Today’s spotlight focuses on Kyle Coffey, PT, DPT, CertMST, who went from physical therapist to partial-clinical PT.
What’s your full name and title?
Dr. Kyle Coffey, PT, DPT, CertMST – Exercise Physiology Program Director and Lecturer, University of Massachusetts Lowell. I am also owner of Motus Physical Therapy and Performance in Amherst, NH.
Where did you go to PT school and graduate?
UMass-Lowell – I graduated in 2010.
What type of practice did you do when you graduated?
While I encountered many different settings during school, I ended up in the outpatient orthopedic setting, primarily working with general population patients.
What was your favorite setting/pt population?
The geriatric populations.
At what point did you decide you wanted to try something unconventional?
About 4 years into practicing, I could see the writing on the wall. I was tired, frustrated, and exhausted of the grind. I was burned out.
Did you know what you wanted to do? Or did you fall into teaching/take a chance?
I’ve always known. Physical therapists are born educators, but I felt a stronger than usual desire to teach undergraduate and graduate students.
The first opportunity I had to teach was an adjunct position, which happened at the most opportune time for me. My wife and I had just had our first son, and it provided me an opportunity to reduce some hours in the clinic and do something different.
Where do you now teach? What courses do you teach?
After teaching adjunct for one semester, an opening at UMass-Lowell was posted. I applied and was hired. It is a non-tenure track position – this means that research is not a focus, rather teaching and service to the University, College, and Department are most important. cBut that is not to say that research isn’t an interest of mine.
I have been teaching full-time in the Department of Physical Therapy at UML for five years. I teach undergraduate Exercise Physiology courses, including:
- Introduction to Exercise Physiology (sophomore year)
- Exercise Physiology (junior year)
- Foundations of Strength and Conditioning (junior year)
- Directed Study in Health Promotion (senior year, research or community based projects)
How did you land your first education role? Did you need anything special like a phD? Experience mentoring/as a CI?
To teach at a research-institution, they would like applicants to have a terminal degree. In most cases, that is a PhD. However, in the clinical fields, terminal degrees, such as the DPT, are accepted. I completed the APTA Clinical Instructor Credentialing course a few years prior to teaching, but this was not a requirement.
How did you change your resume/cover letter to get your first education job?
It was really important for me to convey that physical therapy is a lot of education and that with experience, PTs are in tune with different learning styles.
I had to choose words and phrases properly so that a non-clinical person reviewing my resume would be able to see that there is significant crossover.
When had I applied to PT jobs in the past, I removed previous teaching experience during graduate school, like being a TA for undergraduate labs. I re-inserted those when I applied to an education job.
Did you have any curveballs during your interview?
I was not prepared to answer questions related to pedagogy or visions for the program and department. I fumbled with these questions, but I do believe that this helped shape how I thought of my role once I was hired, and what their priorities of the position would be outside of teaching.
What are the biggest challenges as an educator?
Balancing work and life. There is a great deal of flexibility that comes with being a higher-education faculty member. This was very helpful for me with daycare, and juggling shuttling kids to and fro. But those hours “lost” on campus, turned into working at home.
It was a challenge, and still is, not be burn myself out in ways that I did as physical therapist.
What are the biggest rewards of your role as an exercise . physiology program director?
The light bulb moments with students. I always attend graduation; it is such a wonderful experience to see students of all walks of life proud of the same accomplishment and what it means to their future.
At what point did you start exploring con-ed?
It was a natural progression for me. I knew I was teaching material that others could benefit from. I started my own small practice in 2016 as a way to treat patients on my terms. It is 100% cash-based, which allows me more time with the patient and better overall care. I wanted to shape my endeavor into teaching outside campus the same way.
Did you ever consider working for another con-ed company?
I never considered working for someone else. Part of the benefits of keeping it “in-house” is having the flexibility to teach a seminar when you want.
How difficult was it to get that company started? What were the biggest hurdles to getting your materials certified for CEU credit?
The biggest challenge with teaching a continuing education course is promoting the course. I teamed up with Erson Religioso from Modern Manual Therapy to create Modern Strength Training: Blood Flow Restriction Training.
Having a partner like him, with connections, allowed me to disperse it to a larger audience without having to do the leg work myself. This isn’t the choice for everyone, but I found it the best option for me and I love working with Erson.
But I still had to learn how to differentiate myself from other courses. I have had to learn a lot about marketing and wording and connecting to clinicians on a different level.
CEU certification is a nightmare! I have eliminated this from my role. Instead, I provide all participants the right materials that the majority of states need to have it counted when you submit your license renewal.
To be honest, a lot more clinicians are not as worried about the CEU credit; they just want good courses that they can apply in their practice right away.
Does anyone else work with/for you on your con-ed team? How do you find content/coursework for your company?
I am the only educator right now. I write all the content for the BFR course. Eventually, I would like to expand my offerings. The challenge is I would like to keep it to just me teaching.
Where do you see yourself in another five years? Ten? Do you wish to continue teaching, or will you transition fully to the con-ed world?
I will always be teaching somewhere. I will never go back to full-time clinical practice. I still enjoy treating patients, but on my terms, so that I know the patient is getting the most benefit.
I won’t be fully in the continuing education world though. I like to have my hands in multiple pots. I like my position right now. Everything I am doing, I do it because I love it.
Did you ever experience any judgment for your decision to take a non-clinical career path?
I don’t think I ever experienced judgment from outside, but I did feel slightly guilty that I was leaving clinical practice. But I quickly realized that all I was doing was substituting patient for student, and that I was still imparting my knowledge to a group that wanted my assistance and guidance.
What would you tell someone who is considering a non-clinical role or career path?
Dip your toes in. Find an adjunct position at a university to see if teaching is your thing. Take a business course to see if you want to work on another side of healthcare. There are ways to start small without taking a big leap.
Thanks for your insight, Kyle!