“When I first became a physical therapist, I actually thought I wanted to do pediatrics. I started looking at residency programs and my top choice was the University of Delaware, and so I came to interview here for the orthopedic residency and absolutely loved it. About halfway through my residency, Tara Manal, who was the clinic director, said to me, ‘You’re going to need to find a place where you have mentorship. Now you know all these great things that you’re going to want to do and you’re going to have to get buy-in at whatever clinic you go to. You should probably just stay here.’

Greg Hicks was starting soon and he needed a new Ph.D. student. I finished up my residency. I took my prerequisites for the BIOMS program, started my Ph.D. I was finishing up at Temple University cause I’d already started my doctorate of physical therapy and I didn’t want to stop it halfway through. I still spent 10 hours a week doing clinical instruction for students and learning everything I could about geriatric spine and outcome measures. I finished a year of post-doc and I didn’t really want to take on a faculty position because I was getting married and wanted to start a family, but I didn’t really want the tenure clock to start. I think this is something a lot of female scientists struggle with – how do you balance that and how do you put that piece into everything else that you’re trying to do? Tara and John Horne [President of Independence Prosthetics · Orthotics, Inc.] came to me and they wanted to do this amputee clinic. The whole initiative for the clinic was for us to do research, teaching and service. We’re providing Delawareans and other people in the region a service that doesn’t exist. We’re teaching not just physical therapists, but prosthetic and PT residents.

In the classroom, I would teach them things like palpation, how you interact with the patient and how you ask them if you can touch them in an appropriate manner. To really see that translate in clinical practice and then being able to relate to people that have had such a traumatic event in their life and be able to hold their composure and pick the right words because we’ve modeled and talked about it and role played it – to see that translate is super rewarding. When a patient walks for the first time in a year or two years because they’ve had poor wound healing and now we’re finally to the point where they can use their first prosthesis – or even for the person who’s really early on after amputation and they’re three months out and this is the first time they’re going to walk with their prosthesis – you can just see it in their face how this is going to make such a big impact in their life and that is incredibly rewarding.

My career wasn’t a planned pathway by any stretch of the imagination. In doing all this limb loss research, there’s very little in pediatrics and I’ve always thought it’d be really nice to do that. We started doing data collections with the Amputee Coalition a couple years ago. I wasn’t ever anticipating doing limb difference work, but when my daughter was born with arthrogryposis, I started reading the literature and really trying to understand what was going to be best for her. I realized, wow – there’s a lot of parallels between limb loss work and this whole idea of arthrogryposis. Some of the outcome measures we’re using in this patient population could transfer really nicely, especially looking at pain in particular, which is something that really hasn’t been explored in this patient population with arthrogryposis.

I sat in a patient family support group at an arthrogryposis convention and they were talking about things they would like to see research conducted on in this area. The things they’re mentioning are all the things I’m doing in limb loss. It was so interesting because I’m just there as a parent and this is my first time being exposed to this patient population. Arthrogryposis is a rare congenital disease, so it’s not like you can put a call out and you’re going to get patients. My daughter’s physical therapist and I went to an arthrogryposis conference in Virginia Beach and we did more than 60 data collections very similar to the Amputee Coalition collections. And now I am doing pediatric research!

As a researcher, you can’t be set on doing only one thing. You have to explore other opportunities that arise and then figure out how those fit within your scope. Right now, I’m in the exploration phase. We’re going into year two of this project and I’m still seeing the parallels. We have the data to start processing, but how does it fit in the whole scope of limb loss, limb difference? We’ll see! I always think it’s so funny because one of the things my mom told me really early on is, ‘You just kind of jump off the cliff and then once you get to the water, you see if you can swim!’”

-Meg Sions, PT, Ph.D., DPT, Clinical Research Scientist, Assistant Professor in Physical Therapy