Featured Fellow: Dr. Eric Chaconas PT, PhD, FAAOMPT

Dr. Chaconas is an Associate Professor at the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences with research interests primarily focused on the rehabilitation of shoulder and knee conditions.  Eric teaches continuing education on the topic of extremity disorder management for the Institute of Clinical Excellence and is the Director of Education and Research at Advanced Therapy and Wellness, a physical therapy practice specializing in the physical rehabilitation for patients recovering from substance abuse disorder. 

A graduate from Towson University with a BS in Exercise Science (2002), he completed the DPT from the University of St. Augustine (2005), Fellowship in Orthopaedic Manual Therapy (2008) and PhD from Nova Southeastern University (2015).

Dr. Chaconas currently serves the Florida Physical Therapy Association as speaker of the assembly and has held prior positions as the FPTA federal affairs liaison, government affairs committee chair and vice speaker of the assembly.  Eric was honored with the FPTA Rick Schutes committee service award in 2011 and APTA emerging leader award in 2010.

What Inspired you to pursue Fellowship training?

I felt slightly burned out as a new PT in 2006 and believed investing in my professional development would help.  I was able to observe AAOMPT fellows while in PT school and I knew that was a next level clinician.  I just figured the investment was well worth the enhanced clinical reasoning skills and I’d reach my goals faster.

What fellowship program did you attend and why?

University of St. Augustine in St. Augustine, Florida.  At that time they had over 10 fellows you would get mentoring time from in one single facility.  Each person had a slightly different niche area of expertise and I wanted that level of comprehensive mentoring.  I also studied who the alumni of the program were and I think that was key, a fellowship program is really a reflection of its alumni.

What did your fellowship program entail (as far as specific training, etc.)?

This was an academic setting so I was in the clinic about half the time, taking additional courses and training how to teach the spine and anatomy labs.  My favorite part was seeing a patient and then later in the day dissecting that region of the body in the cadaver lab, use the diagnostic ultrasound unit to scan that region and then go back that night and write reflections on the learning experiences.  It was such an in-depth learning experience.

I was also lucky to take a research course during the fellowship from Peter Huijbregts who at the time was the editor of the Journal of Manual and Manipulative Therapy.  He modeled what true scientific inquiry looks like and that was a huge influence during my fellowship.  He embodied equipoise, he wouldn’t put up with the emotional decision-making side of our profession and drove us to use evidence to enhance patient care. Peter passed away at a very young age and that was a huge loss for our profession but his philosophy stuck with me big time.

Are you trained in any specific areas of manual therapy (e.g., Maitland, McKenzie, etc.)? If so, why did you choose that area?

I pride myself on not affiliating with one school of thought.  My approach to manual therapy is just to be patient centered and integrate current best evidence to the best of my ability.  I think we are lucky to have these founding influencers in the history of our profession but we are at a point now in 2018 where we don’t need the guruism anymore.  We needed gurus back in the 1970’s and 80’s because the available scientific literature in our profession was sparse.  In the past 30 years we have had an explosion of manual therapy research and our understanding of the mechanisms, application and best practices is dramatically enhanced today.

What advice would you give to new grads aspiring to pursue residency/fellowship training?

  1. Make sure your decisions map to your goals.  Don’t arbitrarily choose residency/fellowship, weigh all the options and make sure that investment is in line with where you want your career to go.
  2. Examine the alumni, a program is a reflection of its alumni.  What those alumni are doing is probably what you will end up doing.
  3. Get to know your mentor before starting.  The mentor(s) are a critical part of training.  Everyone has different personalities and backgrounds so try and determine if that mentor is a good fit for you.  
  4. Embrace the grind.  You must love hard work and see the value in being pushed way outside your comfort zone, that is how growth occurs.
  5. You get out what you put in.  Your attitude, mindset, work ethic, and empathy are going to dictate your experience more than the curriculum, mentors or any other external variable.
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