Dentistry’s loss is physical therapy’s gain. Columbus High School graduate David Friloux began his college education at Mississippi State University as a pre-dental major. When he realized that wasn’t the right career path for him, he went to talk to the dean and while waiting read a brochure about physical therapy. What he read changed his career choice and his life.
“I was impressed with the description of physical therapy — the way a therapist works with people and must know the anatomy, the bones and muscles,” he recalls. “I believe in fate and being at the right place at the right time.”
After that decision, Friloux spent time observing Chalma Whittaker, a physical therapist in Columbus, to affirm that he was doing the right thing. After completing a physical therapy degree at the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMC) in Jackson, he worked in Lafayette, La., a couple of years before relocating to Tupelo. A seed was planted to work in the city when a representative of North Mississippi Medical Center (NMMC) spoke to Friloux’s class at UMC about the opportunities there.
“Tupelo is about one hour from where my parents lived, and I was young and mobile,” he says. “I thought I would try it for a year or two. After 22 years I’m still here with my wife of 18 years, Ellen, and our five children.”
He has no regrets and is committed to the medical center where he is now divisional director of acute, home health and out-patient rehabilitation services. He supervises 140 employees and is responsible for rehabilitation services, acute care, hospital-based home care and out-patient rehabilitation including occupational, physical and speech-language therapy.
“The field of physical therapy is definitely growing. There aren’t enough therapists to fill spots,” he said. “The paramount reason is that the first Baby Boomers are retiring and the population is getting older. Some injuries are age related. Occupational and speech therapy are growing, too.”
The hands-on practice of physical therapy has always appealed to Friloux. “I enjoy the variety of clinical settings it’s provided me. I see all kinds of cases,” he said. “When the body is injured, a therapist intervenes and helps patients reach their highest potential.”
He’s worked in settings that include: acute care clinics where patients have short stays; out-patient rehab where they stay longer and in-home settings where patients can be helped in their natural environment.
“I’ve enjoyed working in all these settings and now I’ve taken the path to supervision as head of the rehabilitation department. Before that, I was a clinical site instructor and then a clinical director, still seeing patients,” he said. “I’m still seeing patients because it keeps me grounded and I can help other therapists because I understand.”
No two days are the same for Friloux. He gets a lot of reward working with patients and the NMMC administration who are always supportive of physical therapy.
“When I think about our contribution as therapists, rehabilitation comes to mind. We’re providing hope where there might not be any,” he said. “We encourage patients to gain their highest potential and help them meet their goals, often helping them re-enter society as productive individuals.”
If a patient’s motivation is low, it’s also the therapist’s job to get the patient going. “Sometimes it’s more an art than a science,” he said. “We know the muscles and bones, but a lot of time it’s the touch that matters.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at firstname.lastname@example.org.