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World Physical Therapy Day is a day to celebrate and appreciate the physical therapists (PTs) who work so hard for and with their patients. Today we recognize Dr. Safran-Norton, a BWH PT and collaborator on multiple OrACORe-based studies, to gain insight into how she morphed from building a passion for PT in high school to discovering an interest in research as a PT student, all of which culminated in a career as a Clinical Supervisor. In this blog post, Dr. Safran-Norton elaborates on her pursuit of a career in PT and gerontology as well as what she would like others to know on this year’s World Physical Therapy Day.

Road to Physical Therapy and Gerontology

Dr. Safran-Norton discovered her passion for physical therapy in high school citing her appreciation for the close relationship therapists developed with their patients as an appealing aspect of the job. She also valued the help therapists provided for those they cared for, such as, in extreme cases, teaching patients how to walk again, or more commonly by helping patients strengthen body regions that ultimately reduce pain to manageable levels. From her formative years, Dr. Safran-Norton earned a Master’s Degree in Orthopedics/Sports and then pursued a PhD in Gerontology. She said her motivation behind her PhD was that she “wanted to do something different but something that would gel” with her Orthopedics and PT background. Today, she recognizes how her early training and schooling have direct applications to various research studies, namely TeMPO and MeTeOR, despite the fact that they involve younger populations, saying “it’s been wonderful working with an amazing group of colleagues designing and executing cutting edge research.”

Dr. Safran-Norton’s dog. Courtesy of Dr. Safran-Norton

Getting Involved in Research

Dr. Safran-Norton can pinpoint the exact moment that solidified her career-spanning interest in research. During an internship, Dr. Safran-Norton met a young boy from a low- or middle-income country with “significant” burns being treated at Shriner’s Burn Institute for Children. As a result of his burns, one of his knees had a severe contracture. To help her patient, Dr. Safran-Norton investigated a device called a Dynasplint – a device that continuously stretches the skin and tendons in order to reduce a contracture of the muscle/joint. For this young patient, the Dynasplint device “just worked amazingly well” and the boy was helped. Her supervisor at the time suggested she submit a poster presentation to a research conference and while the analysis was “straightforward”, she said it was the first time she “saw research in action and played a pivotal part in it” and she “was excited to pursue more research”.

Experience as a Co-Investigator on TeMPO

Dr. Safran-Norton with her kids on their recent trip to Paris. Photo courtesy of Dr. Safran-Norton

TeMPO examines non operative treatments in persons with meniscal tears and concomitant knee osteoarthritis, some of which include physical therapy regimens. Dr. Safran-Norton has been a co-investigator on TeMPO since its inception and she plays a lead role involving the PT arms. She collaborated in the development and implementation of the home and the in-person programs, she trains the OrACORe Research Assistants in musculoskeletal assessments, and, importantly, delivers the physical therapy regimen to many of our BWH-recruited study participants. She says that she has “really enjoy[ed]” all aspects of the trial, from design to implementation and working with all the trial investigators, RAs, and physical therapists. As a co-investigator, she enjoys collaborating with TeMPO’s “very accomplished” group of clinicians, surgeons, and researchers. She says project meetings can be “very lively at times” and always are inclusive and respectful. As for the work itself, she appreciates that it is evidence-based medicine, that it is innovative, and that the study team is constantly striving and questioning. It is not uncommon to hear “what are we going to do next… what does this data mean and how can we make a difference for our patients and clinical practice?” during meetings.

Outside of Work

Dr. Safran Norton has numerous hobbies outside of work. Some include spending time with family and friends, gardening, and traveling – she was leaving for Paris a matter of hours after our interview. She also likes to stay active by engaging in “any kind of outdoor sports” and pursuing new adventures. Other interests of hers include cooking and reading when she can get the chance.

World Physical Therapy Day

What Dr. Safran-Norton would like others to know about physical therapy is that therapists are compassionate and dedicated professionals who care deeply about improving the quality of their patients’ lives. Relationships often develop naturally due to frequent and consistent contact and close partnerships. While patient complaints are often localized, PTs assess the whole person to identify contributing factors and develop treatment plans that can be undertaken with an overall understanding of people’s abilities. Ultimately, they aspire to improve people’s quality of life.

So, on this World Physical Therapy Day, go out and thank the physical therapists in your life. They make the world a better place and deserve our appreciation!

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