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With an expansive amount of experience in the health care industry covering nearly four decades, Susan Pomerenke recognizes it’s somewhat unusual to stay involved in acute or geriatric care for as long as she has.
Currently a physical therapist with Mercy Hospital Springfield, Pomerenke has served 38 years in the medical field, joining Mercy in 1995. She says the physical demands and professional burnout experienced by many providing direct patient care as a physical therapist causes some to transition out of the health care role. But Pomerenke says she’s proud to have remained actively involved in providing direct patient care for so long.
“Caring for patients has always been my passion and what motivates me to continue in health care,” she says. “I was chosen to be on the management team for the acute therapy department at Mercy in 2006, which I did accept, but quickly realized that was not my strongest talent or passion.”
Pomerenke says she sees value in management roles and knows they are necessary and important, but she realized being in management didn’t offer her the personal and professional satisfaction that taking care of patients and their families provided her. That resulted in her returning to direct patient care by the end of 2006 – a role she remains in today.
In her position with Mercy, Pomerenke primarily sees patients for physical therapy services in the hospital setting, initiating their plan of care, setting goals for functional recovery and educating them and their families about rehabilitation beyond the hospital. She works the evening shift primarily to start therapy with patients who have had orthopedic and spinal procedures that day. This helps prevent problems associated with immobilization, she says, while establishing discharge needs early for planning purposes.
“I have the opportunity to see people at a very vulnerable time in their life and help provide care that helps them have hope for recovery from their current illness or injuries,” she says. “I advocate for my patients to get them what they need from the health care system and try to help my patients navigate in a complex system that can be really overwhelming to patients and their families.”
As a health care veteran, Pomerenke says she also mentors younger therapists in the ever-evolving health care system that includes shorter hospital stays and limited resources.
Compassion, trust, humor and empathy are all qualities Pomerenke says she offers to her physical therapy patients, and she strives to listen to them and serve as their health care advocate. Those professional goals have guided her career, as she notes her patients frequently describe her as someone who clearly loves her work.
“All patients deserve to be given time and respect to hear their story so their needs can be addressed optimally, and to help facilitate safe discharge planning,” she says. “I can honestly say that my 38 years of being a physical therapist have provided me with a sense of gratitude, humility and personal satisfaction that goes beyond what I could have ever imagined.”
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