I asked a recent graduate, Derek Thom, to write a piece on how he came to choose to work in Cardiac Rehabilitation. Here is what he had to say!
My name is Derek Thom and I am a Grand Valley State University (GVSU) Alumni. I began my undergraduate career in 2004 pursuing a degree in Physical Therapy since GVSU is known to have a stellar Physical Therapy program. This was also the same year that most schools in Michigan had advanced their Masters of Science in Physical Therapy programs to Doctor of Physical Therapy. I worked my way through the general education courses and discovered that I had not put forth a valiant effort towards achieving good grades in those classes that I was not particularly interested in. Unfortunately, Physical Therapy school was not going to work for me.
Fortunately, Grand Valley has another program that is very similar to the curriculum I had already taken and would allow me to still pursue an education directed towards physical rehabilitation. Exercise Science would be the next best thing for me, and I could also specialize my classes in a clinical emphasis. I quickly changed my degree to a Bachelor of Science in Clinical Exercise Science.
During my undergraduate experience, I was taking an Exercise Physiology course reviewing heart disease and strokes at the same time my Grandfather had a triple bypass. He had a stroke during the process, which inevitably led to his death. This subject now impacted me more than anything I had studied. I realized, the heart disease, and possibly even the stroke could have been prevented. I then directed a lot of my studies toward Cardiac Rehabilitation.
During my last year of undergraduate curriculum, I completed my fieldwork at Mercy Health at the H.E.A.R.T. Center in Muskegon. This facility had Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehabilitation along with other medical programs such as medical weight loss, smoking cessation, and nutrition classes. I valued this experience very much because it allowed me, first hand, to apply my classroom studies in a real-world environment. I read EKGs, took blood pressures and pulse measures, provided nutrition education, lead stretches, practiced exercise protocols, and learned more about heart disease and heart anatomy, among many other things. I realized during this time that I was becoming fascinated by the heart!
After graduating I did Personal Training for a year because I did not find it easy to locate jobs within Michigan in Cardiac Rehabilitation. I even went to an interview for an Exercise Specialist position eventually at a Hospital for Cardiac Rehabilitation just to see if I could even qualify. When I made it through the rough barrage of clinical questions I was not certain about, I had a written “quiz” for my clinical knowledge. I couldn’t answer some of the questions about contraindications, medications, protocols, and other various clinical testing procedures. That day I decided that I would need to get a Master’s Degree to advance my knowledge and qualifications.
The next Winter I started a Master’s degree in Exercise Physiology at Eastern Michigan University. I knew that I still wanted to pursue a clinical setting like Cardiac Rehabilitation and after reviewing the coursework and meeting with the program advisor I determined it was what I needed. The Master of Science in Exercise Physiology requires a thesis paper or internship hours to graduate at the end. I am not interested in research so I adamantly declined the thesis option for the real world learning in an internship.
I interviewed within a very competitive internship selection process at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital at the Michigan Heart and Vascular Institute in Ann Arbor. I received the offer to complete a 6-month internship, which I was grateful for, especially since they are only one of few Cardiac Rehabilitation internships that offer a stipend. The internship would be full time hours as an intern doing Cardiac Rehabilitation and Cardiac Stress Testing.
Out of all my educational experiences thus far, I found this internship at MHVI to be the most rewarding and crucial in my clinical career. It was rewarding because working with professionals such as cardiologists, nurses, exercise physiologists, and administrators, you get a real feeling of what it would be like to actually work there in a career. Also, the professionals were very helpful in teaching, and leading interns in their practices. I also found this internship to be crucial because I had been looking at job boards online and most settings looking to hire Exercise Physiologists/Specialists are looking for “Master’s Degree Preferred” and at least 6 months to 1 year of “experience”. This was the experience I desperately needed. It was also my foot in the door.
Upon completing graduate school and finishing the internship, I was offered a job at a different St. Joseph Hospital location in Howell where I now lead Cardiac Rehabilitation and do Stress Testing. Some other things I would suggest thinking about if you are considering pursuing a career in Cardiac Rehabilitation:
- Cardiac Rehabilitation careers don’t require anyone to have a Master’s Degree. If I would have known this after undergrad, I might have tried applying to Internships all over Michigan while I was working as a Personal Trainer and maybe even bypassed the Master’s Degree. (Of the 20 or so Exercise Physiologists I worked with in Cardiac Rehab, only 1 had a Master’s of Science, but more recently it’s advancing to preferring a Master’s of Science over a Bachelor’s of Science)
- Job-hunting may be challenging but make sure you’re bringing what you need to the table. All through my undergraduate career and even after graduating, I was looking at jobs that I wanted and seeing what qualifications they were requiring, or “preferred”. I made sure my resume could meet their requirements before applying.
- Real-world experience in a career such as Cardiac Rehabilitation is very valuable. I heard stories about other interns, who realized that they couldn’t work with the “older” community well, weren’t good communicators, didn’t like working in hospitals, etc. My Internship experience actually introduced me to the job of Cardiac Stress Testing, which I found to be the most enjoyable responsibility at the Internship and I was not expecting that.
- I also think it is good to keep many contacts and professional resources throughout your career development. I only found out about the Internship opportunity at MHVI because I asked a colleague at EMU for contact information and almost missed the Internship interviews by 1 week. If I hadn’t asked my colleague for any help, I may have had to write a thesis paper to graduate instead.
You can submit questions for Derek using the contact button on this site.