As stated by Malcom Gladwell, one of my favorite authors, in his book The Tipping Point, “Look at the world around you. It may seem like an immovable, implacable place. It is not. With the slightest push – in just the right place – it can be tipped. ” I strongly believe that we are all faced with moments in our lives where circumstances and decisions open up opportunities that ultimately shape how we approach, perceive, and interact with everything and everyone around us. I would like to share with you an experience that served as a tipping point in my physical therapy journey. Whether in your professional career or through a personal experience, I am sure that in one way or another, you can relate to a tipping point experience that brought you to where you are today.
Traveling has always been one of my favorite things to do. More specifically, flying. It’s ironic because I have a fear of heights. However, there is something freeing about hovering above the clouds. Nothing beats emerging through dark and ominous storm clouds just in time to catch the sunset. The beauty about traveling is that it always allows me to catch a glimpse of different aspects of the world around me. Little did I know that one such trip would completely broaden my perspective and become a major tipping point in my physical therapy career.
In the spring of 2015, two of my classmates felt the desire to pursue a trip to Lebanon to provide physical therapy services. The idea was born through a statement given by our Comparative Religions Professor indicating the need for physical therapy services in the country. The idea appealed to me as it was yet another opportunity to travel and learn about a country and culture that I had not yet visited. However, I have to admit that I almost chose not to go on the trip initially as it appeared to be far too expensive initially and somewhat challenging. I was somewhat hesitant because it would mean treating patients for the first time on my very own. To make matters more challenging, the trip would take place in a country in whose language and culture I was completely unfamiliar with. All communication would need to go through a translator. Simply put, I was unsure of my ability to be a physical therapist. Yet I felt compelled to go. Looking back, this trip became a major tipping point, as it played a key role in my growth and confidence as a student physical therapist.
It was July 15th, 2016 and after multiple fundraisers, letters written, donations of physical therapy equipment, and months of preparation, we were finally landing in the beautiful country of Lebanon. My imagination couldn’t have conjured a more majestic scenery to greet us upon our arrival. Our two week stay had begun, and would fly by faster than any of us wanted it to. From the nightly views of the Mediterranean Sea, to the experience of walking amongst the cedars of Lebanon, it was absolutely phenomenal. Yet, the portion of the trip that had the biggest impact on my PT experience was July 18th– the 22nd. Those were the days when we treated a number of refugees in the Beirut area, not far from Middle East University. The language barrier that had also made me nervous leading up to the trip, soon became an advantage.
The language barrier taught me how to articulate what I wanted to communicate to each patient through my translator. It led me to understand how to read individual body language and gestures, leading me to gain a better understanding of how each person felt in the moment. This ranged from expressed feelings of initial confusion, pain, nervousness, relief, and joy. All of these expressed emotions helped me direct my words and actions appropriately in order to give each patient the best possible experience. My creativity was challenged and forced to expand as most of the equipment normally available in a clinic was not accessible. Thinking on my feet became the comfortable norm because everyone that came in had a different story and very real problems that needed to be looked at. My heart inevitably grew for each individual that came in to see us.
This experience was a tipping point not only because it gave me a greater level of confidence in what I had been trained to do as a future clinician, it also reminded me of how much of a blessing it is to be in service. It led me to embrace the calling to make the lives of others better through healthcare, empathy, and compassion. Regardless of how much we achieve in life, we must always remember that in serving others and helping those around us for the sole purpose of making their lives better, our own lives become more complete. My reason for becoming a physical therapist is just that. To do everything I can to empower others while help them re-claim their lives.
My tipping point experiences have taught me the value of caring and investing in others. They have equipped me with the motivation and drive to work hard and achieve my dreams. I have learned the value of service and what a blessing it is to both myself and others. Most importantly, my tipping points have given me a passion for helping others learn from my own experiences, while also learning how to seek out and embrace their own tipping points. Whether you have had a tipping point experience or not, when it occurs, embrace it! It will at times be out of your comfort zone, but limits are meant to be pushed and learned from. It may mean taking a risk, and with that risk comes the dreaded possibility of failure. That however, is what makes the tipping point experience even more worthwhile in the end.
Thank You For Your Time!
My success and inspiration has come from the guidance of Greg Todd and the Smart Success Physical Therapy course! If you are a Physical Therapist or future Physical Therapist interested in leveling up, I would highly recommend being a part of the Smart Success Season 4! It has changed my life!
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Editors: Eliana Iller, Casey Coleman, Gabi Pasos
Joses Ngugi, SPT