As a physical therapist (PT) in an outpatient clinic, I have learned how to be efficient and multitask in a busy environment. The following scenario is typical for a PT: you have 4 patients. One patient is receiving manual therapy. The other one is using a Pilates reformer for core stability. The remaining two patients are performing exercises, one on a BOSU ball focusing on balance, the other one performing hip strengthening exercises. Sitting at the waiting area is a new patient ready to be evaluated and treated for low back pain. All the while, documentation is being completed throughout the entire day. This is just a snapshot for a 2-hour time period. Doing this the entire day is rewarding, but it is also extremely exhausting. There is little, if any, down time. After all the patients have left the clinic, countless time is spent finishing up daily notes, progress reports, and evaluations. It’s a lot.
When I began working in the emergency department (ED) as a registered nurse, I thought it would be a fairly smooth transition. With over 4 years in physical therapy, I assumed that I would catch on quickly. Little did I know that I was comparing two entirely different fields. Imagine this scenario: you have 3 assignments. All 3 come in with a chief complaint of “shortness of breath.” Two of them also have chest pain. ECG’s need to be completed for each one to rule out cardiac pathology. Blood needs to be collected and IV’s need to be started on all of them. H&P needs to be completed along with gathering necessary equipment and appropriate medications. Radiology needs to be called for x-rays of the chest. All the while, the patients are anxious and the family members are asking questions. There is no time for small talk, but you reassure them that you are doing everything you can to help them. Hopefully, this description captures what it is like at any given period in the ED. I had a set schedule as a PT; as a nurse in the ED, every day is different with no two days being alike.
As a PT, I have the opportunity to work with patients on the rehabilitation side of the spectrum. Now, I am working with patients who have high acuity medical conditions that need to be treated immediately. Some situations are a matter of life and death. Other patients come in with chronic medical issues that need to be addressed in a primary care setting (not an ED). I am a novice nurse, but I have already learned so much in such little time. I have a newfound respect for the level of education, knowledge and skill that I have seen from my co-workers. Their level of efficiency and time management is extraordinary; they are experts at their craft and it is truly a sight to behold. While I consider myself an expert in the context of orthopedic rehabilitation, I am everything but that in the ED. I have yet to master the art of nursing, but I do aspire to refine my skills as an ER nurse.
The entire experience has been rewarding and humbling. Sometimes, when we are experts in one field, we assume that there will be equal carry over in another field. The reality is that every discipline is unique, and no two professions are the same. The learning curve is great no matter what your background is. Being a physical therapist does not make you an occupational therapist. Being a personal trainer/strength coach does not make you a physical therapist. Being a physician does not make you a nurse. Being a nurse does not make you a physician. No matter how good of a clinician you are, you will never know everything. You may be an expert in one area of medicine, but that does not make you the ace of all trades. It is imperative to respect the knowledge and skill each healthcare professional has. Each one has something to bring to the table!