Leadership Series- Sharon Dunn



Renn: What made you want to be a PT?

Dr. Dunn: I didn’t know about the career of physical therapy in college. I started out planning to be a secondary school teacher with the goal to teach math. Teaching had been in my family for a couple of generations, and I thought it was something I wanted to do as well. However, I taught as a substitute teacher once I had 30 credits, and I immediately went back and changed my major to pre-med. I loved biology and math, and I knew there was a lot of analytical problem solving involved in health professions. Pre-med still did not fire me up, so I changed to pre-pharmacy since there was a pharmacy school attached to my university. However, I was not thrilled about that choice either because I wanted more patient interaction time. I wanted a career in health that matched my personality and allowed me to work closely with patients. About that time I went to a football game, and I met someone who was in PT school in New Orleans. After the game she was working on a homework project that involved analyzing a video to determine the components of a tennis swing. I asked her about what she was doing, and she said it was homework for PT school. Immediately I knew that was what I wanted to do, and I have never looked back since.

Renn: What has been your career path since first beginning as a PT?

Dr. Dunn: I graduated in 1987 with a B.S. in Physical Therapy, and I started working in an orthopedic outpatient clinic. I was born in Shreveport, Louisiana, and I have never moved out of the area. I practiced several years, then I started adjunct teaching at my alma mater in orthopedics. The students loved me because I would work during the day, and them come in at 5PM and keep them until close to 8PM twice a week. However, I was hooked to teaching at this point, and the teaching turned into part-time professor to eventually full time professorship. [Note: Sharon currently is Associate Professor and Chair of the Rehabilitation Sciences Department at LSUHSC. She also created a post-professional residency program for Orthopaedic Physical Therapy here in 2008.]

At the same time, I always wanted to start a private practice to see what that entailed, particularly the business aspects. For many students at the university, there is a certain fear factor that many have about starting a private practice. I wanted to let them know that you can survive in a private practice; you can make a living, be your boss, and most importantly, be more engaged in reaching the community. So I started a practice with a partner, and I owned 60% of it for four years, when about that time I started to become more engaged in the APTA. At that point, my partner and I decided that they would buy me out. I absolutely loved working in that practice, and they are still doing great things in that community.

I also really love research as well, so I also ended up getting my PhD in cellular biology and anatomy [in 2006]. That is something I love about our profession: we can always be intellectually engaged and stimulated, and there is always something additional you can do or becomes involved in and avoid becoming burned out. It is also why I love the APTA; you can get in engaged in the #PTFam, and that is where the opportunities come about.

Renn: Do you feel that student involvement in the APTA is important, and if so, why?

Dr. Dunn: Absolutely. Being involved allows you to have your “tribe”, to have that mutual support, advice, and connectivity. The APTA is an organization that drives future of our profession, and if you’re not in the driver’s seat, someone else is. You want to have that fingerprint in the future of the profession you love so much, and being involved in such a member driven, engaged organization is where that happens. Students make up 30% of APTA membership, and they do have a role in driving what is happening. The great thing is that location no longer has to be a barrier either; with social media we are a very interconnected generation.

Renn: What are 3-5 books or publications that you believe are must reads in this profession?

Dr. Dunn: If you find yourself between semesters and need to read something to motivate you within the profession, read the Mary McMillan Lectures. Each year the highest award a member of the APTA can receive is to give the annual Mary McMillan lecture at the APTA NEXT conference. These members are visionaries within the organization [and have made major contributions to the PT profession, including the areas of administration, education, patient care, or research]. After the lecture, the transcripts are published so that others can read them. [See some of the recent lectures here http://www.apta.org/HonorsAwards/Lectures/McMillanLecture/.]

Something inspiring to watch is Gleason. Steve Gleason was an NFL player who was diagnosed  with ALS right after his wife became pregnant. This video documentary is his diary for his unborn child before the disease continues its rapid progress. I think this documentary is a nice reminder because sometimes as health professionals we forget that our WHY is related to the real people who need our services.

Some books for inspiration for being different that I would recommend are by author Adam Grant, the youngest professor to be tenured at Wharton [at 28]. One book of his I would recommend is Give and Take, which discussed how the world is made up of givers and takers and how to identify them. Considering that PT’s tend to be givers, this was an interesting take on that dynamic. The second book is Originals, which talks about hot to keep an innovative spirit and to stay fresh when the world says conform.

SuperCooperators by Martin Novak was recommended by Don Burwick, who used to be head of MCAR (MD), at the IHI conference last year in his talk entitled “All Together or Not at All: The Snuggle for Survival [https://youtu.be/appdZZfQXgA]. The point he made is we have to “snuggle” together as different medical professions in order to survive in the new health care changes.

Finally, for leadership and biblical perspectives, I go to the Bible. There are great truths in the Good Book about how we should treat others.

Renn: What do you believe are key principles to success in this profession?

Dr. Dunn: First, be open to change because health delivery is changing but so is technology. This is kind of the key to the book Originals. When you see systems evolving, being open to change allows you to take advantage of the new and changing opportunities. The second principle I would say is Hard Work. People will recognize you for your efforts; we come from a long line of people who have rolled up their sleeves and made a difference in their part of the world.

Renn: What are the most important lessons you have learned?

Dr. Dunn: First, that relationships and people are more important than process and things. This is part of being a physical therapist, this is why we get into this profession → we want to help people. It is a very relationally based profession. Secondly, with leadership and through the APTA, I have learned that when you hire people (like lobbyists and consultants), and you’re paying them to do their job, you probably ought to listen and to take their advice. Lastly, don’t let a schedule or stress of multitasking get in way of what really matters, which is the patient in front of you.

Screen Shot 2018-11-09 at 2.31.08 PM.png


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s