Friday, May 11, 2012

Student Spotlight Lauren Zwikelmaier

Lauren Zwikelmaier

In case you are unfamiliar with the tradition, the Program in Physical Therapy puts a Student Spotlight on one of our bulletin boards about once a month. Every month our students respond with a depth that we find pretty inspiring and a beautiful outlook on Physical Therapy, the human condition, the path they have taken thus far, their mentors, and life in general.

Read Lauren’s interview below to get a taste of it.

Lauren’s dog

Lauren and her husband at the game

Lauren and her husband on their wedding day!

1.  Where are you from? What do you love best about that place? Where would you like to be in 2 years? Where would you like to travel?
I’m from Rolla, Missouri, which is a small college town about 100 miles southwest of St. Louis.  My house is just outside the city limits, surrounded by rolling hills and cattle farms.  My favorite thing about Rolla is that you can see the stars at night.  

2. What is your family like? If you have siblings can you     describe them? Is anyone in your family already involved in medicine or science?
My husband, Will, is a band director in Hermann MO.  He directs their middle and high school bands.  My parents both have their degrees in Metallurgical Engineering from Missouri S&T, the University at Rolla.  My dad taught there for a number of years and now owns his own consulting firm.  My mom has done a number of things: she’s worked in managerial positions at foundries, steel companies, even Coors (yes, the one that makes the beer).  Now, she’s a director of advancement there.  I have one sister, Kate.  She’s a sophomore at Missouri S&T and is majoring in (you guessed it) metallurgical engineering.  Science has always been a big thing in my family, but I’m the only one to do anything in medicine/healthcare.  I took the road less traveled.  

3. When did you first become interested in physical therapy?
I started seriously thinking about physical therapy as a career when I was 16, after I had surgery to correct spinal stenosis.  My physical therapist was the one that figured out that something wasn’t right and referred me back to my doctor before I had a very serious injury.  After the surgery, she helped me get back to my life.  I saw the dramatic influence she had on me, and I wanted to help people in the same way.  

4. What do you find inspirational about physical therapy? Is there someone in the field who inspires you now?
Physical therapy is inspiring because it is a marriage of science and humanism.  We have a very high level of knowledge and we use it to fix broken body parts.  We are also taught to attend to the needs of the person who belongs to those broken body parts, and that both are essential in the healing process.  

5. How do you manage the work load as a physical therapy student?
I approach school with the attitude that it’s my job and I have to devote a lot of time to it.  I plan ahead, start studying for tests early.   I also take care of myself.  I eat right (mostly), make myself get sleep, and try to laugh out loud at least once a day.  

6. What interests do you have outside of physical therapy? Can you see any connections between those interests and your studies?
I love swimming and running, and I recently got into cycling.  I also love to play racquetball with my husband, even though I’m really bad at it.  Anything where I’m moving my body makes me happy, another reason I think I was born to be a PT.  I also really like National Geographic and pretty much any nature show on the planet, but that doesn’t really relate to PT.  

7. Can you describe an experience in a lab that deeply impacted you? A type of lecture/course that you love? Do you have a clinical experience that has had a deep impact on you?
We were talking about debrieding wounds in multi-system management one day.  Kim was telling us that we needed to find a way to get our patients to relax during painful procedures like these.  She told us a story about how she found out that one of her patient’s favorite songs was “Amazing Grace,” so she would sing it to him during debridement to get him to relax.  I found that very moving.  It reminded me of when I was in the hospital after my surgery and I was in quite a bit of pain.  To distract me, my mom would read my favorite book aloud.  Such simple acts like these can make all the difference.  

8. Can you talk about a person who has supported you a lot in your life? In your decision to go into PT?
My family has always encouraged me to utilize my strengths and follow my passions.  There was never any pressure to be an engineer or to go into engineering.  They made it clear that whatever I decided to commit to, they would support me in it.  So when I told my mom I wanted to be a physical therapist and that I wanted to go to SLU, she was like “Ok. Let’s figure out how to do this.”  She helped me research schools, fill out applications, drove me to visits and interviews.  For the past five years, my parents and my husband have been there for me every step of the way and I would not be who I am today without them.  

9. What was something that you struggled with in your first couple of years of PT school? How did you work through it? What is something that came more naturally to you? What is something that you are working through now and how are getting through it?
I struggled with gross anatomy.  I’ve never been good at rote memorization and that class just killed me.  I found the amount of information overwhelming.  To get through it, I spent a lot of time drawing and writing things out.  It was time consuming, but it was the only way I could find to organize all the material in my brain.  Cardiopulm, neuro, and the musculoskeletal courses came much easier to me because you don’t have to memorize everything.  This semester, patient management has been a whole new challenge.  I really struggled in the beginning because it challenges us to transition to a more mature level of thinking.  After a semester of practicing and learning from my mistakes, I know that I have improved a lot and that is very rewarding to me.   

10. What would your advice be to next freshman class? What would your advice be to the class just beneath you for their next year?
I have two pieces of advice to the next freshman class.  The first: find what you love to do and get your hands all over it!  Whether that be a club/organization, volunteering, or getting involved in your minor.  I loved my psychology courses, so I got very involved in the psych department.  I made some great friends and found some great mentors.  Those experiences are what made my undergraduate experience valuable.  The second: develop good study habits early.  Have fun, but learn how to study and how to work hard.  For the seniors on the brink of PYI: Yes, it is hard.  It’s supposed to be.  Realize that you already have all the tools you need to get through it.  So stay organized.  Study hard.  Eat and sleep.  You’ll be fine.  

11. What are some activities that you are involved in both inside and outside the PT department right now?
I work part time as a PT tech for Advanced Training and Rehab, the place I did my CRI.  I also work from time to time as an attendant for an incredible young man with cerebral palsy.  

12. Do you know what you would like to specialize in? Why do you feel that way?
I’m not too sure at the moment.  My last clinical was at an outpatient orthopedics clinic and I loved it because you got to do a lot of problem solving.  Then again, I’ve always been really interested in the inpatient rehab and acute care side of things.   My plan at the moment is to keep an open mind and take in everything my clinicals have to offer.  

13. How have your classmates helped you so far?
My friends have become my family and I don’t know what I’d do without them.  Everyone is so supportive of each other and there’s a lot of camaraderie.  Having people to lean on during tough times and people to celebrate triumphs with is one of the special things about this program.  

14. Fun facts:
A. What is your favorite movie?
B. Favorite artist?
    Trace Bundy.  John Denver.  Will Zwikelmaier
C. Something that your classmates wouldn’t know about you?
    I’m a card carrying Native American (Choctaw).  My dad even considered giving me a Native American name: Wathohuck.  It means “the lighted path.”  
D. What was your first job?
    I worked as an attendant for a man with quadraplegia.  
E. Hidden talents?
    Ear wiggling.
F. Something that you have done lately that has made you feel alive?
    Whenever I go running or cycling through tower grove park.  I’m pretty easy to please.  

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