Mastering a career in Physical Therapy with Dr. Neha Shethia

23 min 13 sec
[00:03 – 05:00]

Malavika: Hello, everyone, and welcome back to WiZR Voices, a podcast for learners and career builders. I'm your host, Malavika Issar. And today we are talking all about building a career in Physical Therapy and Healthcare. And we're doing this with none other than Dr. Neha Shethia, a renowned physical therapy expert.

Dr. Neha has a master's in physical therapy, with over 12 years of experience specializing in neurology and geriatric population. She has also established her own out-patient clinic in Mumbai, where she's committed to providing personalized care, making sure her patients achieve comfort in mobility, as well as overall well-being.  

Through Dr. Neha's career trajectory, we'll explore the challenges and rewards of working in this dynamic field of physical therapy and healthcare and understand the scope for young professionals like you who are starting out in this space in India. So, let's dive straight into this conversation.  

Dr. Neha, thank you so much for joining us today for this podcast.

Dr. Neha: Hi, Malvika, and thanks for having me over here. And it's really nice to address something about a field which is so close to my heart and which I've been pursuing for so many years. And I hope I'm helpful in giving a little light about this profession.

Malavika: Absolutely. So, one place where we always begin, right, with this podcast is understanding educational background. What did you study and how did you realize that this is where you want to be.

Dr. Neha: So, frankly, I think I would put it that I just fell into the field. But most of us, and even today, it is you need to take science as your background and you need to give your entrance exam. And based on the rankings, you can choose which field you want to study, which medical field you want to enter. I think physical therapy, most of the time, even today, if you see people might end up if get a lower rank or they would not want to move away from the city where they are based. Or it can be just as simple as monetary issues, you know, because the fee does differ for different set of educations.

So, yeah, but it's a great field. It's a field where you get to interact, talk, communicate, meet a lot of people and at the same time, make sure that, you know, you make them pain free, make them move around. So, I mean, it's a nice field to be in.  

Malavika: Right, right. And how does one start if one has to start off with a career?

Dr. Neha: So, if you have to start, like I told you, you need to give your medical entrance exam. Now it's an all-India exam, NEET. And based on the rankings, of course, then you pick your choice of college. And that's your bachelor's program, which you are entering, which is around four and a half years, four years of study. And if I'm not mistaken, six months of internship.

Post that, of course, physical therapy does offer varied specialization routes as people are more aware about MBBS. But physical therapy itself also does have specializations in cardiopulmonary, or dealing with neurology patients like stroke patients, those areas.  

Sports therapy is very popular or your general back neck pain. You also have your musculoskeletal therapist. These are the varied specializations which you can do once you have completed your bachelor's program.  

Malavika: Right. And where do you see physical therapy today in India, especially?

Dr. Neha: So, I think the demand is growing and it is going to grow. If we see the number of sports being played in India. It's not just cricket, you know, there are, I mean, right from your Kabaddi leagues to other, I mean, pro Kabaddi leagues and other leagues which are happening. So, the demand for physical therapy is going to grow because most of these teams, individual athletes, they would need physical therapy for all their different aches and injuries and rehab.  

The other area where there is a need, is your paediatric population or elderly population. Because now the family group scenario has changed. You have more and more nuclear families or children who are not situated where their parents are. So, the parents also want to stay healthier. They want to be active so that, you know, whatever time if they have to travel, they can travel actively with the kids, be with the kids, spend time with the kids. So, this whole concept that we need to be fit and instead of popping pills, or instead of just going under the knife which is the other healthier option.  

[05:01 – 10:06]

So there, in the exercise comes in and exercise science is a big part of physical therapy world. So that's why we have a big role to play now.  

Malavika: All right. That's really interesting, especially with, you know, sports becoming such a big part of physical therapy and like you said, geriatric patients and everyone generally, you know, the general awareness of physical fitness has grown. So much on a more human side, right? What do you think and how do you perceive the work culture of physical therapists?  

Dr. Neha: So as far as physical therapy is concerned, your work culture can be divided primarily in which setting you're working. And by that, I mean it can be an out-patient setting where you have the patient coming in. I mean, you know, getting treated and going out.  

The other is, of course, your hospital setting. The inpatient setting, what we call it in our language. And usually most of these places will have a hierarchy. So, if you are a new graduate, it's a great opportunity to learn from your seniors, learn the discipline.  

I think the school teaches us the theoretical knowledge, but the hands-on knowledge, you know, how to deal with every patient, even if the condition is same, the approach is going to be different. The way you interact with the patient, the way you explain the condition to the patient, you know that that is going to differ. No two individuals are same.

So, your approach has to be different in that manner and how you make that person feel comfortable. The person might be scared. The person might be over anxious or the person might be too rigid. That they wouldn't want to do it or might need. So, explaining to them and making them understand that, I mean, you know, a quick fix might just give relief in one of your symptoms, not the problem.  

I think nowadays what I have come across and as I've been practicing, counselling or explaining to the patient, why? I mean, if you've come to me and I know you've got a reference from the doctor and the reason you were here because the doctor, the other specialist, has referred you for that. You need to exercise or your need to get fit, but to make them understand why it is essential and it is not just a matter of 15 days a month, but certain things are going to become part of your lifestyle, you know, so I think that that that's quite interesting and convincing them.  

Malavika: Absolutely interesting thing to do. When we were briefing for this podcast. You told me about how you invest a lot more time than a doctor would and therefore the relationship with your patients is also way different. Can you tell us more about that?  

Dr. Neha: That is there. See because I mean when you are visiting any specialist, right? I mean, even at first with the maximum time they're going to go through the paperwork will be 15 minutes, 20 minutes, but unlikely when you come to your physical therapy session.

The therapist is bound to end up spending at least close to 45 minutes with you. So, we do end up spending more time with the patient apart from that. You are going to I mean if in my clinic only I might end up seeing the same patient, you know twice a week thrice a week for four for a period of four weeks or six weeks.  

So, the interaction what is the issue the things which are happening over a period of time, you know, you, you get to know the individual apart. I mean, not just as a patient, but the individual also and the interactions can vary in the terms of there is some other condition which is bothering the patient. Is there something else? Yeah, or is there a red flag or is there?  A little bit of counselling or the patient might need another consult from a specialist if there is any red flags or the symptoms which we think which might be hampering the patient's progress.

So, I think there we have a good role to play simply because the amount of time which we end up spending and the accessibility which the patient has to us.  

Malavika: Absolutely. Talking about accessibility, right? Where would you see, you know, most potential? For physical therapists to pursue their career in India. Are there more popular cities and others?  

[10:06 - 15:03]

So, most of the metro cities, Bombay, of course, ranks very highly because you have access to better settings. And of course, in terms of learning opportunities as well, same goes for other metro cities, Delhi, Chennai, I would say, then Hyderabad and most of your two-tier cities. Like I'm telling you that there is that. More awareness and the people do want to stay fit.

I mean the classic cases that these number of apps also which you have, you know, everybody wants to do stay. I think the role of the therapist then comes into play guiding them. What exercises are not wrong, and what's correct for you as an individual. So, the scope is really great.

But yeah, of course, still a little bit more awareness as far as the patient population is concerned, is more still in the metro cities. I would say r

Malavika: Right and you mentioned about apps, you know, since COVID things have changed dynamics have changed. People are working from home or remote. Is that a possibility in this profession?

Dr. Neha: So, for physical therapy we, in fact I also ended up doing remote sessions during COVID. More. So, if the individual has more aches and pains or specific condition, I think a clinic visit is much better because the therapist can examine clinically what's going on.

But if you are looking for just a general, like I mentioned the geriatric, the elderly population, you're looking just for a fitness class and you have that and once the brief about the individual, then things can be done online because you already know the background about the individual, the aches can be monitored. Or basic strengthening or conditioning program. Of course, those things can be done of I mean online too.  

Malavika: Absolutely. And in the process, right from a more, you know, philosophical aspect, where do you see people falter in their career in this space?  

Dr. Neha: I think everybody is in a big hurry to get somewhere, you know. What I really feel.  I see hundred patients today, all hundreds of them, I will be able to treat and they will be pain-free know that that's not going to happen.

But staying true to your skill set and having that passion to keep on upgrading yourself. So, you are giving the best to your patients, you know, that is very helpful. The moment you start feeling that I think I know, everything or whatever is out there in the market. I know most of the thing that's a wrong attitude because every patient know two individuals are same.

So, every patient always teaches you something that willingness to learn and that willingness to keep on upgrading yourself should be there.  

Malavika: Absolutely. I think that that's one of the important things. I remember you were also mentioning about empathy and looking at things from a more macro perspective.

Dr. Neha: Yeah. So again, that's what it boils down to, right? If you start thinking, okay, even if the patient, this is the complaint, but where is the problem originating from?

So, then you are behaving like a clinician. You are looking for the answers and then you can guide your patient better. I think that that makes a whole lot of difference. And that's what I mean. It's more about the passion. And how you want to okay, what what's the best I can do for the patient. So that's where it comes from.  

Malavika: Absolutely. Thorough root cause analysis and also knowing being aware of what the possibilities could be.  

Dr. Neha: So being aware about the possibility is only going to come if you're willing to learn. Absolutely. Right. Yeah, because see, even if the healthcare by from the time I have graduated, they have been changes. Health care. Also, realize at least in physical therapy world, and that's true for most of the healthcare providers and other field as well. There is a more evidence-based approach.

So, by that we mean if even if I'm telling you this particular thing works, there is research behind it. Why it is there or a thought process which was there a decade or two decades earlier might not be relevant today, right? So, if I keep on functioning on that thought process, then I'm not somewhere not delivered. I'm not delivering to my patient correctly. So, it is important to move forward and to know that you need to keep on updating yourself.  

[15:04 - 20:10]

Malavika: Absolutely, Neha, let's also talk about competition, right? The competition around you. How do you deal with that? And what keeps you inspired amidst all this?

Dr. Neha: See competition is bound to be there and like I told you, the patient would want to go doctor shopping if they are not satisfied, or the result is not coming at the pace what they want.

Having said that the physical therapy world has also evolved a lot. There are a lot of different techniques, lot of different set of equipment. Now in a smaller clinical set of the kind, which I have our outpatient set of bits. It's not possible to have all sort of equipment as well.  

And here when I'm mentioning I'm mentioning more of your Pilates based rehab, which is Pilates based equipment, which has become part of physical therapy world. There is other equipment in terms of aquatic therapy or water-based therapy, which has come into for so having a pool or you know, your water-based treadmill, you need to have that much of area.

Specific conditions or sports related things, at times, patient might end up going to another therapist. But the way I see or rather the way I have seen, my role as your therapist is becoming like your family physician.  

So, most of your aches and pains, patient until unless it's a highly specific condition, they would prefer their therapist to be within the walking distance or an easier access so that they can come to the clinic more frequently. Also, a therapist unlike other doctors like in a day I can end up seeing maximum. 15 to 20 patients.

I mean, that's also max like it's mentally very taxing the amount of time as I mentioned earlier behind every patient. You will end up spending at least half an hour to 45 minutes. It's not practically possible to you know, to see everyone. So, I think competition is welcome as long as long as they're practicing the correct way.

In a lot of time. This machine, and that machine and then the patient come to us. Also doesn't mean that you know, you should be able to advise the patient correctly. Sometimes they might just come to you. Okay, we have been referred and you might feel the need. Okay, this is not a candidate for physical therapy or might need another reference before you start. See, so you should be able to guide them as well.

So, a very honest understanding because you see even if at that time you're losing the patient, but the patient, knows that you have guided them correctly. They're bound to come back to you, right? Because he or she knows that my doctor has made a correct suggestion. Yeah, so it's a relationship which you are establishing, right? Right? Yeah.

So, and I think it works because one person one individual from that family has seen and is satisfied with the service or as a therapist the way you have treated you most of the time. I'm at least I have ended up treating the entire family. So, I mean family right from the grandparents to the child. Right?

Malavika: That's how it is supremely inspiring, which is which is why I would want to ask for everyone who is going to watch this and find so much inspiration right in this video. What would, you know, tell them as a piece of advice? What should they take forward from this?  

Dr. Neha: I think one of the best things which I like about my field is a part, I mean, of course, every patient who's coming to the clinic is going to pay you and you are earning and that is there.

But I think healthcare in general is the only field where you get a lot of blessings where I mean, you know, you have patients who are quite elderly like somebody who's of my grandparents age and they'll come and say, keep it up. I think that that's a big bonus. That's a very big bonus to us apart from that.

I think when you start treating and the even people who are elder to you or senior to you, once you have treated them and you are able to show the result the kind of respect which you get especially. I mean, when you've graduated and in those early years and you feel oh, wow, you know, like I did it and there is a difference and you start noticing that difference even in the way your relatives will talk, they'll come for your advice. So, I think that that's quite inspiring. Also, the field dynamics it offers because I'm a mother now.

[20:11 – 23:13]

So, I think physical therapy in general does offer me that. Opportunity to be a little flexible in terms of my timing right in India. It is, I still think it's a little struggle because if you have your own setup, I mean, you're never truly free but so my all of my bachelors is based from India. I did my master's from the US. So over there early, I mean, and that's what most of my friends have done. You can do pick and choose your hours or you can go part-time or you can take a break and then again return to work.

So those opportunities do make a difference that flexibility that you can have a little bit of family life and then go back to you not losing your professional life at all. That makes a great combination.

Malavika: You have autonomy on how you want to go.  

Dr. Neha: Yes. Yes. Yes. Right.  

Malavika: Very cool. That was super insightful Neha. What we'll do now is we'll move to the last segment. Which is the lightning down.

We have three questions and to that you can give your answers in a phrase or in a word. My first question is one piece of advice to your younger self.

Dr. Neha: So, I think I would say not to be too harsh. That is what I would like to say. Yeah, that's it. Yeah. Okay.

Malavika: And one mistake that you feel people should. Avoid in this career.  

Dr. Neha: I think we should have all have a lot of patience too eager to get on the top. Right? Right.

Malavika: So, patience is key.  

Dr. Neha: Yeah, patience is key.  

Malavika: And one book or video or podcast that you would like to recommend everyone.  

Dr. Neha: So, I think the physical therapy books if I recommend, they would be too boring. But one of the books which has been recommended is the Art of Explanation.  

Talks about the whole marketing in those other fields, but it's as valid as in the physical therapy world because we are involved in, you know, you have to communicate you have to market and you have to deal with the whole set of patients. So, I think that's one book which I will recommend amazing.  

Malavika: Thank you so much, Dr. Neha. This was supremely insightful. Thank you for taking out the time.

And with that we will wrap up this episode. We will be back with another episode. Super soon. Until then stay curious and grow WiZR every day.

This podcast is a production of WiZR. I'm your host Malavika Issar. Achyutanand Dwivedi is the head of audio and video production. Shanika Jhunjhunwala is the executive producer. For more information on how you can grow your career with WiZR. Visit WiZR.in.

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23 min 13 sec
Mastering a career in Physical Therapy with Dr. Neha Shethia