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Staff Spotlight: Dana Lott, DPT, NCS

Friday, May 3, 2019
Dana Lott

For Dana Lott, DPT, NCS, a day’s work might include anything from offering physical therapy to our patients in Duke Hospital’s Neuro ICU and step-down units, mentoring newer physical therapists about treating neurological patients and working to improve communication between physical therapists and other clinical staff. In this week’s “Staff Spotlight” interview, Lott talks to us about her work here at Duke, as well as how “physical therapy” includes cognitive behavior therapy, vision retraining, and even occasionally demonstrations of the electric slide.

What are your responsibilities at Duke University Hospital? What does a typical day for you look like?
I'd say I wear a lot of hats at Duke, but it's not approved attire so I'll say I wear a lot of...sneakers at Duke (that is, when they are not covered in bodily fluids). I'm a staff physical therapist primarily on 8W and 8E, treating the adult neurological population. I'm a director and mentor for our neurologic physical therapy residency, so I get the honor of mentoring therapists through the very complicated neuro world of working with patients, their families and other disciplines.

I am also working on a project that seeks to improve communication between therapists and other staff on our floor. So as far as what a typical day looks like...you might see me posting pictures of the PT and OT seeing your patient in the morning in their room, you might catch me rounding with our incredible ICU staff in the afternoons, or you might see me doing the electric slide with a patient in the hallway as part of a treatment session (and yes, it totally did happen).

What patient issues or conditions do you treat most often?
I see mostly strokes and brain injury, both traumatic and non-traumatic. I also treat the vestibular population in the hospital, alongside other clinicians on our team that have the advanced training.

What kinds of benefits is your physical therapy able to offer our patients?
I would like to think that I'm creative in my physical therapy approach (perhaps a little disruptive at times, but not intentionally!). Collaborating with music, dog, and art therapy has really allowed me to bring together the principles of motor learning and saliency to direct my patient care. If there is one thing I have learned (and the research shows it): if it's not fun or meaningful for the patient, it's not going to be effective. Another thing that I think my therapy in particular has to offer, is that is is constantly growing, thanks to the incredible learning environment Duke has created. I am able to attend conferences, lecture series, grand rounds and learn so much more than I ever could on my own. And for that, I am truly grateful to be welcomed into those places where perhaps, a physical therapist is not expected to be.

How did you decide to focus on neurologic physical therapy?
My first year out (of PT school, not prison...although sometimes, PT school did feel like that), I worked at a skilled nursing facility. I had a patient that had a ruptured posterior communicating artery ( aneurysm. I had no idea how to treat her: she was non-verbal, barely rousable, and had a significant amount of tone in her trunk. I wanted so badly to do more for her...and for her family. No other diagnosis moved me in that way - that's when I knew that what I wanted to learn and achieve was far behind what I could do on my own. So, I applied to neurological residencies across the country, and chose to attend Rusk Institute at NYU. I sat for the neurology board exam the following year and by the grace of God, I passed. It was one of the best days of my life. I knew I wanted to start a neurological residency here at Duke when I accepted a job position and two years later, my dream came true!

What do you most enjoy about this specialty?
What is there NOT to love about this specialty?! The brain is truly the most remarkable creation - without it, you wouldn't be reading this article (or x-ing out of it because it's too boring) or recalling personal experiences that you've had with patients similar to mine. Another thing that I love, is that as clinicians, we are in an incredible time. Gone are the days when someone would have a stroke and we just had to accept that as how it was going to be for the rest of his/her life. Activity-dependent neuroplasticity has only been really been the "new hot topic" since the 90s so I'm very blessed and thrilled to be a clinician during a time when we are beginning to change our perspective on things.

What’s one thing you wish more people knew about your work?
That's a tough question. I think as a profession, we are being respected more for what we can bring to the table. As PTs, we don't just walk patients or give massages or stretch out their arms and legs (although I did have a family member ask me the other day when I was going to give her mother a massage). I'm not in the kind of financial debt I'm in if that's all I did! We can help with so much more - discharge disposition, cognitive behavior therapy, vision retraining, likelihood of recovering from certain insults, the list is endless. All your therapists on the floor, your PTs, OTs, SLPs and RTs, have more invested in our patients than words could ever truly capture.

What passions or hobbies do you have outside of work?
I love racing triathlons, crafting and building things, and volunteering at the animal shelter. The affordable housing crisis in our country is a strong passion of mine - I did a cross-country bike trip from VA to OR to raise funds and awareness for Habitat for Humanity and Rebuilding Together, which was life-changing for me and for those that have a dream of owning a home of their own one day.

D Lott
Lott celebrates in Colorado as part of a cross-country bicycle trip.