About Unger, PT, DPT
On the east coast, our July Clinician of the Month, Jacob Unger, PT, DPT, greets us with a smile on a video call. He has been practicing physical therapy as a professional for four years now and currently works as the Clinic Director at Sports and More Physical Therapy in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Unger received his Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from Duke University. He received a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology and Exercise Science and a minor in Business Administration from Valparaiso University in 2015. Unger also has a certification in dry needling.
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Finding His Calling
Growing up, Unger played soccer through high school and college. Since he enjoyed exercising, he knew he wanted to find a career that allowed him to work with people to help them stay active. He also has an older sister who is a physical therapist, who helped turn him on to the profession.
“I started college with a business major, thinking that I would want to look at maybe opening up my own clinic at some point in time,” Unger said.
As time went on and he learned more through PT school, those plans changed because of the need to open your own clinic and do cash-based treatments, which limits options on who you can treat.
“I pivoted a little bit and said well, OK, well, there's still some avenues for me to go because I am interested in the business side of things,” Unger said.
Ultimately, he chose to change his business major into a minor, so he didn’t need to take an extra semester of classes. Unger says his knowledge in business helps him take on administrative duties and allows him to study ways the clinic can be more efficient and productive.
“I think it's a really good blend for me to still have plenty of patient time and treatment time,” Unger said. “I am able to continue to use exercise as a tool to help people feel better and achieve their goals, while also having some time where I am doing the business side of things and looking in.”
Utilizing Past Experiences
Unger says his past experiences have helped give him unique insight when treating patients. For instance, Unger says his time spent his first year of PT school as a concussion spotter for the NHL required additional knowledge of the vestibular system and concussions.
“Bigger than that [having knowledge] is [knowing] what it takes to kind of be effective in those situations,” Unger said.
Since his time in the NHL program was around the time when NFL concussion spotting was becoming more prevalent, Unger says it was very timely and important. He says what was most eye opening was the procedures, commitment, and dedication of the team he worked on. He found having the ability to communicate quickly and have efficiency was a key part of the learning experience.
“When somebody calls and they're in pain, we need to make sure our processes are set up and they're going to be effective,” Unger said. “So, we can get them in and get them started as soon as possible. It's not something where we miss a call, or something gets dropped and then that visit doesn't get scheduled as quickly as it could be.”
Unger says his communication skills developed at his previous positions have also helped him work with patients and his coworkers.
“There needs to be that feedback, that kind of open relationship and ability for everybody to participate and getting something done,” Unger said.
Activism and Outreach
While the COVID-19 pandemic put a slowdown in his and the clinic’s activism, Unger says things are starting to pick back up. For him, that means more community outreach to provide movement screenings at events. He says some of the regularly attended events were volleyball tournaments, high school sporting events, and local 5K and 10K running events.
“We're super fortunate to be able to be in this profession to help people,” Unger said. “A lot of that we get to do day to day, but we want to make sure we're taking that next step.”
For him, that’s going above and beyond and engaging with and giving back to the communities he serves. With inertia in their favor as more events start happening again, Unger is optimistic that he and the clinic will be able to carry that momentum forward and attend more events in the coming months.
Advice for Other Physical Therapists
Unger says having an interest and desire to learn is a must when it comes to studying physical therapy and being a part of the profession. He also believes doing shadow hours at different clinics or parts of the profession is important, since every clinic is a bit different.
“I would recommend going above and beyond what that minimal limit [of shadow hours] would be,” Unger said.
Aside from seeing how things are run differently, Unger says it also allows you to develop more relationships with others in the field. He also said you should be prepared that not everyone may like your ideas for treatment.
He said one of the hardest parts of the job is helping patients see the value in what you are doing. Unger says often people just think of physical therapy as where someone is told to ride a bike and then do the same exercise at home. Sometimes people even ask what’s the point of doing the activity.
While it is tough to work with those patients, he says getting past that boundary and helping someone see the value is rewarding.
“Physical therapy changes lives, avoids surgeries, avoids pain, and so that’s worth it,” Unger said.
Physical Therapy Technology Predictions
Unger says his background in business has him most excited about the ability to gain more data with advances in technology. For example, he says being able to find more correlations as to where or what is causing more accidents could be beneficial. Unger also says having more data and studies can help gain further insight to get rid of the ‘gray area’ in physical therapy.
“If we can have more higher quality studies and start to get numbers put into it, that takes away some of that gray area and that unknown,” Unger said. “You're never going to be 100%, but if you're finding ‘this is the number that we want to see with strength,’ and you have a handheld dynamometer, that allows you to test and measure it.”
Those studies and tests can help physical therapists feel more confident in a patient’s progress. For instance, if there are more strength tests readily available, then it is easier to evaluate if someone is ready to move forward and put more weight on an injury that is recovering.
“It is super exciting to be able to have more confidence in making those decisions,” Unger said. “For our patients and helping to provide and support them, our ultimate goal is that we want to rehabilitate. I tell everybody, if I don't see you again, that would be fantastic, because it means that you're doing better.”
Unger says he thinks in the next several years, you'll see a lot more products like dynamometers to help measure strength.
“Technology is constantly in flux and the sports world constantly drives us and pushes us,” Unger said. “There is always going to be that that push of what can we do more, how can we speed up this rehab process.”
When that happens, he says there will continue to be new ways to treat patients, whether it be cryotherapy, kinesiology tape, or dry needling.
“That [new treatment options] is something that we just continue to expand and improve upon and we’ll continue doing as a profession,” Unger said.
Performance Health's Impact
Unger says Performance Health provides his clinic with the tools they need.
“We can have all of the education in the world and we can know what to do. But at some point, it needs to be done, right?” Unger said. “It [Performance Health] provides the tools that allow us to do everything that we’re doing.”
For him that includes helping patients address impairments, improve their strength, reduce pain, and increase their range of motion.
“We [physical therapists] are empowering patients to achieve their goals. That can’t be done without the equipment Performance Health provides,” Unger said.
You can shop Unger’s must-have Performance Health products, like THERABAND, by checking out his list earlier in this article.
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