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Reinvesting in the Community: PT alum is able to pass on what he’s learned to clinic, classroom

5 Questions with … Matt Williams, PT, DPT, CCI, XPS

By Ryan Clark
CHS Communications Director

While Matt Williams was growing up in Hazard, Ky., no less than five of his family members had to interact with physical therapists in some way due to a myriad of ailments. Some, like his grandmother, could be stubborn. Others could be prickly.

But all of them received first-rate care, and the physical therapists personified the idea of servant leadership. It inspired Williams to follow in their footsteps.

For the last four years, he’s been a physical therapist in central Kentucky, where he directs a team for outpatient orthopedics and sports medicine physical therapy called PT Pros. A graduate of UK’s PT program, Williams also became class president, and he found a focus on that same servant theme. The program was more than just a job; it was an altruistic calling.

“I really enjoyed my time there having a leadership role and just being an advocate as best as I could for my classmates, my patients, and myself,” he said.

Now, he is Matt Williams, PT, DPT, CCI, XPS, and he’s passing on that theme of serving his patients. He’s able to teach the students in his clinic, and the students in his class — as he also works as an instructor in UK’s program.

Here’s five questions with Matt Williams, PT, DPT, CCI, XPS:

1. Why PT?

As a former athlete myself, I had multiple injuries, so I spent some time in physical therapy. My grandmother did home-health physical therapy. My father had a work-related injury and he went through a course of physical therapy for his workers’ comp case. I had an uncle who was in a skilled nursing facility, he was doing physical therapy. I had another uncle who ended up at Cardinal Hill after a stroke, and he was participating in physical therapy. So for me it was one of the more compelling healthcare professions.

It felt like a very unique opportunity to cultivate some meaningful relationships and, as I said, you can't do that in any other health care profession. In what other health care career, do you have a chance to be one-on-one with someone anywhere from 30 minutes to a little bit over an hour, multiple times a day, possibly multiple days, multiple weeks, out of a month?

Just the investment you can make, the relationships you cultivate in those environments, I think, was really appealing for me.

2. Why CHS at UK?

After touring multiple campuses and speaking with members of each program, UK just felt like the right fit. I'm kind of a “gut-feeling” person where if I’m at peace about a decision then that's the direction I'm going to go in. I was really impressed with Dr. English when I had a chance to meet with him.

And that word “altruism.” If you ever dive into some of the core values of the physical therapy profession that's one of the ones that's listed. It’s definitely the one that resonates with me the most because it’s looking at what it really means to serve people.

We kind of throw that term out pretty flippantly, but do we really understand the heart behind it? Are you putting someone else's needs above your own?

I've tried to be more aware of and intentional with my interpersonal skills. And it’s something you will learn and focus on at UK.

3. What's your favorite experience while at UK?

I think one particular moment that comes to mind and I it's kind of ironic, because I actually use this with my students now as a clinical instructor.

Dr. (Charles) Hazle was my research advisor on the Hazard campus, and I was having some issues with some of the content.

I’ll never forget that he said this: “I'm not here to teach you what to think; I'm here to teach you how to think.”

Sometimes it’s so easy to get wrapped up and just want to be spoon-fed an answer, but sometimes you need to wrestle with something, so you can figure it out for yourself, because at the end of the day, you won't always have someone to ask for an answer.

In the clinic you’re going to have to wrestle with some of the unknowns that come with our profession — and pretty much any profession — once you get out of school. You start practicing and things aren't always just black and white, textbook case studies. You figure out how to navigate some of those gray areas. Fast forward five-plus years later, and it's still a resounding message in the back of my mind every single day.

4. And now, you can pass on these things you’ve learned, in the clinic and the classroom?

When I think about how we were unpacking the term “servant leadership” earlier, that's another thing that comes to mind: Okay, how do we reinvest in the communities that have invested in us? We can mentor and teach. We can go serve at Samaritan’s Touch, the student-run pro bono clinic. We have all of these other opportunities.

I've had the opportunity to speak with a group of ninth graders at Frederick Douglass High School, a school that happens to have one of the highest local populations of minority students.

And to be completely transparent, although I did have all those very unique and enriching experiences with physical therapists who served my family, none of them looked like me, so it's interesting because you kind of have this disconnect.

It made me think: Is this something that someone who looks like me can aspire to and be a part of? So I think it helps as a teenager if you have someone who's kind of ahead and where you want to be. Representation matters.

And then there’s the patients in the communities that we serve. In rural Appalachia, if you have someone who has left this community to further their education and advance their career to then go back and serve that community, there’s an exponential benefit.

People can relate to you. And that’s important.

5. What would you tell someone who is interested in coming to UK and CHS?

I'm going to sound a little bit like a broken record here, but for me, it comes back to relationships again. Based on my interactions with the faculty and the staff there, whether it was the application process, whether it was my interview day, whether it was once I got in the program, and even now that I’m out, there's just something special and unique there.

So, if you're looking for a program that really is wholeheartedly invested in seeing you succeed, not just in the program but even afterwards, I don't think you could go with a better option.


February is Black History Month

Since 1976 the United States and Canada have designated the month of February to recognize the contributions of people of the African diaspora. The College of Health Sciences will be recognizing and honoring some of our own Black alumni and students throughout the month – celebrating success while we also acknowledge both historical and current inequity and the work that each of us must do to dismantle systemic racism.