This week’s non-clinical spotlight features a physical therapist who works as an author and content writer!
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What is your full name and title?
Monica Roe, PT, DPT, MFA
Author and Content Writer
What additional roles do you currently have?
While I still do a bit of work as an independent pediatric provider (mostly on a consultative basis), I’ve shifted the majority of my professional work into the writing sphere.
Where are you located?
My family and I divide our time between Alaska and South Carolina.
Where did you go to PT school, and what year did you graduate?
Clarkson University (DPT, 2009).
What did you do when you first finished school, and for how long?
I worked full-time for about a year (a combination of SNF and hospital practice), but quickly realized that the for-profit healthcare system and I were a very poor fit!
So I upped stakes and headed to Alaska, where I worked various travel physical therapy assignments at small hospitals and/or clinics off the road system.
After spending a year in Belize (2011-2012) to help get a community-based rehabilitation and disability awareness outreach off the ground, I returned to practice in Alaska, shifting over to pediatric practice and eventually becoming an independent consultant.
In what setting(s) did you work, and what types of patients did you treat?
My Alaska practice was a combination of small, critical-access hospitals and schools in remote communities.
In the hospital setting, I saw a bit of everything—fishing or hunting accidents, dog mushers with frostbite, cruise ship tourists who’d fallen and broken hips on the wharf—you name it!
Of course, like anywhere, I also saw the usual array of ortho, neuro, and cardio-pulmonary patients, and a lot of DME fitting and recommendations.
What did you enjoy about your early roles? What didn’t you enjoy?
All of my Alaskan practice has been in non-profit settings, which was a welcome relief from much of what I experienced before in the Lower 48.
I enjoyed the small, tight-knit communities, the close bonds between the staff, and the wide variety of unusual or offbeat clinical scenarios that seem to turn up in Alaskan practice.
When and why did you decide to do something non-clinical?
Ultimately, I realized that writing had always been my true love–and that I wanted to work toward making it a bigger part of my professional life.
Also, during my year in Belize, I came to the realization that I seemed to enjoy the program development and educational outreach aspects of my rehab director position there rather more than the day-to-day clinical routine of direct patient care.
At the end of the day, I guess I just realized that—as much as I loved some aspects of patient care and the clinical world—at my core, I tend to work better at a more macro level of focus, as opposed to the micro.
I also find the broader fields of disability studies and disability/accessibility advocacy to be fascinating (and a good fit for my professional background, personal interests, and writing skills).
It was this realization that also led me to head back to school to begin (slowly) working on an MPH at the University of Alaska.
Are you still treating patients, or are you solely non-clinical?
I still do a very small amount of pediatric consulting for a few communities in Alaska (less than 8 weeks/year, probably). I also take one MPH class each semester.
My primary focus is writing—I do some of this as a content writer/editor for a continuing education company out of California, and I’ve co-authored a few academic articles based upon some of my work in Belize.
But probably the most fun I currently have professionally is my writing in the children’s and young adult space (mostly fiction).
As an author, I work with a literary agent, as well as a couple different traditional publishers, and write short stories, chapter books, and novels for young readers.
A lot of my writing has a disability focus on at least some level, which my PT background has certainly influenced!
What percentage of your time is spent clinically vs. non-clinically?
I have very little clinical time these days, to be honest.
How long have you been working as an author?
Let’s see. I’ve been writing since I was a kid, and was lucky enough to have my first novel published about 14 years ago.
But I’d say I didn’t really get serious about writing until about 10 years ago….and have slowly been ramping up the writing and ramping down the clinical practice since then.
Did you get any special certifications or training along the way to help you get into your current role?
Not for the medical editing–I sort of fell into that by accident (long—and sort of funny—story).
For the fiction writing, I have worked with critique groups and writing buddies for a long time, which definitely helped me hone my skills over time.
I also made the decision to enroll in an MFA program to really focus on writing seriously. I hesitate to add that, because I know that isn’t a financial reality for many working clinicians–I didn’t even consider it myself until long after I had paid off my considerable students loans (which I did by working travel jobs in Alaska in the winter while still living a bare-bones college student lifestyle and throwing EVERY spare dollar at those loans!) and built up my savings.
It ended up being a good move for me and my writing has more than paid for the cost of the degree.
But I feel it’s important to add that I do not believe that an MFA is necessary to become a successful writer (fiction or otherwise). There are many, many free resources available to help aspiring writers that I feel that offer a great guide for how to work on a career path in writing.
How did you find your job? Did you apply or find it through a connection?
Well, I work for myself, essentially, so I guess I sort of built the different components of it up over time—and plenty of trial-and-error.
How have people reacted to you leaving patient care?
I think the people in my life were generally supportive—most of them knew I’d always been a writer at heart, and they weren’t exactly surprised to see me throw myself into it.
What’s a typical day or week in the life like for you? What types of tasks and responsibilities fill your time?
Since my fingers are in several different pies, so to speak, I try and compartmentalize my weeks as much as I can.
I might earmark 1 day for my consulting/clinical work (most of it’s virtual these days, which helps), 1-2 days for MPH reading/homework, 1-2 for writing/drafting, and 1 for corresponding with editors, my agent, promotional stuff, etc.
It’s a bit fluid (some might say messy), but it seems to suit my right-brained approach fairly well.
What are some of the rewards and challenges of being an author and content writer?
I love the absolute freedom and flexibility of my current professional life—it’s cobbled together from a lot of different scraps, but they seem to make a whole that suits me well.
Also, I LOVE not being tied to someone’s random idea of productivity in my day-to-day work! I have to stay focused and disciplined in my own right to get everything done and keep all the plates in the air, so to speak—but I’d take that any day over having someone hound me about RUG levels. :-/
I am fortunate to have a wonderful agent and to work with several very supportive and amazing editors, which is a huge blessing.
How did your clinical background prepare you for becoming an author and content writer?
The disability focus of PT certainly helped guide me into my interests in both disability-focused writing and public health.
As I mentioned earlier, even my fiction writing tends to highlight disability in some way (usually trying to deconstruct harmful stereotypes and/or show/normalize the social model of disability over the medical model), and PT was certainly a great building block for that.
I’m very grateful to the wonderful patients/clients, colleagues, and families I’ve worked with and talked with over the years—and who really helped me both formulate and evolve my own thoughts on disability and come to realize how toxic and inaccurate so many media portrayals of disability (sadly) still are.
What type of person do you think would do well as an author and/or content writer?
Creativity, flexibility, and a willingness to put yourself out there are key! There will always be people who love your writing….and plenty who will hate it.
Editors, agents, readers, and critics can be very honest about what they like and don’t like. You can’t take it personally–well, you can, I guess, but I think it’s a whole lot easier if you can remember that your writing (no matter how dear to your heart) is ultimately a commodity. Some people will love it, others will hate it. It’s okay! It’s not personal!
Shake off that criticism and write the next thing!
Do you work remotely or onsite?
Almost completely remote at the moment. Once the pandemic eases up (hopefully!), I will probably do a bit more on-site with my clinical consulting, as well as doing more in-person author visits and events. Fingers crossed for that!
What is next for you? What are your high-level career aspirations?
Right now, my short-term goal is to finish (and hopefully sell) several writing projects that I’m currently working on. If I ever finish the MPH I’ve been chipping away at, I would love to leverage those writing skills into some sort of global health focus—possibly to promote a disability-inclusive approach to climate change-related disasters and preparedness planning (a lot of the communities in Alaska where I’ve worked are highly threatened by climate change and natural disasters).
What career advice would you give yourself that you wish you had during school?
Allow yourself to believe that writing (or any unique path, really) can be for someone like you—no matter who you are or where you started out.
What would you teach to today’s graduate students in your profession, if you had the opportunity?
There are a lot of great things about the PT profession—but I’d strongly recommend having a realistic view of the long-term prospects (and limitations) of the profession as it currently stands.
Don’t be afraid to consider international practice (some countries, IMO, do a far better job of respecting and uplifting their PTs/physios than the U.S!). Consider whether a combined degree (such as a DPT/Ph.D, DPT/MPH, DPT/MFA, etc) might give you more choices down the road.
Also, the biggest thing I’d recommend? Do everything you can to get ahead of those student loans! Take the travel jobs for a few years, and throw everything you can at those loans while you’re earning those extra $$$.
My loans were quite big when I graduated and I managed to knock them out in 7 years (I did NOT have a trust fund and was responsible for both undergrad and grad school). It wasn’t easy—and there were plenty of times when I watched friends enjoy things that I didn’t allow myself in those early years—but the freedom of paying them off was absolutely worth it. It also laid the groundwork for me to be able accept opportunities (like practicing in Belize, writing school, or dropping down to part-time work to work harder on my writing career) when they came my way.
Is it easy? Nope. Is it worth it? In my opinion—absolutely.
Do you have any special advice for others who want to follow in your footsteps?
Find someone who’s doing what you want to be doing. Then reach out to them. A good mentor can mean everything–solid advice, a listening ear, or even an unexpected connection. Surround yourself with people (online at first, if you have to) who have taken the plunge, who have proved the naysayers wrong, and who are carving out unique and interesting and rewarding lives for themselves.
Ask thoughtful questions. Thank them for their time and effort if they offer it. You never know when a connection might become a spark of something promising.
Got any links for people interested in your books, or reaching out to connect?
Add it on Goodreads!:
Here’s an interview I just did about AIR!
To reach out: