A Day’s Work: Physical therapist

(Photo by Polly McCravey)

(Photo by Polly McCravey)

Karin Rice is a physical therapist. She works at Ferncliff Nursing Center in Rhinebeck.  She is married to Ben Orick and has an 11-year-old daughter.

How did you become interested in this type of work?

I became interested after a stalled acting career in my late-20s. My stepfather found the affordable international program in Holland, no longer in existence.


I was always active. My entire youth was spent competing in “A” rated pony and horse shows in the South, Northeast and Midwest. After a move to New York City as a teen squelched my horse activities, I got a lead in a Sprite commercial, jumping a horse, which led to more auditions and acting roles in commercials, soap operas, plays and a few small movie roles. A move to L.A., a writer’s strike that lasted two years, and, since working in a club was getting old, I decided to reevaluate my choices.

I became a Pilate’s instructor. I studied with two original students of Joseph Pilates. I loved Pilates, but you need machines, and they are expensive.

I decided physical therapy might be a better paying job that was physical and more interesting than teaching exercise. I was wrong. Just kidding… sometimes anyway.

What kind of training do you need?

Training necessary these days is a doctorate in physical therapy. That entails four years postgraduate work. I just have a bachelor’s degree. I went to school in Amsterdam, Holland; that required three years of post grad work and eight months of clinical. I then had to pass a tricky state exam.

What is the most rewarding aspect of the job?

Helping people regain their physical abilities and, hopefully, return home.

The most difficult?

The most difficult aspect is working with people who have physical problems, pain, dementia, are away from their homes, and many times, anxious and depressed due to the aforementioned issues. I also work with people at the end of their lives, and even, at times, actively dying, and that can be pretty tough.

There are many sad situations in the nursing home environment. There are many people there that should really be in assisted living situations. They are not even allowed to go outside; there are many people with nothing to do, and they are bored and depressed.

The physical nature of the job can also be taxing on the body; we never stop moving, lifting, bending, pushing, pulling, and walking all day. The facility where I work is huge.

What would you say are the essential qualities needed to become a physical therapist?

The essential qualities are strength, not having physical restrictions personally; at the moment I am working through injuries and it’s been really difficult. Other important qualities are compassion, patience and the ability to work quickly and efficiently. You also have to be able to perform all documentation required in a very timely manner. For me, it can be a struggle to get it all done in one workday.

What advice could you offer someone wanting to become a physical therapist?

It’s a long road with the doctorate required now. Many therapists are also burdened with a lot of student debt. I would say think long and hard before entering this field. Large staffing agencies have now taken over hospitals and nursing homes.

The upside is you can work in pediatrics which something I did for most of my career. I worked in the Pine Plains school system and at the Anderson School for Autism. I really enjoyed that work.

How’s the money?

I enjoy the work, but it’s hard to provide for a family as it doesn’t pay that well, and much of it is per diem. You won’t get rich; salaries have declined by a third since the ’90s when I went to school. Medicare reform laws have cut reimbursement for physical therapy, as well as the number of visits allowed.