Helping an actor stay in shape to dance in the 2011 reboot of “Footloose” and keeping runners from University of South Florida injury-free was exciting for Dr. Derek Benthusen ’15—for a while. Shortly after starting his career as an athletic trainer, he realized it wasn’t stirring his soul.
That’s why he chose to apply to the university’s Flexible Doctor of Physical Therapy (Flex DPT) program. Benthusen’s interest in therapy was sparked by his mother, who is an occupational therapist, and by his father’s work to integrate disabled students into local schools.
While he awaited word on his application, Benthusen took a job scheduling therapists, coordinating patient care, and creating exercise programs at a skilled nursing facility in Tampa. He was quickly promoted to manage patient care as assistant rehab director, and within three months was accepted into the Flex DPT program.
The best part? “Everything I was learning I could apply to my job,” he says. “I realized how much daily exercise, routine, and a move-it-or-lose-it attitude impacted these seniors. These residents were waking up to come to this class, not to do a move perfectly, but to be able to function well. With this population, you have the chance to work with individuals who can’t walk at all and are passionately trying to accomplish goals by motivating and educating them.”
“I realized how much daily exercise, routine, and a move-it-or-lose-it attitude impacted these seniors. These residents were waking up to come to this class, not to do a move perfectly, but to be able to function well. With this population, you have the chance to work with individuals who can’t walk at all and are passionately trying to accomplish goals by motivating and educating them.”
After graduating, Benthusen accepted a role as the director of rehab and team program manager at Encore Rehabilitation Services in St. Petersburg, Florida, where he oversees a multidisciplinary team that focuses on neurology, biomechanics, and manual therapy to benefit seniors. By using everything he learned to build out his role, he quickly saw successful outcomes for their patients.
One 70-year-old woman came to him after an elective back surgery limited her ability to walk. She had been working with another therapist for almost a year but was still in a wheelchair. By using an orthosis that stabilized the joints and assisted the muscles in her knee, ankle, and foot, he was able to help her regain mobility.
“She is now ambulating with minimal assistance,” he says, smiling. “She showed me how hard someone can work after being told it can’t happen. It’s amazing to see her walking down the hallway.”
In his role at Encore, his team now offers one-on-one care and additional exercise programming to increase seniors’ strength while educating them. “You can bring anyone to the gym and make them exercise,” Benthusen says. “But learning what a patient is going through and curating a program for each person is how we can excel.”