Motivating Change: A Q&A with Weiss Physical Therapist Tracy Alvarez

The Weiss PT Crew (L to R): Tracy Alvarez, Nellen Bell, Lisa Sorkin, Jen Reyes, Heather O’Connor, Lisa Schramm, Ivy Wolfe-Pozmantir, Erin McCarthy, Ava Ferido, Kat Hartmann, LeAnna Becker

Physical Therapist Tracy Alvarez has worked in Outpatient Therapy at Weiss for nearly nine years, but her interest in fitness, anatomy, and physical therapy stretches back to high school.

As a teenager, Tracy started exercising regularly with her dad. They would go to step aerobics classes together or lift weights at the gym. “I immediately became interested in muscles and the anatomy pictures on the weight lifting machines,” Tracy says.

She bought fitness magazines in order to clip out the anatomy pictures and learn the exercises that worked various muscle groups. A book in her high school guidance counselor’s office introduced her to physical therapy, which Tracy saw as the right combination of working with muscles, exercising, teaching, and coaching people—all things she enjoyed.

Tracy’s dad set up an interview with the Rehab Director at a local hospital, and Tracy shadowed therapists for the day, learning as she went about the path toward becoming a physical therapist.

“I was immediately hooked,” she says. Read on to learn more about physical therapy and what keeps Tracy motivated as she helps patients regain control of their physical lives.

1). What types of patients do you work with? Is there a most common injury or condition that drives people to physical therapy (PT)?

Physical therapists can work with patients from premature newborns, babies, and toddlers through children, teenagers, adult and older adult populations. They work in many settings: urban or rural, within a hospital or a freestanding clinic, in a patient’s home or in nursing homes. One of the beautiful things about the profession is our ability as a PT to assist and spend time with patients of so many different ages and in a variety of settings. At Weiss, I work in the Outpatient Therapy Clinic on the first floor. We treat teenagers through older adults. Some common problems we see these patients for include: low back pain, hip or knee surgeries, shoulder issues, complications from stroke, or physical limitations after being hospitalized.

2). How do you motivate patients who are struggling with pain or other challenges?

We try to create an environment that is welcoming and friendly for all of our patients. We want to listen to their story about what brought them to therapy and offer them smart treatment ideas to feel better. I hope patients feel that they can trust me, as well as the recommendations I make for them. I try to explain what we are working on and why we are doing what we are doing. I think that helps in motivating people to come to their appointments and participate in the homework we teach them.

3). What inspires you to come into work each day?

I am inspired by working with coworkers who are caring, hardworking, and intelligent. I’m inspired by knowing lots of fellow Weiss employees outside of my department who offer a friendly greeting when I seem them. And I’m inspired by my patients who come to therapy, have fun with what we are working on, and share the stories of their lives with us.

4). What would you say to someone who’s apprehensive about physical therapy or knows they should go but hasn’t made the time?

Go to the clinic, and check it out before making an appointment. Ask to take a quick tour, and talk to a therapist. This can help one get a feel for the place and the place’s style, and help the patient or family make a more informed choice. We frequently have people come in to meet us and see our space. People are sometimes surprised by what therapy can offer and how much better they feel with treatment.

If you are thinking about therapy, start with just going for the initial evaluation and treatment. This will enable the therapist to do an evaluation and provide an explanation about what he or she thinks is going on. Then, we can tell you what we think we can or can’t offer for your recovery.

If you feel cared for and trust the therapist’s recommendation, that’s a good start on the road to continued rehab. For busy patients or patients with time or financial constraints to get to therapy, we think creatively with the schedule and with what the patient prefers. Some people come two or three times a week. Others come once a week or once every other week. This enables us to continue to follow patients regularly and check in with them, while not overloading their other time or financial commitments.

Tracy Alvarez, PT, MHS, OCS, can be found on the 1st floor of Weiss Memorial Hospital in the Outpatient Therapy Department, (773) 564-5688.