At age 20, Dr. Blaise Bourgeois was on his way to be the first in his family to graduate from college.
Then, life happened. He started a family young and decided to drop out of school to focus on his family and start working. With his father’s influence as a lifelong firefighter, Dr. Bourgeois decided to join the fire department.
“It was an incredible job,” he said. “I loved every single thing about it.”
He was a firefighter for 10 years. Starting out, he responded to medical calls and fires in the community. Towards the end, he was an engineer and drove the truck.
Around his sixth year on the job, he decided it was time to get some sort of side gig. A lot of firefighters do this for more income, but Dr. Bourgeois still had his sights set on college. He really wanted to be the first in his family to earn a degree.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to go to school for, I just knew I wanted to get some sort of education,” he said.
Dr. Bourgeois went back to school full time. His experience in the fire department, dropping off patients at the hospital, made him lean towards the medical field, so he started off in nursing.
“A lot of times I would go to classes on the firetruck as I was working,” Dr. Bourgeois said.
He bounced around majors, searching for the right fit. He realized during nursing clinicals that nursing wasn’t the job for him but came across physician assistant and decided to give that a try.
He was required to job shadow for one of his kinesiology classes and couldn’t find a PA to shadow. The deadline was coming up and he was getting desperate.
“My instructor connected me with a PT clinic,” he said. “I had no idea what physical therapy was, and by this time I was like 30 years old and had no knowledge of any sort of therapy.”
With a little bit of embarrassment, Dr. Bourgeois admitted at the time he thought physical therapists were some sort of physical trainers.
“I am not even joking, the first day I was at the clinic I was like ‘this is what I want to do,’” he said.
At 30 years old, halfway through his undergraduate degree, with a young family at home, this is when Dr. Bourgeois found his calling.
He amped up his credits per semester to graduate as quickly as he could, inspired and eager to start his journey as a physical therapist. Within a three-month timespan, he graduated from undergrad, resigned from the fire department, moved his family from Louisiana to Austin, TX and started in the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at USAHS. A doctor of physical therapy program takes about three years to complete.
“We uprooted everybody and moved to Austin,” he said. “We thought we were coming here for a little 2.5 year stop, but it didn’t take long when we got here to realize that Austin was where we want to be.”
Dr. Bourgeois continued to fall in love with the PT profession and even blended one his favorite hobbies with his first position after graduating from USAHS. He is an avid golfer and attempted to play professionally for a few years when he worked as a firefighter. His first job after school was at a private practice PT clinic located near a retirement community that worked predominantly with golfers.
After two years of that, he decided it was time to move to a clinic with more opportunities for growth. He recently moved to a much larger corporation that is a little closer to his home in south Austin.
“On almost a daily basis, I pull from those 10 years of experience as a firefighter, dealing with patients in an emergency type situation,” Dr. Bourgeois said. With such a unique background to influence his practice, he also believes his experience as a firefighter is what led him to the career he loves today.
When dealing with patients in the fire department, those were high intensity and high-stress situations. The emergency situations created a highly emotional connection with the patients. Then, he would drop them off at the hospital and maybe read about them in the paper the next day, unlikely to see them ever again.
“One of the reasons I think I’m here, the reason I was called to be in PT and leave a career that I really loved as a firefighter, is that now I meet people and we have that interaction and that connection early on, but then I get to spend 6, 8, 10 weeks with them and watch them progress,” Dr. Bourgeois said. “I am getting them back to doing the things they absolutely love.”
Dr. Bourgeois is an inspiration, not only for his service in the fire department and advocacy for the field of PT, but for his perseverance in his pursuit of education and a career that he truly loves. At 30 years old, he didn’t even know what physical therapy was and now, he is a beloved physical therapist and proud father of four.
He believes in his profession and the difference it makes in the lives of others.
“We, as therapists, have the opportunity on a daily basis to connect with a person and learn what’s truly most important to them,” he said. “Because of that I feel like we have the greatest opportunity to dramatically impact lives.”