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Emory's Dual Degree Graduates Making Worldwide Impact In and Out of Clinic

Long rated one of the best PT programs in the country, the Emory Division of Physical Therapy took a bold step more than 10 years ago when it became one of the nation’s first PT programs to offer a dual degree program. Since its first three dual degree graduates in 2010, 15 other Emory students have obtained either their MBA or MPH degrees in conjunction with their Doctor of Physical Therapy degrees.

Recently, Emory Physical Therapy caught up with five Emory dual degree graduates. While all began their journey at Emory with a passion for physical therapy, their dual degrees have opened a wide array of professional opportunities that would not have been available otherwise.

Philip Ikoku: A Rising Star in the Boardroom

Philip Ikoku

Since graduating from Emory with dual DPT/MBA degrees in 2016, Philip Ikoku has spent his entire professional career working with large hospitals and health systems throughout the country in the areas of strategic and capital planning and value-based care. Despite not being a practitioner, Ikoku, who is the director of business development at the St. Louis-based Lumeris, has no regrets about his three-year journey completing his Doctor of Physical Therapy degree at Emory and still sees himself as a physical therapist.

“I adopt a philosophy that my family has that says there’s no wasted experience when you’re advancing yourself in the educational realm and doing something you love,” Ikoku says. “I gained a ton of perspective, ability and knowledge in the PT program and fed my love for clinical science and interpersonal interaction.”

Today, Ikoku spends his days in hospital/health system C-suites nationwide fostering partnerships that promote value-based clinical and business models geared toward creating operational and financial efficiencies in health care delivery. According to Ikoku, while his MBA degree equipped him with the business knowledge to excel in the board room, his clinical background has further enhanced his credibility.

“On a day-to-day basis, I’m having conversations with people who, at first, have no idea that I have a clinical background,” Ikoku says. “They are pleasantly surprised when something in the business side of the world goes to the clinical side and they discover that I know what I’m talking about.”

While his ascent in the health care business world has been rapid, Ikoku’s goals for his future are not title or dollar related but are geared toward expanding his influence in a health care system in need of bold leadership.

“My plan is to continue using the skills that I’ve gained at Emory, both at the clinical and business levels, to expand my impact on where health care is going and make it better for the greater populace of the United States,” he says. “That means enhancing my existing relationships, growing my network and influence, and being viewed as someone who is a leader in health care with the relationships that can really move the needle in the way our health system needs to go.”

Michael Wang: Leading and Expanding His Own PT Practice

Michael Wang

Emory DPT/MBA graduate Michael Wang is living the dream that he had envisioned for his life several years ago. As owner of the successful New Care Physical Therapy in Norcross, Ga., Wang, who graduated in 2012, credits Emory’s dual degree program for equipping him with the knowledge to start his own physical therapy practice.

“Without a doubt, the MBA definitely was well worth it for me,” Wang says. “It gave me a broad overview of how to run a team and how to work with people to get a project done. It also gave me a good overview of how business works in general — basically, just knowing what to look for. Of course, it didn’t teach me everything that I needed to know specifically applicable to physical therapy, but even as my business grows right now, I know what resources to look for.”

Wang, who started New Care about four years ago, specializes in sports rehabilitation, dry needling, spinal manipulation and the treatment of temporomandibular joint disorders. He is making plans to open another practice location in 2020.

“Without the MBA, I probably wouldn’t have had the focus or the knowledge needed to grow beyond a single clinic,” he says.

As New Care continues to expand, Wang is grateful for a business education that emphasized that being talented in your field is not nearly enough.

“In most cases, you’re always going to be working with a team and it’s so important to understand and adapt to different leadership styles,” Wang adds. “When someone comes to work in my clinic, I need them to know how to work with the assistants, how to work with technical support and how to create relationships with other doctors. If you don’t know how to create relationships and can’t see the long-term goals by even just being friendly with someone, then you’re missing out on a lot. You need to have that broader spectrum and be able to see the bigger picture.”

Crystal Huber: A Leader in Hospital Quality Improvement

Crystal Huber

After graduating from Emory with dual DPT/MBA degrees in 2013, native Floridian Crystal Huber moved to Northern California without a job and looking for a year-long “fun adventure.” Not only did Huber and her husband stay in the state’s Bay Area, her career transitioned from her first job as a hospital-based physical therapist to her current role as the quality improvement manager of Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Oakland, overseeing quality for three campuses. In her position, she reviews quality-related data, initiates system-wide quality improvement projects and supports the medical staff with peer review.

“Ultimately, I ended up transitioning because I felt like in the quality role, I could impact clinicians who could impact patients,” Huber says. “It’s a grander scope than one patient at a time.”

Huber, who leads a team of 12 people, credits the dual degree with preparing her for leadership.

“For me, the MBA allowed me to see the value of sharing knowledge, building up others and cultivating a team environment,” she says. “Looking back, I can’t say that I expected to be in this position.”

With her business degree, she is also positioned to expand her role within the organization if she chooses.

“The leadership training at Emory creates a lot more opportunities for me, not just in management, but in a whole other world of consulting and other operations within our hospital that wouldn’t have been there otherwise,” Huber says.

Six years after leaving Atlanta, Huber still stays in touch with some of her Emory professors and credits them for equipping her with the tools to meet any challenge.

“I moved to the Bay Area without a job and as a new grad, I was overwhelmed,” she recalls. “But once I got that first job, I was like, ‘Oh yeah, I got this.’”

Clarissa Myers: Taking PT to the Public Policy Arena

Clarissa Myers

For 2018 Emory dual degree graduate Clarissa Myers, her current job as a physical therapist at Concentra in Hartford, Conn. is a stepping stone to something larger. Myers, who earned DPT and MPH degrees, wants to use her experience as a physical therapist to ultimately transform the way the profession is viewed at the public health level. Currently, with its focus on healing injuries and ailments that have already occurred, the profession is seen as reactive. Myers wants to be part of an effort to position PT as a key spoke in the wheel of prevention of disease, illness and injury.

“Just like you would see a primary care physician for an annual check-up, you would see a PT to ensure that you’re moving well and that you are maximizing your abilities at work, your daily life and in your recreation activities,” Myers explains. “If you like to play tennis, for example, how can you do that better? How can you live at a higher level of quality to keep yourself healthier longer? That’s the direction I would like to see it go. It’s moving that way, but it’s definitely not anywhere close to an across-the-board standard of care.”

Myers, who works in what she termed as a “fast-paced environment” treating primarily workers’ compensation patients, credits her Emory public health degree with the way she views people she cares for.

“It has given me a totally different perspective of how to treat a patient,” she explains. “There is a stigma with workers’ comp patients which I’ve found to be mostly false. What I see are hard-working people who are working very physical, laborious jobs. I feel like I can identify with those patients a little bit better and incorporate that into how I care for them.”

In the future, Myers hopes to pattern her career after Emory Division of Physical Therapy Associate Professor Sara Pullen, DPT, MPH, CHES, who has combined her clinical skills and public health acumen to improve the lives of HIV/AIDS patients previously living in chronic pain. Myers wants to utilize PT to reduce the incidence of chronic disease.

“I worked pretty closely with Dr. Pullen and was impressed how she was able to mesh her public health background with her clinical expertise to do amazing work,” she says. “I want to take a parallel path but focus on the prevention of noncommunicable diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes.”

Lori Baxter: A Global Rehabilitation Pioneer

Lori Baxter

Lori Baxter chose Emory for its dual degree program and since graduating in 2010 with her DPT/MPH degrees, she has used her education to make an impact globally. Currently, Baxter lives in the country of Laos working at an international non-governmental organization (INGO) that exists to improve the lives of people with disabilities. Her role perfectly blends her dual degrees.

“I am not treating patients every day, but I use my clinical skills and expertise to help improve the capacity of physical therapists throughout the country,” Baxter says.

As one way to overcome the language barrier, Baxter educates caregivers by showing them pictures on her phone. The seeds for her current role were planted at Emory while getting her DPT degree. There, Baxter longed for something more than her clinical experience. That’s where the MPH degree came in.

“I’ve always loved learning about how the human body works and what can be done to help people have a better quality of life,” she explains. “But I’ve always had this nagging feeling of, ‘How do I help the people who don’t make it to the clinic? How do we help people who don’t speak the same language as the therapist they see? How do we help the people who can’t pay for the services?’”

Baxter and her husband, who are from a small town in Southern Oregon, moved to Laos in 2016 after being impressed by the country during a honeymoon stay there in 2012. Today, with two small children, they are preparing for another international adventure as Baxter recently accepted an early child development position with an INGO in Cambodia.

“We’re the kind of people who feel that our home will always be mobile,” she says. “We don’t own a house in the U.S., and I don’t foresee us living there for many, many years, if not decades.”

For Baxter and the other dual degree graduates, the Emory dual degree program has opened up endless possibilities. EPT

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