Meaningful Mentors: NAIOMT's Valerie Coolman

Posted by NAIOMT on Sep 7, 2019 1:58:57 PM

One of the things that truly sets NAIOMT apart from other post professional PT programs is our faculty. Each brings their own unique personality, clinical expertise, specialization, research and background into the classroom. So over the next few months, we're highlighting each of them for the incredible people, teachers and mentors that they are. First up, an interview with Valerie Coolman, DScPT, CMPT, COMT, OCS, FAAOMPT.

Valerie completed her Doctor of Science in Physical Therapy from Andrews University in 2006. She passed the Certified Manual Therapist (CMPT) exam awarded from the North American Institute of Manual Physical Therapy in 2005 with distinction and Orthopaedic Certified Specialist (OCS) exam awarded by the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) in 2008. Valerie also passed the Certified Manual Manipulative Therapist (COMT) exam awarded from the North American Institute of Manual Physical Therapy in 2008, with distinction. Valerie became a fellow of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Manual Physical Therapist (FAAOMPT) in 2010. Valerie is a NAIOMT faculty instructor, examiner, clinical fellowship instructor and now serves as the Director of NAIOMT's Fellowship Program. She currently teaches NAIOMT courses in Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and New York.


Was there something that sparked your passion for the PT profession?

When my brother was sixteen, he was an incredible athlete, and being eight years younger, I thought he was invincible. Little did I know, I would soon see that superhero become completely dependent on others to sit, eat and move. The day remains vivid in my memory as I answered the phone from the South Bend Police and flew with my family to the hospital, where we were met with a chaplain. What I didn't realize on my way to South Bend Memorial is that day would forever impact my life. My brother would first fight to save his life, then weeks later fight to save his leg and a year later would fight to learn how to stand from a wheelchair. In fourth grade, I witnessed first-hand a PT seemingly satisfied and unaffected by my brother’s lack of improvement. I watched with hopeful eyes, the passionless and passive treatments until the therapist told my parents my brother wasn't going to walk again and this was our "new normal." Fortunately, my parents assured my brother (crying and devastated) that he deserved a second opinion. They traveled an hour each way many times a week to a "Manual Physical Therapist" who looked at my brother and said, "If you are willing to work, I am willing to as well." I witnessed a change in my brother. Someone believed that he might be able to walk one day if he was willing to work, and that he was. The passionate and skilled therapist implemented manual techniques and by the end of the session was dripping with sweat, almost as much as the patient himself.

There were many tears shed from pain and frustration, along with many falls because he would get sick of us trying to help and would attempt to stand on his own. My big, superhero brother, resorted to army crawling around our house on days that he just wanted to be independent. Unfortunately, he couldn’t feel his feet, so a trail of blood followed him from where he rubbed the dorsal aspects of his feet raw. I will never forget when I heard my brother screaming at the top of his lungs because he was able to move his big toe. The family gathered, only this time not to watch him score a touchdown or make the winning basket, rather to cheer his toe moved ever-so-slightly.

Almost two years later, I watched my brother, Senior Class President, walk onto the graduation commencement stage and announce the graduating class of 1989. I am not sure there was a dry eye in the packed gymnasium, but I knew at that moment I was dedicated to becoming a passionate, hard-working Manual Physical Therapist so that I too, could have this kind of impact on others.


You have to have mentors who know how to feel movement.


What got you hooked on NAIOMT?

When I took my very first lumbopelvic one course, I was only six months out of PT school and I realized that my patients deserved more than what I could offer them, at that time. NAIOMT delivered a systematic way to assess each region of the body. It made sense to me from an efficiency standpoint. Furthermore, I valued how clinical reasoning was incorporated into EVERYTHING.

I love thinking and problem solving! For one of the first times in my life, I was not just told to "accept" things but actually encouraged to "question" things. Erl Pettman took a new grad's skepticism on "feeling movement" and made me into a believer. I didn't believe overnight, but throughout MANY years of mentoring, saying, " Tell me what you think." Then, when I would get it wrong, say calmly, "You went through the barrier, pay closer attention." He would give me feedback, and didn't give up. That is a sign of a great mentor. Patience, humility, the ability to “show” them, not “tell” them how to do something. I will forever be thankful! I feel that often those who say “You can't feel movement” gave up before they truly learned the skill or their mentor gave up on them first.

But what actually “got me hooked on NAIOMT” was the patient success stories. When the patients, who had given up hope because they already “failed” PT, started getting better, I was hooked. That’s why we are in this profession, right? I no longer felt like it was an unrealistic dream to “help the unhelpable.” When my patients, who already failed other PT, started to get better on a consistent basis, my quest to help the unhelpable was a validated reality, not a Pollyanna dream.


How did you hear about the fellowship program?

I kept asking Erl Pettman, “How long until I can feel movement? How will I know what is "normal movement?” I was only six months out of PT school when I embarked on my NAIOMT journey, therefore I didn't have any experience to draw on. He kept saying keep practicing. Being the inquisitive young therapist, I continued to query, " I can practice all I want, but how will I know what I think I am feeling is accurate?"

The solution was simple: You have to have mentors who know how to feel movement. The fellowship was his advice and has proven to be my best professional decision.

Treat the whole person.


What are three things you think NAIOMT believes?

1. Actively and empathetically listen to every patient with an open mind.

2. Consistently assess each patient, so that you know normal so well that when something is altered you recognize it.

3. Treat the whole person.


Why did you decide to become a mentor?

I decided to become a mentor because I recognized the value my mentors provided me to enhance my career development. I am passionate about fighting for the profession, and understand we must get outcomes in order to remain relevant and viable. I believe the outcome ONLY improves through DELIBERATE practice. Mentoring with effective feedback provides an avenue for deliberate practice for the physical therapist to continue to be a relevant health care provider.


What’s unique about you as a teacher?

I hope that this is not "unique" as to teach means to impart knowledge. Therefore, it is my job to describe the skills and concepts, in as many different ways as necessary, in order to accomplish this transference of knowledge. I also incorporate emotional intelligence into my classroom and my mentoring! I believe this is a vital component in pursuing excellence in our profession. Effective communication, empathy and compassion and self-assessment are all common components to becoming a successful mentor, therapist or teacher.


Why do you believe in the NAIOMT system?

NAIOMT is founded on basic fundamentals. Whenever, a system or group of techniques originate from these simple fundamentals, "they" or the "technique" withstands the test of time. NAIOMT incorporates these primary building blocks of: sound anatomical and biomechanical knowledge, a broad base of differential diagnostic assessment skills, as well as empathetic and active listening and history taking skills, all while utilizing clinical reasoning. It works, unless of course; we didn't do one of those uncomplicated fundamentals well! It is important not to get lazy in any of these very essential FUNDAMENTALS and reach for a cool or glamorous tool/technique. NAIOMT does the unremarkable fundamentals remarkably well.


Be passionate, empathetic, consistent, persistent and humble!


What's your mantra when it comes to treating?

It is important to always be passionate about anything you choose to do, including treating your patients! Treat every patient with empathy, as if they were your very own mother, grandmother or child. Consistently take your time to listen to the patient and assess the patient. Be persistent and go the extra mile. If you are unsure about the presentation, put in the effort to research, ask, refer to other health professionals. Above all else, be humble enough to acknowledge you need to learn more about that particular presentation. My mantra is: Be passionate, empathetic, consistent, persistent and humble!


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

I hope that every single time I am with a student, I am making a difference! I love teaching others clinical techniques, of course, but I also love to inspire them to use their tools and talents to bless others. I know it is difficult, but I want them to realize that it is absolutely possible to be a single mom or dad, or working entrepreneur, have kids or whatever “their busy life” may be AND study these skills and STILL ROCK IT, at the TOP of their profession. I love asking questions to encourage them to understand the "whys" while urging them to stop trying to memorize and just use their unbelievable mind to "think." Once they learn to "think" and also gain the confidence that they "can do it," the sky is the LIMIT!!


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

Anyone of my NAIOMT family members has precisely what it takes!


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

The things that matter to me most in life are people. Sadly, people can also be the very things that disappoint me the most. Above all else, consistently and genuinely caring for people is my utmost calling. It carries into every single aspect of my life including: my family, friends, teaching, mentoring and my profession. Caring for people means fighting for them, believing in them, giving grace when needed (we all have bad days), all while showing integrity and working hard in every facet of life.


What's your favorite city to teach in?

Wherever the students are the most eager to learn.


Considering your work as a PT, if you had to give up your sight or your hearing which would it be?

Hearing, but I do know some sign language so could continue to communicate. I have had to treat a deaf and blind patient in the past and she would feel my hand to know what I was signing. These are some of my most difficult, yet most rewarding treatments!


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

That is a loaded question, as I would like to speak with different therapists for various reasons. If I had to choose ONLY one, I would choose to have lunch with the late David Lamb. I have a great deal of respect for what he did for the profession and for the organization that I am most passionate about, NAIOMT.


We are "assessors, thinkers and long-term fixers" not "pain chasers, memorizers, and short-term maskers."


What are the top three things you think NAIOMT does best?

We have a great Fellowship : ) We teach the way we treat! We are "assessors, thinkers, and long-term fixers" not "pain chasers, memorizers, and short-term maskers".


Which historical figure has been most influential in your life? Why?

No question that Jesus is the most influential historical figure in my life. Through Him, I know that I will be reunited with my loved ones who have gone before me, which gives me great joy. He has influenced the way I love people with authenticity. He has influenced the way I work, with all my heart. He has influenced my outlook on life, optimistic. He has influenced the way I speak to people, with truth. He has definitely influenced my life, in almost every aspect.


Would you rather 20% salary increase or two more weeks of paid vacation?

Depends on the day you ask me. Either option would be great, although I would say the 20% salary increase, since it is difficult for me to truly take a vacation "paid or unpaid".


Favorite vacation spot? Why?

Anywhere with water, sun, and sand. Why not? : )


Do you think your birth order impacted your personality or choice of profession? Why or why not?

I am laughing because my birth order is confusing. My sister is twelve years older, and my brother is eight years older than me. Therefore, on paper, the youngest isn't accurate and doesn't describe my personality! My sister left for college before I entered first grade, while my brother left before I entered middle school. However, I was basically my brother’s "older sibling" for two years, helping him do everything, until he recovered (see above for story). The "oldest" personality traits definitely describe me: achievement-oriented, often performing well in school and thriving in leadership positions. However, there are many aspects of the "only child" that describe me, as I was technically "alone" in an adult world for nine of my school-age years. I am very independent, and get energized being alone, not with people. I am confident, and have some perfectionist qualities (however, I work on keeping a growth mindset). I don't know that my birth order necessarily impacted my profession choice, as I described above why I chose PT; however, many of my personality traits have definitely helped me be successful in this profession.


Sports team you love to hate?

Anyone my husband's team is playing.


Hiking or a movie?

There is no question that I enjoy hiking over sitting through a movie.


Concert or a baseball game?

Both. Depends on who is performing or playing. I love Music AND Sports!!



Join Valerie Coolman's NAIOMT classes:

Follow the links below for course details and to register.

Baton Rouge, LA

Indianapolis, IN

Berrien Springs, MI

Chicago, IL

Join NAIOMT's Fellowship Program

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