Early in his career at the University of Southern California, Marco Adame Jr. was adrift. He went there with the intention of becoming a doctor, then dabbled in athletic training, and finished his college path with a career in Physical Therapy.

His time as an athletic trainer was not without some degree of glamour, as USC has a high-profile football team. He often found himself running out on the field to tend to injured players in a stadium full of fans, and in full view of a television audience.

Even that lost its luster after a while and he gravitated toward the field of physical therapy.

It is one thing to work with elite athletes that recover quickly, he told aftercollege.com, but quite another to help individuals of all ages and ability recover from a life-altering injury.

“As a physical therapist,” he said, “you work with people who have had a stroke or spinal cord injury and are having a hard time sitting up on their own and unable to walk. Then, after you work with them, they’ll say ‘I felt so much better and was able to get out of my car’ or ‘I forgot my walker at the restaurant and I noticed I was walking without it!’ It’s just really rewarding.”

That gets to the heart of what it means to be a physical therapist (PT), which according to healthcarepathway.com, is defined as a healthcare professional that rehabilitates people with physical disabilities or injuries.

Patients might be struggling with movement, pain, or everyday function. PTs work with them to resolve these issues, which could be the result of sprains and strains to strokes and amputations, among many other things.

In Long-Term Acute Care Hospitals (LTACHs) or Inpatient Rehabilitation Facilities (IRFs), licensed PTs evaluate patients, communicate with the patient and the patient’s family members, and develop an individualized treatment plan that will help each patient return to the highest achievable level of function. The therapist interventions and treatment plan contribute to the overall clinical outcomes, but the interaction and communication with the patient and family are essential for high patient satisfaction.

PTs must, as a result, master skills far beyond those which they might learn while earning an undergraduate degree in one of the sciences, as well as a doctorate in physical therapy (DPT). Their people skills must be off the charts.

This is not a job where you’re going into an office and sitting in front of a computer all day. This is a job where you’re in front of people, you’re working with people, and you need to be on your game all day long.

PTs must meet their patients where they live. They must be an “empathetic provider.”  And with those types of skills, comes many rewards.  The ability to connect with each patient, assist in their recovery, and be a part of the little accomplishments, such as sitting, to the milestone accomplishments, like walking again, is where the heart of the profession exists.

Adame, who described himself as an introvert in that aftercollege.com interview, said that in order to break out of his shell, he envisions each patient as being someone close to him — someone he’s comfortable around. In short order, he becomes completely invested in his or her well-being, as indeed he must be. As indeed every PT must be.