Using the tools garnered from Dickinson’s useful liberal-arts education, former biology major, Eric Johns ’09 set his sights on a career in physical therapy. Now, as an acute rehabilitation physical therapist for Penn Institute for Rehabilitation Medicine, he helps patients to heal and regain function after illnesses and injuries. He also shares his skills as a teaching assistant at local universities and during a recent stint as a guest lecturer in Malawi.
Can you speak to how Dickinson’s useful liberal-arts education helped you along your career path?
I have always been a person with varied interests, both personal and professional. In my career as a physical therapist, I dabble in research, teaching and a variety of clinical populations and care settings. Dickinson prepared me to boldly explore different opportunities, knowing that I have the underlying tools to adapt and succeed.
What was your favorite activity/organization at Dickinson?
Jive Turkeys Ultimate Frisbee Team. Also, living in the former Arts Haus.
What jumps out as a great memory from your time at Dickinson?
The fall season on campus and around Carlisle in general is beautiful. The air getting cooler and the leaves changing, digging into another academic year full of opportunities, seasonal rituals and foods …
How do you stay involved with/support Dickinson?
I read each issue of the Dickinson Magazine and follow along with any big developments at the college. I went to my five-year reunion/Alumni Weekend, and I have attended a Dickinson event in Philadelphia, as well.
How did you get interested in your work, and what about it excites you most?
I have been interested in a health care career since high school. While at Dickinson, I decided upon physical therapy. You never get tired of seeing people heal and regain function, and it’s exciting to be a part of a growing profession.
What does your current work entail?
I work for a large hospital network, treating patients in acute rehabilitation and acute care settings. Anything from getting someone exercising for the first time after a heart transplant to teaching someone with a broken leg how to use crutches on the stairs. I also work part time as a teaching assistant for local universities’ Doctor of Physical Therapy programs.
What is the most challenging part of your work?
Working as a therapist in hospitals means being up close and personal with suffering and illness. Also, my patient population includes a lot of urban poverty, and it is tough seeing the related social issues.
What comes to mind as something unforgettable that you’ve done since you graduated?
Going to Malawi for a month with Health Volunteers Overseas to serve as a guest lecturer for the country’s fledgling physical therapy program! I had never been to Africa, and it was an incredible experience.
If you could have dinner with anyone famous, living or dead, who would it be?
Walt Whitman. The way he perceived and described the beauty of everyday things inspires me.
You just built a time machine: where and when do you go?
I would walk the streets of my home city of Philadelphia 150 years ago and see how much I could recognize.
If you could change one thing about your life, what would it be?
Studying Spanish instead of Japanese while at Dickinson would have been more helpful for my career in healthcare.
Published June 18, 2018