If you were in hospice care and only had a few weeks to live, what would you do? Who would you talk to?
With someone like Jaimie Kuchem by your side, you would have the best experience possible.
Hospice work is one of the many real-world experiences Kuchem has had during her time as a physical therapy student at Missouri State.
“I saw a lot of these people in the last week of their lives,” Kuchem said. “I was there as somebody to talk to, somebody who would listen to them or play games with them.”
“It was something that changed my life. It was cool to hear the families say, ‘You made a difference in my loved one’s life.’ There’s nothing more I can ask for in life than to make that positive impact.”
“I want to help people and be a part of their lives that will make an impact on the world.”
Physical therapy has many career paths – hospice, rehab, acute care, hospitals and more.
Kuchem, whose grandfather has Parkinson’s disease, wants to specialize in neurological care.
Wherever she works, Kuchem’s mission is simple.
“For me, I believe you should really put other people’s needs before your own,” she said. “As a physical therapist, I could do that every single day of my life.”
No delay in clinical experiences
In many physical therapy programs, your clinical placements only occur in the final few semesters.
Not at Missouri State.
Physical therapy students begin their clinical experiences in the second semester of the three-year program.
“That’s been really cool because it reinforces what I’m learning in the classroom,” Kuchem said. “I’ll have six to eight weeks each semester where I can go out and apply what I’ve learned.”
Emotional moments are common.
“When I go forward to my patients, I always try to ask them what gives them meaning, what is something that makes them happy – and I try to integrate that.”
Kuchem, job shadowing a physical therapist at the time, recalled one patient’s goal.
“The patient said, verbatim: ‘I just want to walk my daughter down the wedding aisle,’” Kuchem said. “I was not there long enough to see if he was able to do it, but from hearsay, I’m pretty sure he was. It’s cool to help people do that stuff.”
Other days, it can be fun and games.
For a sports-loving stroke patient, Kuchem designed soccer drills.
“We played soccer and I had him try to kick over cones in different directions to help him recover,” she said. “Being able to tap into something that gives you meaning, something that gives you worth or just makes you happy, is really important to heal yourself.”
Finding her groove
Studying to become a physical therapist can be stressful.
For academics, Kuchem’s go-to contact is her advisor: Dr. Marcia Himes.
“Dr. Himes is always there to support me and help me become the professional I’m supposed to be,” Kuchem said.
When Kuchem needs a break from school, she goes into dance mode.
“Dancing has been something I’ve always loved to do,” Kuchem said. “Anyone who knows me would know that if you start playing music, I’ll start to boogie a little bit. It’s just a really good release.”
With a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree, Kuchem will be ready to fulfill her other passion.
“To help people with what they want to do in life,” Kuchem said. “When they think they would never be able to do something again, and now they can, how rewarding would that be?!”