Prof Shares Perspective as PT in ICU/COVID Recovery Clinic

By Ellee Sidebottom
CHS Contributor

Kirby P. Mayer, DPT, PhD, is an assistant professor in the College of Health Sciences and was awarded a Promotion of Doctoral Studies II Scholarship by the Foundation for Physical Therapy Research in 2018. He currently is an investigator for Prevention and Early Treatment of Acute Lung Injury (PETAL) Network, an initiative of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

Mayer received his PhD in Rehabilitation Sciences with a focus on muscle health and physical function in patients with and surviving critical illness. He is a clinician and researcher in the ICU Recovery Clinic at the University of Kentucky.

Just before the fall, Mayer wrote a member perspective published on describing the humanity of healthcare during COVID as he worked as a physical therapist in an ICU and COVID Recovery clinic.

“My role as a physical therapist in an ICU and COVID-19 recovery clinic is minuscule compared with the daily grind of ICU and COVID-19 survivorship,” Mayer wrote in his article, The Power of Human Connection: An ICU Recovery Clinic Perspective. “My role has opened my eyes to the power of physical therapy and, more important, the power of meaningful human relationships.”

But why did Mayer write it? We caught up with him to ask about just that. Here are four questions with Kirby Mayer, DPT, PhD.

How did you become interested in pursuing Physical Therapy?

I was introduced to Physical Therapy mainly through sports around 17 or 18 and from then on, I wanted to work with athletes. It wasn’t until my second or third rotation doing clinical internships where I had a 12-week internship in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and that all changed. In sports, you work with athletes and develop relationships with them, but in the ICU, you are developing relationships with patients and families as well. Some patients are in the ICU for a extended time periods and they’re going to need your help to recover. The ICU allows you to see those patients recover long-term and continue building relationships with them.

Why did you choose the UK PT Hazard Campus?

The program at the Hazard campus has a unique environment where your class sizes are even smaller than the traditional PT school. This environment and support allowed me to really focus on school and invest in the community. Also, the faculty and administrative team make you feel like a part of the family. I had a great experience and they really pushed me to succeed.

What advice do you have for students pursing PT?

In school, you learn the foundational knowledge of Physical Therapy and you learn how to be a ‘generalist’ per se. But you can always switch your focus to something else and still be prepared. No matter where you are in your career, you can pivot and go into something completely different. Perhaps critical care and post ICU recovery is something that will bring you joy, and you’ll really enjoy working with those individuals. That joy is what matters.

What did you hope that people would get from this piece when they read it?

I really wanted to focus on the experiences that survivors of critical illness experience on a daily basis. Some people think that as soon as you’re discharged and leave the hospital, that you’re healed, and that is frequently not the case. For some of the patients, their battle is just starting as they leave the hospital. I wanted people to see how challenging short and long-term recovery can be after critical illness. Patients are having to adjust their lifestyles and think about “what is next.” Finally, I wanted people to understand how vulnerability, resilience and generosity plays a part in recovery and in a patient’s journey.

Patients can have ups and downs — they’re going to be vulnerable to setbacks in recovery — but if they are resilient, they can slowly make progress. Their generosity comes from their experience because survivors of critical illness are thankful for the opportunity to recover; these individuals have experienced a life-altering event that frequently changes their outlook on life.

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