Physical Therapy PT, Alumni Stories

USAHS Alumni Success Spotlight: Dr. John Kelley

University of St. Augustine DPT graduate John KelleyDr. Jonathan Kelley knew he wanted to go into physical therapy for a career as early as high school. The Gainesville, Florida, native was a soccer player on his high school’s team when a knee injury sidelined him and required physical therapy for rehabilitation.

“That experience as a high school athlete really inspired me to think about the profession and my future,” he said. “I saw first-hand how PT could really change people’s lives. I remember observing my physical therapist working with an older couple who both had a number of issues. But as I saw them progress through the course of my own treatment in that clinic, I realized how powerful PT is no matter how old you are.”

With a future in rehabilitative sciences in mind, Kelley attended the University of Florida where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Exercise and Sports Medicine. While at UF he served as the president of the Athletic Trainers Association and also earned a National Certification in Athletic Training (ATC).

“After my undergraduate degree I went into sports medicine and I had the opportunity to work with some of the greatest high school, collegiate, professional and Olympic athletes. It was extremely rewarding work that I loved. I wanted even more,” Dr. Kelley said.

That’s when he decided to pursue a graduate degree in physical therapy. As he began exploring opportunities, University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (USAHS) landed at the top of his list.

“When people think of the PT profession, they think of the University of St. Augustine. It was a leader in PT education, even back then,” he added. “When you hear University of St. Augustine, you think of a quality education. That’s why I wanted to go there.”

Dr. Kelley attended the original St. Augustine campus, first completing a master’s degree in Physical Therapy, followed by both a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) in 1999, and an Advanced Certification in Manual Therapy (MTC). During his time as a USAHS student, Dr. Kelley was in courses taught by USAHS founder and retired Chancellor Dr. Stanley Paris.

“All of the professors were impressive, but Stanley Paris embodies the spirit of St. Augustine and he is considered by the PT profession as the ‘father’ of manual therapy. What we learned from him and other faculty were cutting-edge techniques that have been widely adopted across the world. It was a fantastic experience,” Dr. Kelley said.

But it wasn’t easy, he added. “Call it tough love. It was brutally difficult at times, but that’s what students really need – to be challenged, to learn to adapt, to take chances and always keep learning,” he said.

After USAHS Dr. Kelley moved to Charleston, South Carolina, where he worked in an outpatient clinic. He observed a niche need that was not being met by the existing clinics in the area, so he decided to start his own practice. In 2002 he founded PTS Physical Therapy, which first specialized in post-injury and post-surgery rehabilitation. Kelley partnered with an orthopedist to provide in-home PT services.

“I was basically a traveling, one-man show, but it wasn’t long before I needed help” he said. “I never envisioned where I would go with it, where I am today.”

Demand for his services grew quickly, creating a thriving practice with three locations in Charleston that offer a wide variety of services ranging from physical, orthopedic and aquatic therapy; neurological and vestibular rehabilitation therapy; pelvic floor treatments and sports rehabilitation services. Today, PTS is one of the largest independent clinics in the state.

PTS Physical Therapy has a staff of more than 20, including 15 physical therapists, and fellow USAHS graduates have been a big part of growing the business; Dr. Kelley has hired five of them, offers his practice as a clinical internship site and frequently mentors DPT students.

“University of St. Augustine grads are quality, from their professionalism to communication skills – the reputation is stellar. They are well-prepared to provide the best patient care compared to others,” he said, adding that the environment he strives to create at his practice is “one of dedication to patients, and each other.

“I don’t hire people who just want a paycheck. It’s about creating an environment for the best treatment and patient care. In fact, I’d say that it’s my focus on patient outcomes, not profit, that has led to our success. We have patients from all walks of life, from NFL players, Stingray hockey, the Charleston Battery, The Citadel, Olympians, future soccer, football, tennis and baseball stars as well as local moms and dads who are the superheroes to their kids and community,” Dr. Kelley said.

When asked what advice he would give to DPT students or recent graduates, he says be prepared to work hard and find a first PT job where you will grow professionally. “Be prepared to bust your butt, but remember it’s not about money – it’s about finding a place where you can continue to learn and develop while making a difference in the lives of patients. That’s what it’s about – that experience serving your patients and your community,” he said, adding that he welcomes any USAHS students to reach out to him as they embark on a job search.

As an active member and Certified Clinical Instructor of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), and a member of the South Carolina Chapter he keeps up to date on the latest treatments, technology and advancements in the profession.

As a father of three young boys Dr. Kelley sponsors and coaches youth soccer, baseball, flag football and basketball. He currently plays competitive soccer in the Charleston Battery Men’s League and occasionally sneaks out for a little surfing and golf. When asked about what is most important to him he said “Family … and that includes my staff, patients and community.”

To learn more about Dr. Kelley and PTS visit www.askmypt.com.

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