Nicholas Gaffga, MD, MPH, FAAFP sat down with The Pelvic Rehab Report this week to discuss himself and how he came to TA (and teach) for Herman & Wallace. Niko is scheduled to TA next in Birmingham, AL for Pelvic Floor Level 1 scheduled March 4-5 2023, and will be instructing Menstruation and Pelvic Health on February 25-26 2023.
Who are you?
Describe your clinical practice. My name is Niko Gaffga, and I am a family medicine physician seeing patients in Atlanta, GA. Over the 20 years I have been practicing medicine, I have worked in a number of settings: pediatrics, gerontology, emergency room, ICU, HIV prevention in Africa for 4 years, occupational medicine, travel medicine, and obstetrics and gynecology. As I look back over these memories, the area of work where I most feel connected with my patients is women’s health and outpatient gynecology.
How did you get involved in the pelvic rehabilitation field?
My journey in pelvic health physical therapy has been one of the most exciting and rewarding of my career. One day in my clinic I saw a patient who had pelvic pain. When I walked into the room she was crying. Over the next few months, we were able to reduce her IC symptoms considerably with medications and diet modification. And one time when I went into the room to see her, she stood up and smiled and hugged me. This reminded me why I wanted to be a doctor. Along this journey, I realized there were aspects of her experience that I could not address using my training as a physician, so I began investigating other ways to provide more holistic care to my patients. That was when I discovered the world of pelvic floor physical therapy. To understand more, I signed up for PF1. During that 3-day weekend, I saw the power of powerful pelvic floor physical therapy to help patients feel better. Since that time, I have taken all the courses in the Pelvic Floor series, as well as Male Pelvic Floor and three other specialty courses offered at Herman & Wallace. I even overcame my fear and anxiety and signed up to be a teaching assistant. I thought I could never be a TA…but since that time I have been TA 13 times and each time I am grateful for the opportunity to make a difference in other people’s lives. My experience working with pelvic floor practitioners has shown me the power of collaborating among health care professionals with different skills and treatment modalities to offer our patients the most holistic and effective care they can get.
What patient population do you find most rewarding in treating and why?
The most interesting and rewarding aspect of my work is helping patients improve their Menstrual Experience. Menstrual Forums can be difficult to find, but they create opportunities to share knowledge and understanding of the Menstrual Experience to increase Menstrual Optimism, Menstrual Confidence, and ultimately, Menstrual Pride. I have been working for 7 years to create a course that empowers pelvic health practitioners to open a Menstrual Forum with patients to help them better understand and improve their Menstrual Experience. It is a humbling, fascinating, and rewarding experience to walk with someone on a Menstrual Journey.
If you could get a message out to physical therapists about pelvic rehab what would it be?
If there are issues that as a rehab practitioner you are having trouble helping your patients with, explore referring them to a pelvic floor therapist who can help the patient in a whole different way.
What lesson have you learned in a course, from an instructor, or from a colleague or mentor that has stayed with you?
There is a simple scenario that profoundly changed how I see my patients. Physicians carrying out gynecological procedures are trained to sit at the foot of the bed to get the best field of view and to be able to carry out procedures on the patient. However, pelvic floor physical therapists usually sit next to the patient for ergonomics and also to be able to detect pain or anxiety on the face of the patient with each procedure that is carried out. This simple change in perspective invited me to be more aware of the effect that the visit is having on the patient and be more mindful of how they experience the encounter.
What do you find is the most useful resource for your practice?
My most useful resource is the ability to communicate with a variety of health professionals who have
What is in store for you in the future as a clinician?
My dream is to work in outpatient gynecology in close collaboration with a pelvic floor physical therapist to provide holistic health care for our patients.
What books or articles have impacted you as a clinician?
The Female Pelvis (Bandine Calais-Germain) for its beautiful informative illustrations that make pelvic anatomy and physiology come to life; In the Flo (Alisa Vitti) and The Rumi Collection (Kabir Helminski) for their new perspective on life; Period Repair Manual (Lara Briden); and The Fifth Vital Sign (Lisa Hendrickson-Jack) for their informative and proactive approach to understanding and improving the Menstrual Experience.
What has been your favorite Herman & Wallace Course and why?
Pelvic Floor Level 1 was life-changing for me because it introduced me to a whole new field of care and a whole different way of seeing patients. Herman & Wallace has been welcoming to me, as a physician and as a male, into a world where I could have potentially felt like an outsider. Thank you.
What lesson have you learned from a Herman & Wallace instructor that has stayed with you?
In the past 3 years, I have worked with 14 different Herman & Wallace instructors as a participant and as TA. I have learned many lessons, but the one that has helped me the most is the encouragement to follow my dreams and to be the best I can be, even if the road seems difficult or unorthodox. There is a world out there waiting to be created.
What do you love about assisting at courses?
Being a TA at Herman & Wallace courses is the highlight of my month. I literally look at my calendar each day to see how soon it will be until the class starts. I love being a part of other people’s journey to learn more about pelvic floor physical therapy, I love helping people find their way in their careers, I love sharing the things that I am passionate about, I love sharing a physician’s perspective, and most of all I love seeing the light bulb turn on in someone’s eyes when they have visualized something in a new and exciting way.
What is your message to course participants who are just starting their journey?
If pelvic floor therapy is a field that you are curious about or find interesting and you feel a calling for, I encourage you to invest time and energy to learn more about it. Your professional options and your ability to help people will only be limited by what you can imagine.