The following is a transcript of Terrence C. Brown’s DICUS Award Speech from the 2021 PPS Annual Conference in Dallas, Texas.
65 years ago, I was born in Spalding, Nebraska—a small, rural farming community. I grew up in a house being raised by two wonderful parents, who still reside in the house and I’m proud to say have been married 67 years. I was educated at Spalding Academy, starting kindergarten on the first floor, and graduating twelfth grade from the fourth floor. The central recurring theme taught by my parents and my teachers was: we are put on this Earth to care for one another, and we do that best by valuing life long learning, by being of service to others, and by embracing our community.
The next few years I explored the world with a few detours but no fatal crashes. These travels led to Kentucky, where I first encountered the physical therapy profession as a hospice volunteer and then met my life partner during a physical therapy volunteer experience. These caring individuals showed skill and compassion in caring for patients. I knew I wanted to be a part of this special profession. Life moved on, and as a new graduate, newlywed, and father, I jumped into starting a private practice and 37 years later I haven’t looked back.
This leads me to tonight. I am honored and humbled to receive this award. Our lives are made up of experiences—some good, some bad, but all come together to make us who we are. I want to share with you tonight some of the things that I have learned and then leave you with what I believe are the are the most important things that we should take with us in this journey. It matters not if you are a seasoned veteran or just starting out like my two physical therapist sons. What’s important, is important to all of us and is important to our profession. There are three areas that I would like to talk about tonight, three things that I believe lead to successful practice and success in life.
Working to be the best at what you do, building relationships and having purpose.
Let’s start with practice. Something that all of us do. Something that all of us take great pride in. I became a physical therapist, just like you because we care about people. We care about helping them lead healthy lives. The reason we are in private practice is because we felt we could do it better. We do it best when patient care comes ahead of everything else. We do it best when we remember our calling. I want everybody to stop for a minute, indulge me please.
Close your eyes, and I want you to take a deep breath and remember. Remember a patient that you treated in which you changed their life. Remember the feeling that that gave you, remember the passion that you had. This is why you became a physical therapist.
That patient for me was Bill Pence. Bill was a trucker who was involved in a prolific truck accident in which his pelvis and legs were crushed. Bill owned the trucking company and trucking was all he knew. He spent over three months in the hospital before coming to a brand-new outpatient clinic where I was a physical therapist in my first month of practice. Bill was wheeled in a wheelchair by his wife, who pulled me aside and told me that Bill was depressed that he believed he would never walk again and that he would ever be able to drive a truck again. Well, in my blind ignorance, I told her, “Sure we could fix him up, no problem.” Now, we didn’t even have treatment tables in the clinic yet. All we had were mats, so I threw it out on the floor and told Mr. Pence that we were going to get down on the floor and go to work. He looked at me like I had three heads. “Son, I can’t get on the floor, I just got out of a hospital bed.” I told him “I’m pretty sure you can get on the floor, it’s getting up it’ll be a problem.”
Sure enough, he and I got on that floor and I did everything I could think to make him believe he would walk again. For an hour we worked and then we struggled back into that wheelchair and he looked at me and he said, “You believe I can walk again?” I said, “Sure,” and he smiled. At that point he trusted me to do what I said I would do.
He went on to not only walk but to drive trucks and live another 20 years running his trucking company. Never did I forget Bill and never did Bill forget me.
That is why we do what we do. In clinical practice, we must put the patient first. Give our all to them. In running private practices, we must assure that our therapists provide the same level of effort, care, and skill that we gave those patients. To provide this level of services we must provide therapist education so that all therapists are skilled at their craft. Provide work environments that promote caring and excellence. Provide compensation models to reward clinical excellence. We have to care about everyone in our practice.
The second area I want to discuss tonight is relationship-building. We are not in this alone. One of the greatest gifts I’ve been given in this life are the relationships that I have because of my service and my involvement in our professional organization. My success as a young private practice owner starting out was directly related to the relationships I made through our state chapter.
As a young therapist I met this remarkable woman who had a string of private practices in rural Kentucky. She was very successful, very dynamic, and I was amazed when she spoke to me, much less took me under her wing. About a year later she was running to be the next Kentucky Chapter president and she asked me to run for vice president. Now, understand I would be running unopposed, so I had a good chance to win.
I had no experience, but she convinced me that I could do the job. I decided that if she was president, how hard could it be to be vice president? She said she would do two terms and I could learn alongside of her. At the end of her first term, she came to me and said, “Brown, I’m not doing this again, the job is yours.”
I was shocked, but she said, “You’ve got what it takes. I’ll be there for you, whatever you need.” She always has. Connie Hauser is my mentor. She taught me about treating people with respect, care, and quality. Connie, Sam Brown, and others in the state of Kentucky befriended me, mentored me, and made me able to start a practice in Kentucky.
A few years ago I decided to move up the ladder. I was going to run for the Nominating Committee of American Physical Therapy Association. I put on a fine campaign, gave a great speech—it was outstanding; you should’ve been there. And when the results came, I lost! The Kentucky Chapter planned this big reception the night of the election and there I stood in a receiving line getting condolences from all who came. The celebration was more like a wake, it was pretty dismal as everyone told me that I should’ve won and they voted for me. The tension was thick.
Then a colleague from Arizona I had met as a chapter president showed up at the door and looked across the room, put her fingers on her forehead, and screamed at the top of her lungs, “BROWN! LOSER!” I lost it. I completely cracked up, doubled over in laughter. The tension was broken. My friends, one of the iconic leaders in our association, took the time to seek me out and abuse me after losing an election. Helene Fearon and I have been close personal friends ever since. She taught me all I know about coding and billing and we have shared intimate life experiences. She also introduced me to her husband Tim, my chosen brother. He always has challenged me to be my best and then work harder to be even better.
Through service in this association, I made my Louisiana family with David Quales, Sharon Dunn, and many others. Ten years on the PPS Board of Directors, I enjoyed the friendship of all my board colleges but made cherished relationships with Tom DiAngelis, Mike Horsfield, and Jeff Ostrowski. These are relationships that greatly influenced the success of my business, but more importantly, enhanced the quality of my life. All made through service to this profession. True friendship is a journey without an end. Real friends are not so easy to acquire. Friendship rests upon more than accidental relationships. We must nurture them. They require work and self-reflection. If we nurture them, they feed our souls.
So, take a pause right now or later today and think to yourself:
- Who are the people that that have been with me on this journey so far?
- Who are the people I might meet tonight that could help me in my journey?
- Who are the people that I can help if I enter their lives? I want to make sure you take away intention here.
Friendships, real ones, don’t happen by accident and need intention to grow.
What are you doing to nurture these friendships in your journey?
Last, but not least, I want to talk about family. They can come in many forms, but often are why we do. Each of us has a passion for this profession. However, passion without purpose has little meaning. My purpose, and I believe many of your purpose, in this life is family. Family—whether a life partner and kids or the family you create through your friendships—reminds you of why you work so hard and inspires you to keep going even through the tough times. They give, they forgive, they do with, they do without, all to be our support system. As parents we think about the example we set for our kids. Building a practice from scratch teaches our kids about taking risks and hard work. The success of managing your family and your business require the same things. Purpose, caring, and relationship-building.
We have been blessed with five beautiful children who are my purpose in this world. My and Debbie’s gift to this world sits in these five individuals, of whom I am so proud. I am in awe of who they have become and who they have chosen to spend their lives with. I believe, each of you in your own way are changing the world for a better place. I would like to introduce each of them to you. Daniel and Chio, Kelsey and Adrian, Patrick and Samantha, Aaron, and Joseph. And then my new passion, Hanigan May Brown.
I end this talk tonight—a talk about caring, relationships, and purpose—with the most caring person I have ever met: Debbie Brown, PT, gives life to everyone she meets. This award is shared with her, for I could never have achieved a fraction in this life without her love, support, and intellect. She is an example of quality physical therapist, a true relationship builder and passionate in her purpose. I am truly blessed to be her partner.
So, leave here tonight with this task—go back and make your therapists the best practitioners. Spend time making and nurturing relationships and never forget why we do what we do.