy, smart.com. So if you didn’t, weren’t taking notes, don’t worry. One click will get you to everything, including your website and your podcast and social media as well. Jean has got a great Instagram page where she shares a lot of great free information with everyone. So you’ll definitely want to check out her Instagram, what’s your Instagram handle

Speaker 2 (32:06):

At medical underlying necessity.

Speaker 1 (32:09):

Awesome. So Gina, thank you so much for coming on. This was great. And I think it gives people a lot to think about, especially those physical therapist assistants out there who may be there on the edge, maybe they’re thinking, Hmm. Do I want to go on? So I think you gave a lot of great information, a lot of great insights, so I appreciate it.

Speaker 2 (32:30):

Well, thank you. And I hope absolutely anyone who has questions about this bridge program, feel free to reach out to me.

Speaker 1 (32:39):

Awesome. Thank you so much. And everyone who’s listening. Thank you so much for listening. Have a great couple of days and stay healthy, wealthy and smart.

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©2019 Karen Litzy Physical Therapy PLLC.
©2019 Karen Litzy Physical Therapy PLLC.