CBSHS Alumni Spotlight: Stephanie Morgan, building a pelvic health physical therapy program
Meet Stephanie Morgan, a 2011 Public Health Sciences alumna. Her passion for sports and the injuries that came with track and cross country led her to a career in physical therapy. She’s a physical therapist specializing in women’s pelvic health at Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System. We caught up with her to learn more about her unique career and how Clemson prepared her for it.
Q: What is a typical day/week like for you?
I work Monday through Fridays at Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System in the Oncology Rehabilitation Department at Gibbs Cancer Center. I have a private treatment space and office to help encourage my patients to feel comfortable talking about sensitive subjects. We also use tools such as external surface Electromyography (sEMG) for biofeedback to better understand the pelvic floor muscles and what they are doing when we perform certain activities, such as cough, bearing down for bowel movement and a pelvic floor muscle lift. In addition to external soft tissue mobilizations and flexibility programs, I perform vaginal and/or rectal examinations and assessments for further treatment of the pelvic floor muscles in retraining muscle coordination, addressing trigger points, and desensitizing sensitive tissues and scars. I also love to use open gym clinic space for progression for my patients who need more strength and progress toward more active lifestyles, such as return to running and exercise.
Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
I love to educate my female patients about their own anatomy, whether they are a young adult with pelvic pain, a pregnant patient with lower back pain, a postpartum mom with pain during intercourse, or an older adult with urinary or fecal incontinence. The anatomy that lies within the pelvis is extraordinary, as we don’t see it on a regular basis, nor do we like to talk about it much. Not many women know about the anatomy of their pelvis as there is a stigma or embarrassment in discussing issues such as pelvic pain or urinary incontinence. I love to hear my patients say, “I was able to cough, laugh, sneeze, jump, run without leaking or needing a pad!”
Q: Describe your career path since graduating from Clemson?
After graduating from Clemson University, I went on to the Medical University of South Carolina’s College of Health Professions Doctoral Program for Physical Therapy. After graduating from MUSC in 2014, I started work with the Rehabilitation Center of Charleston doing outpatient orthopaedic care. Two years later, I moved back to the Upstate to work with ATI Physical Therapy. I then became interested in specializing my physical therapy and started the process to become certified in pelvic health. In March of this year, I started working with Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System to build their pelvic health rehabilitation program.
Q: What inspired you on this career path?
As a collegiate cross country and track athlete at Clemson University and post-collegiate triathlete, I had many injuries along the way, which inspired me to pursue outpatient orthopaedic physical therapy. When starting my career with that specialty, I had some previous hip and back injuries that never seemed to resolve with regular orthopaedic physical therapy. After my pregnancy and delivery of my son, Joseph, I was referred to a pelvic health physical therapist, and she was finally able to treat my pain from a different internal perspective. I lived in Spartanburg and traveled to Greenville for these treatment sessions, and it was difficult to remain compliant enough to continue, even though I was finally seeing wonderful results. The previously limited resources in Spartanburg and the passion that I now have for this pelvic health (women’s) population is what led me to specialize in women’s postpartum care and advocate for conservative treatment for diagnosis that may otherwise be considered postpartum. This includes urinary/fecal incontinence, pelvic organ prolapses, pelvic pain related to pregnancy and delivery and sexual healing, core and pelvic floor muscle restoration, and return to safe exercise postpartum. I am now dedicated, full-time, to helping build the Ppelvic health rehabilitation program at Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System to provide the resources for women (and yes, men have pelvic floor muscles too). I hope the resources that I help to create help educate people about the benefits of therapy before and after delivery. It’s never too late to address your body and take care of it. Don’t just live with the dysfunction that you may feel.
Q: How has Clemson prepared you for your career?
Clemson prepared me for my career in physical therapy by providing me with opportunities within my major Pre-Professional Health Studies. I was able to job shadow physical therapist David Bright with Excel Rehab and Sports, where I grew to love the profession and determine treatment plans for patients to help them achieve their physical goals.
Q: What was your favorite Clemson memory?
I loved being on the cross country and indoor/outdoor in the steeplechase track all four years at Clemson and loved forming a close bond with teammates.
Q: Do you do any volunteer work or are part of any community organizations?
I am a member of the Spartanburg Stroller Rollers, which is a mom’s workout group where we bring our kids and strollers and complete circuit training led by an instructor. I enjoy the camaraderie of Stroller Rollers and how it keeps up my physical, emotional, psychological, and social health as I’ve met so many wonderful and supportive mothers. I was also given the opportunity to speak and present at their Women’s Conference earlier this year to discuss women’s pelvic health before pregnancy, during pregnancy and after delivery. I also want to be more involved in a program within Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System called Table for Two. This breastfeeding support group is driven and held by lactation consultants within the hospital as a free weekly group to provide social support and education to new mothers. As Table for Two alumni myself with both of my children, I find that this educational and social support helps to prevent post-partum depression and to connect new mothers with information about what the hospital has to offer , such as pelvic health therapy after their delivery.
Q: Any advice for students interested in a similar career?
Don’t underestimate the specialties that may not be common. I never thought I would be in the pelvic health physical therapy specialty until it became an issue for me personally, and then I saw that this need was underdeveloped and underserved in my area. This is only the beginning of our specialty, and I can see the need for conservative use women’s health physical therapy to become normal, especially postpartum.