Heather Shininger ’00 works full time as a physical therapist at St. Rita’s Medical Center and has dealt with all types of diagnoses on an outpatient basis. Over the course of her 14 years, Shininger has been lucky to see many people getting their lives back again through therapy.
Helping people regain their lives is the most rewarding aspect of Shininger’s job. She can recall one of her most memorable moments at St. Rita’s when she went to meet a patient who had to have a leg amputation. The patient had spent the next 10 months in a wheelchair working toward independence with a prosthetic limb. At first, Shininger wasn’t able to recognize that her patient was not using a wheelchair. “I had been turning to leave,” Shininger recalled. “I looked again though, and the patient was sitting in one of the regular chairs, having walked all the way in with just a walker.”
Being able to help people like her patient was the reason Shininger pursued a degree in physical therapy from Findlay. After graduating from the University, Shininger completed her master’s of physical therapy in 2002. The last few years of graduate school prepared her for becoming a physical therapist with the knowledge to be a strong member of the field. Her minor, in psychology, helped tremendously as well because it allowed her to be able to deal with all the different types of people that she sees.
While at UF, Shininger felt lucky to have caring and supportive faculty members working in the therapy department. “I loved having Lisa Dutton as the head of the physical therapy program as she always had an open-door policy for us,” she said. Sharon Fleming-Walsh, D.Sc., associate professor and chair of the physical therapy program had been in charge of student’s clinical placements. Shininger recognized the hard work Fleming-Walsh put into placements. The opportunities presented allowed Shininger to travel out of state and helped “open my eyes to what was out there beyond Ohio,” she explained.
Her time at Findlay wasn’t all hard work and studying, however. Shininger describes her most memorable moment as serving as an equipment manager for the football team. She was present on the field when the team won their national championship. She also has great memories of the people who eventually became her roommates. “They are a large part of all the rest of the great memories and adventures that made up my six years at Findlay,” she said.
For incoming students making their college decisions, Shininger advises picking a school or program that is a good match. “Know who you are and pick a path that fits you and you can see yourself in years down the road,” said Shininger. “I like working with people, especially athletes, so physical therapy seemed like a good career choice for me.”
When Shininger’s patient at St. Rita’s first started therapy to learn how to walk with a prosthetic limb, the patient needed full assistance to even just get out of the wheelchair. It took a lot of time, effort and strengthening, but by the end of the therapy, the patient could stand up and transfer independently as well as walking with the assistance of two canes.
“The patient was a wonderful person, and we went through a lot of ups and downs together through the healing process,” Shininger said. “I love the fact that I get to be creative and think outside of the box every day to be able to help people get back to functioning in their lives again.”