In our weekly feature section, Pelvic Rehab Report is proud to present this interview with Herman & Wallace instructor Ginger Garner, PT, MPT, ATC.
How did you get started in pelvic rehab?
My entry point into pelvic rehab was a bit unorthodox and as a result, my colleagues at the time (back in the 90’s), considered my practice quite eccentric and frankly, a bit strange.
In fact, although I can see lots of humor in it now, I was actually pushed out of a practice because what I was doing was “too individualized” and patient specific. Of course, that “eccentric” entry point into pelvic rehab was integrative medicine, using a yoga-based biopsychosocial model of practice.
Who or what inspired you?
To answer that question I think you first have to be able to recognize and appreciate times when you have not been well supported or inspired, kind of like having to know adversity before you can recognize and value success.
Here’s my short story:
Early on in my education (in sports medicine, athletic training, physical therapy, yoga, and pilates) I realized that the biomedical model, although stellar at handling life-threatening emergencies, was not always so great at addressing chronic conditions and preventing disease processes and injury. So the answer to what inspires me – is the privilege of being able to be on the prevention end of injury and disease.
Back in the 90’s, I had a faculty instructor who encouraged me to keep pursuing my passion – in spite of the pushback I got from many directions, including within the department at the university. She found a way for me to pursue lateral work in the School of Public Health, which I felt was necessary in order for me to become a successful patient advocate. It was a great experience where I was able to work with the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Health and conduct a pilot study. Her encouragement inspired me to keep following my dream, which is why I strongly believe in this quote by Mark Twain,
“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.”
Fast forward almost 20 years, and my most influential mentors, sources of my biggest inspiration, have been 1) Dr. Riane Eisler, holocaust survivor, attorney, social scientist, and founder of the not-for-profit organization, Caring Economics, which works to end violence against women and raise the status of caregiving; and 2) my three children. Experiencing pregnancy three times was an enormous gift, which allowed me the privilege giving birth not just to my three boys, but also to the framework for using yoga in prenatal, childbirth, and postpartum to prevent and manage injury and pain. The mothers I work with also inspire me. The work I do is for them and their future children.
What have you found most rewarding in treating this patient population?
There is go greater reward than empowering women, especially mothers and mother-to-be.
Women are too frequently disempowered by our current medical model. Their concerns are often marginalized and the care they get can be dehumanizing and humiliating, especially during maternal and childbirth care. I believe that above being a physical therapist, an athletic trainer, and an integrative clinician, I am first and foremost a patient advocate. Each woman I work with is a personal investment of my time, energy, and dedication. The reward of seeing a woman be able to pursue the compassionate birth she wants and deserves, to find relief from pelvic pain, and to know what questions to ask to get the best care from her health care providers, all because of the time I have spent with her – is worth more than gold.
What do you find more rewarding about teaching? (this could be one story or something you always find magical about the experience)
The two most rewarding aspects of teaching are 1) changing the course and paradigm of practice in rehab and medicine by fostering creativity and a shift toward person-centered, integrative practice, and 2) getting to be constantly immersed in research.
I love learning and am the perpetual student. I’m currently working toward my doctorate at UNC Chapel Hill, and love the interchange and partnership that is nurtured by being in education.
What trends/changes are you finding in the field of pelvic rehab?
The full circle return to seeing the person as whole, and not broken or as a part, is incredibly encouraging.
I am seeing this through the integrative courses that H&W is embracing, including my own courses in yoga, but also and perhaps more importantly, through the ground swell of individual health care consumer action. Folks realize “health care” doesn’t just consist of drugs and surgery, and they are seeking out integrated care now more than ever. Still yet, access to pelvic rehab can be vastly improved, which is a great segue into the next question.
If you could make a significant change to the field of pelvic rehab or the field of PT, what would it be?
As a patient advocate, I believe our biggest responsibility as clinicians is to improve access to pelvic rehab and integrated care.
Integrated care I define as “integrative medicine + rehab.” PT’s are not yet the practitioner of choice in many areas, including back and pelvic pain and orthopaedic injury. So we have our work cut out for us – to improve public health education and health literacy about physical therapy and specifically, pelvic PT.
If I had the chance, I would absolutely become involved in evolving the scope of practice and increasing the reach and influence of PT on a legislative and policy level.
What have you learned over the years that has been most valuable to you?
Relationship is more important than anything else.
You can be the most skilled clinician on the planet, and plan the best integrated, “wholistic” biopsychosocial plan of care the world has ever seen – and yet, if you haven’t connected with the patient and nurtured a therapeutic landscape that fosters compassionate care and a safe environment, then patient outcomes will falter. What’s more is, patient frustration and clinician burnout will be high.
When in doubt about what you are doing, return to nurturing relationship.
What is your favorite topic about which you teach?
My courses are like my children. I can’t choose a favorite. I love teaching integrated hip labral care, because it’s difficult and complex subject matter and urgently needed in this rapidly developing new field of hip rehab. But I equally love helping women toward the pregnancy and birth they desire and deserve.
Overall, no matter what the course is, yoga is the entry point for the zen I experience when teaching, practicing integrated physical therapy, and in my personal life. Ultimately, guiding my students and patients toward their own version of that mountain-top experience of personal and professional transformation – that is the real deal.
Ginger Garner, PT, MPT, ATCOther Credentials: PYT, ERYT500, CPI
H&W Courses: HLI, YPREG, YPOST