Meaningful Mentors: Meet NAIOMT's Gary Kearns

Posted by NAIOMT on Jun 6, 2020 10:38:18 AM

Gary Kearns began his manual therapy training with NAIOMT in 2005, obtaining his COMT in 2010. Graduating from the NAIOMT Fellowship Program, he was recognized as a Fellow in the American Academy of Orthopaedic Manual Physical Therapists in 2010. In 2015 he obtained his Doctor of Science (ScD) in Physical Therapy from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC). Gary currently is Assistant Professor in the DPT Program at TTUHSC in Lubbock, Texas. He coordinates the History and Systems Screening, Musculoskeletal and Differential Diagnosis courses. Gary is the creator and main instructor for NAIOMT’s specialty courses Dry Needling Upper Quadrant and Dry Needling Lower Quadrant.


What drew you to PT as a career? When and how did you start your journey?

I originally wanted to be an accountant because that's what my dad did. Then I broke my ankle sliding into 2nd base during my freshman year of baseball. I had surgery and once everything healed up, the physician told me to go to physical therapy. Incredibly eye opening for someone that was always intrigued by how the body functioned and why it worked. My physical therapist was great at explaining why we were doing things and what to expect. I was hooked and knew physical therapy was the career for me.


Where did you go to school and why?

Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center. This was where I did undergrad and it made sense to stay with the same town and not move. Looking back, may not have been the best reason, but I was lucky that TTUHSC has a phenomenal musculoskeletal curriculum and faculty that further solidified my interest in manual therapy.


What was your first job and what did you learn from it?

It was at an acute care hospital in a very rural Texas town.  What I learned was that I needed to get to an outpatient clinic as quickly as possible. There was very little variety in what I was able to do with my patients and I didn’t feel the mental challenge that I always had in an outpatient setting.  I worked with some phenomenal clinicians who were passionate about the acute care setting. I just didn't have the passion they did for the acute care setting.


I'm a "why" guy and so the depth of knowledge really appealed to me.


What got you hooked on NAIOMT?

I'm a "why" guy and so the depth of knowledge really appealed to me. Early in my career I came into touch with Michael Lucido. He worked in the same company as me and was hosting a “Spine Mentorship Program” for young clinicians like myself. Sitting in on his first lecture was eye opening. It seemed like every 30 seconds I was having a light bulb moment. He made things so logical and organized and helped to simplify some of the concepts I was struggling with clinically. Secondly, watching other NAIOMT clinicians made me realize that's how I wanted to practice.


How did you hear about the fellowship program?

Through Michael Lucido.


Was fitting the fellowship into your lifestyle challenging? 

Yes and no. Yes, it was challenging from a standpoint of having to be fully invested in coursework and studying for a solid 5 years on top of clinic work and family. At the same time, it wasn’t difficult to fit into my lifestyle because I viewed the fellowship as a “must do” in order for me to become the clinician I desired to be. In a sense, that became my new lifestyle. Luckily I have a super supportive wife, kids, and a good network of colleagues and mentors that kept me on track. It was challenging, but very do-able.  


Who was/is your mentor? 

Michael Lucido. I've known him almost as long as I've been a practicing PT. He's been instrumental in allowing me to become the clinician that I am now. He continues to challenge me to this day whether it’s clinically or teaching... and remind me of some of my blind spots!


Why did you decide to become a mentor?

By accident. I was forced to take a PT student early in my career and I didn't do a very good job. I figured, I'd take one more to "redeem" myself and before I knew it, I fell in love with mentoring of PT students, new grads and even more seasoned clinicians. Lots of bumps and learning the hard way, but it's one of the most rewarding parts of what I do.


What’s unique about you as a teacher?

I don't take myself too seriously and I like finding common ground to show clinicians that there are more similarities than differences in all the varied approaches to patients.  Teaching is a two way street between the instructor and the clinician/student. It’s important that the clinicians and students realize that they bring something unique to each course and I encourage them to actively participate in order to spark discussion.


What do you like to do in your spare time?

I love spending time with my wife, two kids, and two dogs. We live in a college town so you can usually find us at football, baseball and basketball games during the season. I’m also what my wife calls a beer snob. I’ve been brewing my own beer for about 5 years. Such a great hobby to teach you the importance of being good at the basics and the patience that results in a good beer won’t happen overnight. Surprisingly a lot of parallels between the process of brewing enjoyable beer and the process of becoming a better clinician… be great at the basics and know your evolution as a clinician won’t happen overnight.


How do you combine these interests with your PT profession?

We can’t restrict ourselves to having only one passion.  Having interests or hobbies outside of what we do professionally allows us to continue to grow in multiple areas and be more well rounded individuals. This ultimately allows us to relate to our patients and students better.


What's your most strongly held belief about how PT should be provided?

It should be personal, individualized and focused on function.


What do you believe is the biggest problem facing PT today? 

There’s too much division. Social media has made us often go down rabbit holes of arguments about who's right, who's wrong, don't listen to a guru, manual therapy sucks, etc. If PT focuses on these trivial arguments, it takes the focus off of the patient. Without patients, we have no profession. The truth is always somewhere in between. The ultimate truth ends up being what gets each patient back to their prior level of function.


Why do you believe in the NAIOMT system?

It's open, eclectic and teaches you that simply obtaining credentials or completing a Fellowship Program is not an end goal. NAIOMT really does a good job of emphasizing life long learning and being adept at self assessment. Most importantly, everyone within NAIOMT truly cares about your development and becomes family for life.


What's your mantra when it comes to treating?

Have fun, treat the patient like family, laugh a lot and focus on function.


You are the creator and main instructor for NAIOMT’s specialty courses Dry Needling Upper Quarter and Dry Needling Lower Quarter. Can you share some insights into the treatment techniques taught in these courses?

Dry Needling is potentially a powerful technique, but without the proper context, results are often mixed. Often times there is too much focus on the trigger point or provocative palpation findings to guide who to dry needle. This type of focus misses the entire patient context. NAIOMT always emphasizes making sure you account for everything in how a patient is presenting in order to have a clear context of how to best manage the patient. In my Dry Needling courses, we of course focus on safely learning the techniques, but I emphasize context through patient case studies. I ensure that course participants don’t lose sight of the fact that patients will have a litany of impairments beyond myofascial dysfunction including joint dysfunction, postural dysfunction, poor motor control, and aberrant pain processing. The cases allow course participants to ask themselves questions such as… Where does dry needling fit?  Why does dry needling make sense? Will it be safe and effective? Should dry needling be the first choice of intervention or will the patient respond better to other interventions? My goal with any of my Dry Needling courses is for participants to go back to the clinic Monday morning and be able to identify the best candidates for dry needling and be able to safely integrate it into clinical practice.


Give an example of a time when you know you made a difference with a patient.

Long story short. Had a patient that had seen multiple physicians and a few vestibular PTs for dizziness and no one could figure it out. She stated "I'm beginning to think it's all in my head." She ended up having C2/3 dysfunction with trigeminal symptoms. I was able to resolve her dizziness in several sessions. Ends up it wasn't in her head after all!


Give an example of a time when you know you made a difference with a student.

Seeing some of my former PT students that I've taught in the academic setting or had in the clinic as PT students blossom into very skilled clinicians is always awesome. One just wrapped up the TIA Residency in the Pacific Northwest, several others are early in their NAIOMT curriculum and one just graduated from the NAIOMT Fellowship Program. Other than that, I call them "light bulb moments." I think we all live for those moments as mentors, but when something clicks, to me, nothing is more rewarding than seeing that look on their face when they finally understand something.


What changes would you like to see the PT profession make? What's lacking?

We truly need to emphasize our autonomy and our skill set.  Most patients and to some extent physicians don't realize what we do. As much as I dislike marketing, we need to be in people's face more than we are now.


If you had a back problem, who do you want treating you?

Ideally, I'd prefer a NAIOMT trained clinician or Fellowship trained clinician treating me. Truthfully, I need to trust whoever is going to work on me. 


In work and in life in general, what really matters to you?

Faith, family and friends. Life is too short to overly focus on work. Faith keeps me centered and focused. Family means two things. Your family at home keeps you grounded and motivated, but you end up spending more time with your "work family." If you don't treat your colleagues at work like family, work just becomes work.


Could I get a roundtable lunch with James Cyriax, Geoffrey Maitland, Robin McKenzie, Freddy Kaltenborn, Olaf Evjenth, etc? I'm a nerd for the history of manual therapy and would love to just sit and listen.



If you could have lunch with anyone in the PT profession (dead or alive) who would it be?

Could I get a roundtable lunch with James Cyriax, Geoffrey Maitland, Robin McKenzie, Freddy Kaltenborn, Olaf Evjenth, etc? I'm a nerd for the history of manual therapy and would love to just sit and listen.


Favorite movie? Why?

Dumb and Dumber! It's hilarious. Plus, if you're having a bad day, you can't tell me that you don't feel a little bit better about yourself after watching that movie.


What TV or movie character would you love to treat and why?

Sean Spencer from Psych. He drops so many 80s movies trivia that we would have a great time in treatment reminiscing about some the best worst movies ever made!


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