I couldn’t be more thrilled than I am right now to share my interview with Sue Falsone. As many of you know, Sue broke barriers by becoming the first female Head Athletic Trainer in Major American Professional Sports at the start of the 2012 season, as Head Athletic Trainer of the LA Dodgers. What is a lesser known fact is that she was also the first female team Physical Therapist in MLB history, having been hired as the Dodgers team PT in 2007. Sue recently left her position with the Dodgers to begin S&F (Structure and Function), a consulting and education business for healthcare clinicians, as well as a consulting company for the athlete. Thanks to Sue for taking the time to talk with me!
Q: Tell us about your growing up years; where did you live? What sports did you play?
A: I grew up in Buffalo, NY. My main sport growing up was synchronized swimming. I loved the water and was at the public pool the day it opened in summer until the day it closed in fall. I spent my entire elementary life in the water, therefore, did not develop a single bit of eye hand coordination or really, any type of coordination at all for that matter. I went to Kenmore West High School and was a terrible athlete! I ran track my freshman year, and was really slow. I tried field events, and broke my nose during high jump when I let my knees drop on my face. I played jv and varsity soccer, and got Most Improved Player, if that gives you any idea of where I started.
Q: What initially got you interested in physical therapy as a career?
A: I had always loved the sciences and anatomy. I knew I wanted to do some type of healthcare. I thought I would become an orthopedic surgeon. I had injured my hamstring in soccer and had to go to physical therapy. I thought it was very cool! At the time, physical therapy was a 4 year degree, so instead of going into biology as a typical pre-med student would, I went to PT school. I ended up loving it, and never even thought about med school once I got rolling in the program.
Q: Tell us about your education: Where did you go to school? Did you major in Athletic Training as an undergrad and then pursue your Physical Therapy degree?
A: In my typical fashion, I did things totally backward! I went to PT school at Daemen College. Like I said, PT school was a 4 year BS degree, so did that and began working in a general orthopedic clinic. I thought I had made a terrible mistake. I hated it! I had to pass off any of my “fun” patients to the athletic trainer, and I was seeing chronic neck and low back pain from either work accidents or car accidents. It was not what I wanted to do at all.
I spoke to our athletic trainer and she told me of a double major program at UNC-Chapel Hill where you could enter in as a PT in the Human Movement Science program and concentrate in sports medicine. I looked into the program and applied, figuring I would never get in. They took one person a year for that double major program and I had never even seen the inside of a training room. Well… I got in. My sports medicine career began. On top of the double major, Carolina had already changed to a curriculum AT program, so I had to take about 4 undergrad classes at the same time in order to be eligible to sit for the AT exam.
Q: What positions did you have in your early career that lead to you becoming the first female athletic trainer in Major League Sports?
A: I don’t know if it was necessarily the positions I held, but more the people I was surrounded with. My very first boss at the outpatient clinic was an amazing clinician. He made me think, he mentored me as a new grad. He made me look at the body as a whole from day one. That set my foundation for sure.
Q: Who were your mentors along the way?
A: No doubt my mom. She always was there for me, even when I was doing things she didn’t necessarily want me to do (like move across the country).
My Aunt Marie. She was a strong Italian Catholic woman that converted to Judaism in the 1940’s. She also opened her own boutiques at the time, and owned her own business. She bucked the norm at every turn.
My grandma. A 5 foot Italian spitfire who spoke her mind.
There are more, but those are my first mentors.
Q: What was the work environment like as the only woman in the dugout? Did you run into any issues with players/owners/coaches respecting your professional opinion?
A: I never had trouble with that. I was confident in what I knew, and wasn’t afraid to admit what I didn’t know. I have always been like that in my work. I think athletes/ patients appreciate that honesty and therefore respect what you have to say, when you say it.
Q: What was the best part of your job as an AT in MLB? And what was your least favorite part of the job?
A: Best part was returning an injured athlete to the field. That’s why we all do what we do, right? I love that first time an athlete gets out there to play after an injury. It is a great feeling. Least favorite….hmmmm.. Getting up early for day games! I am such a night person, and typically baseball is a noon to midnight schedule. Those random day games can really throw you off your sleep schedule!
Q: It appears that many PT’s in pro sports are also ATC’s, and they are identified/viewed as AT’s. Do you think there is a unique role for PT in pro sports? And do you think that role is currently being fulfilled? If not, what are some things that a PT can do if they want to break into pro sports?
A: I think there is a growing need for the PT in pro sport. AT’s and PT’s can have overlapping skills, and depending on the settings they have worked in, can be extremely similar. But there are also many differences. PT’s can really focus in the rehabilitating athlete. Bottom line, there are 25 guys to get ready to put on the field that night (in baseball). The injured guys need attention to get back as quickly and as efficiently as possible. There is a lot that needs to get done, and there is room for both professions to bring their expertise to the table to help the team as a whole.
Q: ATC’s have a unique brand and are easily recognized. How can PT’s do a better job of educating the public about what we do? How can PT’s brand ourselves so that we are the public’s first choice for musculoskeletal issues?
A: THAT is a fantastic question!!!! And one I don’t necessarily have the answer to. I was at a meeting last week with WebPT and #rehabnation. That is EXACLTY what we are going to tackle. If you look at my twitter and professional Facebook page, I asked the question “what is a physical therapist or what does a physical therapist do?” The variety of answers I got was astounding! PT’s don’t even have a standard definition of what we do so how can we educate the public? Yes, the APTA has its definition, but there are so many specialties and subspecialties in PT. How do we define sports medicine and outpatient orthopedics PT? Stay tuned…an amazing group of people are working on exactly that.
Q: How do you balance your identity of being both a PT and an ATC?
A: I don’t. I am both. Simply put. I am what I am. I am a Caucasian, Italian decent, 5’6” Christian female who enjoys yoga and wine, and whose professions include PT, AT and strength coach. No balance needed. It’s who I am.
Q: So you left the Dodgers last October, and I know you did some traveling. Tell us about where you went, what you learned, and how those experiences led you to the decision to start your own business.
A: Please see my blog on www.suefalsone.com “What AM I doing?” I answer that exact question.
Q: How has your experience w MLB prepared you for what you are doing in the private sector now?
A: Working during the in-season of pro sport gives you a whole new respect for what athletes and staff deal with during the season. It allows you to fully understand the lifestyle, the difficulties associated with such, the extreme fatigue levels, etc. It helps you understand the needs of the athlete from a totally different angle. You have to live it to truly understand it. I now understand it. I feel like my off season programming, rehab and in season support will be very different based on my recent experiences.
Q: Do you expect frustration w the difference b/w MLB and the “real world”? Will you be accepting insurance for your treatments with athletes? Or will you be 100% cash based?
A: HA! Yes! The real world actually functions during the day! I am on such a noon to midnight work schedule (not that you don’t work in the morning, but usually its phone calls or doctor appointments). I am used to being up until 2 am and sleeping until 9 am. The “real world” has different hours, which I am adjusting to.
I am going to be 100% cash based. I will deal with teams directly for reimbursement, but I will not take insurance or workman’s comp.
Q: Tell us about your business experience. Have you owned/operated a private practice before? How did your experience w MLB prepare you to better run a business?
A: I have never actually owned a business before so this should be interesting! I have obviously held positions (at Athletes’ Performance) where I had to “run” the business. Be responsible to profit and loss, budgets, etc. But owning your own gig is a totally different thing. I am learning a lot on the fly, reading tax books for small businesses and learning about website design and SEO’s. Things I NEVER thought I would be learning about. This is a new adventure for sure.
Q: How do you plan to leverage technology in your new business?
A: I’m not sure yet. There are so many things out there, especially on the iPad/ iPhone. Simple aps are really useful for video capturing, etc. Plus, many of my clients will be all over the country, so being able to interact with them for consistent care will be important. It is an area that is on my list to explore more.
Q: If you could rewind, what advice would you give to yourself as a student? What advice would you give to a DPT student who is interested in working with athletes and possibly pursuing a position in pro sports?
A: Just work hard. Be a student of the sport. Be an active learner. Be prepared to donate your time and energy for no or little money. There are other rewards in life other than monetary. Enjoy the journey and the process of learning. It is amazing to look back on. Don’t push to hard in any direction. The universe has a way of providing you the opportunities you need, but you have to look out for them.
Q: What are your top 3 favorite books (fiction or non-fiction)?
A: Anything written by Patrick Lencioni. He is an amazing writer about the struggles of business, management, people, etc. IT is an easy read with valuable lessons, whether you are in management or want to be in management. Start with “3 Signs of a Miserable Job”. Awesome.
The Help. I couldn’t put it down! I absolutely loved it. It is amazing to me that the book was in a time not that long ago. That is not “ancient history”. It is recent history, and in some situations, not history at all. It’s just a fantastic book about spirit and strength. I loved it.
The Hunger Game Series. I am seriously obsessed. Loved it!
Q: What blog or news media do you read every single day?
A: Nothing in particular. I read what catches my eye. I cruise my professional Facebook page to see what people are posting and will always click on the interesting blog topic or news topic. I always check Yahoo news for a quick “light look” at the trending news, and then CNN for hard hitting stories.
What questions do you have for Sue? Ask away in the comments section!