Year of Graduation: 2011
Current Position: Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist in Cardiac Rehabilitation, Meeker Memorial Hospital, Litchfield, MN (Clinical Exercise Physiology, University of WI-La Crosse, La Crosse, WI)
Please give a brief description of your current position:
As an Exercise Physiologist, I currently work specifically with cardiac patients recovering from a heart attack, stent placement, cardiac bypass surgery, valve replacement surgery, heart failure, etc. I provide an exercise prescription individualized to each patient which includes the frequency of how many times per week they will exercise in our cardiac rehab, intensity of exercise, time or duration of exercise and type of exercise. During each patient's exercise session, I monitor their heart rhythm with ECG, monitor their blood pressures and heart rate as well as any other adverse signs/symptoms to their exercise regimen.
What path did you follow to arrive at your current job?
Like most college students in their senior year, I was unsure about what path I wanted to take after I graduated. I was interested in both nutrition and exercise and wanted to find a clinical career that encompassed both. My adviser at the time, Don Fischer, suggested I shadow a professional in Cardiac Rehab at the St. Cloud Hospital. At the time, I had no idea what Cardiac Rehab was, nor did I think that was anything I was remotely interested in. But after shadowing in Cardiac Rehab, I realized the clinical component of exercise training and how beneficial it is to not only all of us, but especially to patients recovering from their heart procedure.
What advice/suggestions would you have for students who might be interested in your career?
Get as much clinical experience, such as shadowing, before you decide on graduate school or what path you would like to take. My program didn't require a certain amount of clinical hours prior to applying for graduate school, but most programs do and it is extremely beneficial to truly understanding what it takes to work in a specific career. I would also suggest doing research while in college, whether it is research in class, an independent research project or thesis, just get involved! There definitely was a time that I despised research, but throughout graduate school and my current career, my background in research from CSB/SJU has provided me with some of the greatest skills I have had to bring to my fellow classmates and colleagues.
What skills are important in your field?
Compassion. For any career in the health field, you need to feel compassionate towards your patients, compassionate towards their families, and compassionate towards their care.
Patience. When working in the health field, especially in rehabilitation, whether it's Cardiac Rehab, Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Dietetics, patience literally is a virtue. Not only am I monitoring my patient's heart rhythm, blood pressure and heart rate with exercise, I'm trying to educate them on all lifestyle modifications that they can make to prevent another heart event from happening again. Not all patients want to jump on the "wellness" bandwagon, which makes your job hard when you are doing what you can to make them healthy again. Which is why I do my best to practice PATIENCE every day.
Confidence. As a young exercise physiologist in my career, I work with a lot of people who have a lot more experience than I do and have a lot more confidence than I do. But, as you become more comfortable in your setting, you become more comfortable with yourself and what you know. You will make mistakes, but you have to be CONFIDENT that you will always learn from those mistakes, making you a better clinician.
What is the most satisfying/rewarding part of your job?
Seeing my patients thrive and actually "enjoy" exercise. Seeing a patient from the beginning who I couldn't convince to come to even one exercise session, and now they are asking me if they can add more exercise sessions to their program. Seeing all my patients come back to life and tell me that they are back to their normal activities before their heart event and feel even better than before. I really feel like I am rewarded every day at my job, because I am lucky enough to see my patients' progress first hand, on a daily, weekly, monthly and even yearly basis as they continue to incorporate their exercise program into their daily routine.
On the flip side, I am challenged every day. It is not easy working in wellness and trying to change their mindset on how to better live their lives. The phrase, "You can't teach a dog new tricks" speaks very true in my job. You have a mix of patients, those who are ready to change, and those who will make your job very challenging as you try to break through to them about making healthy lifestyle changes. Every job is going to have challenges, and I truly believe without challenges, there would be no rewards, which is why breaking through to the challenging patients, reaps a much higher reward.
What activities/experiences were helpful at CSB/SJU (and elsewhere) in preparation for this career?
Research is one, if not the most important experience I had while at CSB/SJU that prepared me for my career. Even though I am not specifically doing research now, my background in research at CSB/SJU as well as in graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, has provided me with the knowledge to share new research with my patients and new ways to better educate them and incorporate exercise and nutrition into their treatment plan. Research is so important to how we progress clinically. I may not know all of the answers to my patients' questions, but because of my background in research, I will know how to find the answer.