Jarrod Schuh's career path to physical therapy has been a pretty straight line.
It’s late afternoon. Physical therapist Jarrod Schuh escorts a young patient over to a long hallway, an area most days not well populated but especially so on the day before Independence Day, for some rehab.
Schuh discovers someone at the end of the hallway (me), and kindly asks if I mind sharing the toasty space.
“No, I like company,” I say.
“Take it slow,” Schuh instructs the youngster. “Go down to the end, then back, like this. Don’t be concerned with speed. Just form.”
The youth obeys. Following another repetition, the first words from hooded sweatshirt.
“Man, it’s hot here,” he says.
“You’re absolutely right,” says Schuh. “But let’s do it once more anyway.”
One more time down and back.
“Yes, that’s it; just what we’re looking for.”
The little moment is powerful: seeing a young athlete returning to form, watching a physical therapist doing what he was born to do.
Papermaker & Billiken
You can tell Jarrod Schuh is an athlete. His movements are smooth, precise, no wasted motion or effort. And with those who have played contact sports, there is also a formidableness to his movements, a built-in energy ready to be released when called upon. You can feel the explosiveness.
Don’t get me wrong. Jarrod is not a brooding hulk that is sizing you up only to knock you down. As a matter of fact, I’m not sure he could be any nicer a guy than he is. And he’s not large. But you can tell that in any backyard game he casually inserts himself into, the road to bragging rights will go through him.
Schuh is a physical therapist at Advanced Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine (APTSM) in Appleton. His path to the award-winning practice is as straight as a career path could ever be. One could say he was destined to work there.
A Kimberly native, Schuh would, of course, play football. He did so for four years and was reasonably successful, even by Papermaker standards. Schuh was part of teams that went to four consecutive state championship games. Won State titles in his freshman and sophomore years, runners-up in his junior and senior campaigns. His final high school game was a four-overtime loss to Cedarburg in the championship game.
He speaks of these past gridiron experiences not with the nostalgia of Springsteen’s “Glory Days” protagonist but rather with a slight shrug of the shoulders and the perfunctory rendering (“yeah, it was pretty good”) of someone who routinely expected to be in such games.
And the three-sport athlete didn’t consider football his sport.
“I’m really a track and field guy,” said Schuh. “More field than track though.”
Schuh went to St. Louis University for track and field. An athlete at SLU and, as such, a Billiken (mascot, symbol of good luck, and “a little creepy”), Schuh’s college athletic career would be cut short due to injury, but he would continue on career path decidedly linked to the sports injuries he had been dealing with since high school.
“I was awe-struck by the ability of athletic trainers and physical therapists to make a real difference in how I came back from an injury,” said Schuh. “Their power in changing the trajectory of recovery was something I immediately gravitated to.”
And there had been ample opportunity for Schuh to get familiar with Kimberly’s sports medicine staff.
Schuh returns to discussing a state championship football game, in this case his junior year, and adds an important detail he left out earlier in the discussion.
“I tore my MCL and meniscus in that game,” said Schuh. “Then that track season I came back and then tore my hamstring, a nagging injury that bothered me into my first year of track at SLU.”
Oh, and he broke his hand his freshman year at Kimberly.
To get through these injuries, Schuh worked with a variety of medical professionals. Always possessing an athlete’s focus and desire to get back to sport, Schuh also realized that a another, equally compelling path for him was becoming illuminated.
“Early on, I could see myself doing these types of things, what athletic trainers and therapists were helping me with as an injured athlete,” said Schuh.
As injuries continued, Schuh’s interactions with these professionals were fuel for him to keep on the sports medicine track. And with his mom being a high school guidance counselor, it wasn’t much of a stretch to locate some shadowing opportunities that might provide some career options just in case making a living as a professional athlete didn’t quite work out.
“If everyone who wanted to get into sports was in sports . . . ” said the smiling triple jumper.
One of the shadowing experiences to come Schuh’s way was a program that connected high school students interested in medicine with area medical providers for what is called a “job-shadowing opportunity of a lifetime.”
Lifetime is the operative word here.
Medical Mentoring of the Fox Valley
In 2006, Medical Mentoring of the Fox Valley began with a single high school (Appleton East), a handful of students and single provider group to mentor the kids. Dr. David Eggert of the Orthopedic & Sports Institute founded the program with the idea to provide high school students early exposure to career possibilities in medicine.
It’s hands-on experience that brings focus and clarity to young people considering a career in the medical field, said Eggert, who begins his yearly address to students at kickoff night by telling them that one way or another, Medical Mentoring will give them direction.
“Many of you will have your career aspirations confirmed, others will have avenues opened up that you hadn’t even known existed, and, for some, you will discover that what you thought you wanted to do with your career isn’t the way you want to go after all,” said Eggert to a packed atrium at OSI in May. “But that’s a good thing too, right?”
In 2019, the program paired nearly 100 students from 15 high schools with medical mentors from more than 25 provider groups. Students identify their interests and are matched accordingly with providers for 12 hours of job shadowing over the summer. Students are side-by-side with doctors, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, registered nurses, physical therapists, chiropractors, and surgical technologists (to name a few) and observe the mentors in their day-to-day work environments, which include fast-paced clinical and surgery settings.
“Every year, and this year is no exception, we try to include more students because the interest is there,” said Tammy Oppermann, co-director of the program. “And previous students who have taken part in Medical Mentoring are our best advocates. They let their peers how powerful the experience is.”
The logistical undertaking is massive, with each student gaining invaluable firsthand experiences with at least three different mentors throughout the eight-week summer session.
Co-director Katie Olp spends nearly a month on student-provider data entry and scheduling alone. Each year the program looks to expand offerings – dentistry, cardiology and dermatology have been mentioned as 2020 additions – in order to satisfy student requests.
“Interested students drive the program’s offerings,” said Olp, “and the providers step up to meet those demands. Their belief in the program and their willingness to donate their time are vital to the success of Medical Mentoring of the Fox Valley.”
To set the tone for this year’s class, Kimberly High School senior Ali Ho spoke to the group about her time in last year’s Medical Mentoring Program and the importance of that experience.
“It gave me the opportunity to explore more careers in the medical field, and what I hoped for was that it would help guide me in the direction of a career that ultimately I would have a lot of interest in,” she said. “Which it did.”
Ho also told the group the program taught her about the many different careers in the health field, as well as helping her make connections with some incredible people who cared deeply about her success and future plans. She will attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison this fall with a goal of becoming a pediatrician.
Five nights later, former Medical Mentoring student and Freedom High School senior Cassie Weyers addressed another packed house, letting students know she understood exactly how the incoming group was feeling and what they could expect.
“I can vividly recall that I felt a little nervous and curious, but I was mostly excited to discover what my prospective career might entail,” she said. “My favorite day was the day I spent in the operating room with Dr. (Padraic) Obma, as I got to see the Mako robot in action.”
Weyers will be attending Lawrence University as a biology and chemistry major and is part of the pre-medical program there.
Punctuating the final kickoff night was the program founder, who put students and parents in the perfect state of mind.
“So many careers, so many choices,” Eggert said. “This is going to be fun!”
Confirm or Deny
Schuh’s Medical Mentoring journey began a little over a decade ago, as a junior at Kimberly. Blessed already with notions of a career that involved sports medicine in some fashion, he looked to the program as do many others getting their feet wet: to confirm or deny what was already taking shape in the mind’s eye.
With injuries necessitating work with long-time Kimberly High School athletic trainer Stacey Lindgren (“a huge influence”), surgeons, occupational and physical therapists, Schuh had a number of avenues in mind when he was accepted into the mentoring program.
Schuh’s first placement saw him with none other than Eggert. He worked alongside the orthopedic surgeon in clinic and later viewed a joint replacement surgery (“I wasn’t squeamish but knew a few who were”), then followed up with multiple providers at Advanced Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine in Appleton (“shout out to Russ Bartholomew”). He was particularly attracted to the style and pace of physical therapy in general and how things all came together at Advanced PT in particular.
“It’s definitely a job where you don’t sit around,” said Schuh. “You’re doing the exercises right along with the patient, showing them proper form and technique.”
Working alongside the team at Advanced, Schuh made – and kept – important connections that would eventually lead to his return there following the earning of his doctorate in physical therapy. He not only did the majority of his mentoring hours at Advanced, he would later devote college breaks to continued shadowing opportunities there as well as taking a leadership role in doing their laundry at such times.
Later discussions with therapists Bartholomew and practice founder/president Rob Worth led to a student internship at Advanced PT in Ripon, and following this Schuh had one more course in St. Louis to finish before looking for gainful employment.
He sent Worth an email after graduation. Advanced was opening a new clinic in Green Bay and looking to expand with another full-time therapist in Appleton. And with Bartholomew moving to Kaukauna, they were also looking for someone to take the leadership of Advanced PT’s Medical Mentoring efforts.
Schuh’s timing was perfect. Only a few years removed from Medical Mentoring, the new physical therapist in Appleton was also the instructor for the program that helped him validate his own career goals.
“I was really passionate and wanted to be a PT for a long time,” said Schuh. “The time in the mentoring program was so rewarding. Every single patient I had the chance to talk to or work with lit that fire a little bit more; every every chance to work with Advanced reaffirmed the idea that what I wanted to do for a career was the exact right choice.”
For both early May kickoff nights, students and parents are introduced to the program’s leadership and are led on a hypothetical journey of a student-athlete that may have an ACL tear. First to the clinic to see an orthopedic surgeon, then to MRI to confirm the tear, then to surgery. Lastly, they head to physical therapy, where Jarrod Schuh awaits.
He asks a question to start: “Anyone ever torn an ACL? No? Good. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.”
His low-key, confident approach immediately resonates with the group, although there are few 17-year-olds in attendance who eagerly volunteer to be the centerpiece of his demonstrations. No worries, he says. He moves towards another connection.
“A lot of our student-athletes identify themselves by the sports that they play. And you get depressed when that is taken away from you. If, as a PT, I tell you that you can’t practice or play with your teammates, your friends, well, that sucks, right?”
He discusses another aspect of what drew him to therapy: the psychological healing that needs to happen as well. Schuh has always been interested in psychology, his minor in college. To see some of that psychological strain that an injury can put on people – whether a high school athlete wanting to return to the playing field or a family breadwinner looking to return to work – and be in the position to help them get back to what they want to do, well, that’s a pretty rewarding job.
Schuh ends with a few suggestions for this year’s Medical Mentoring class. Make sure you speak up. Ask questions. Engage. Enjoy. Have fun.
“Medical Mentoring is a tool to help you figure out what you want to do with your lives,” Schuh told the group. “The program gives you a chance to try things on for size, to see how they fit.”
And one more thing is added for the group from someone who not too long ago stood where these kids are standing now.
“As a junior in high school, you’re not necessarily supposed to know what you want to do with your life. A lot of people get too hung up on that, getting to college and not knowing exactly what path is the right path for them. Well, most people don’t know. Maybe we can help you figure things out.”
Schuh freely admits he’s always had a good idea of what he wanted to do, and it looks to have worked out pretty much according to plan.