AIROS Medical is honored to introduce our two new clinical advisors to our team. First up, is Kelly Sturm, nationally board-certified oncology clinical specialist, who sees patients with lymphedema as part of her practice in Minnesota.
How did you go about becoming the first national board-certified oncology clinical specialist in the United States? What does that process look like, and what are the criteria?
The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) and the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties (ABPTS) offer board certifications for advanced knowledge and skills in nine different specialty areas, including orthopedics, neurology, pediatrics, etc. Oncology rehabilitation programs and therapists have been around for a few decades, but at a deficient number. With cancer treatment becoming more effective, the number of cancer survivors in the United States is increasing rapidly. In 1975, there were an estimated 3.6 million cancer survivors in the US, growing to approximately 17 million in 2019. (American Cancer Society, 2021). Due to the continued improvement in treatment, allowing individuals to live full lives, the number of cancer survivors in the country is expected to grow to an estimated 20.3 in 2026 and over 26 million by 2040 (ACS, 2021). However, what is being found now that these individuals are being treated and living longer, is that there are side effects and physical or functional issues lingering from cancer and cancer treatment. Who is addressing these? That’s where cancer rehabilitation is stepping in. The number of oncology physical therapists in the US is growing, and advanced training is needed. So in 2019, the Oncology Clinical Specialty certification was added. In this first year, I joined 50 other physical therapists who sat for the exam and passed, becoming the first official cohort of board-certified oncology clinical specialists in the United States. To qualify for the exam, an individual must have 2,000 hours of direct patient care as a licensed United States Physical Therapist within the oncology setting in the last ten years, with at least 500 hours in the previous three years. In addition, the therapist must write and submit a case report demonstrating advanced skills. If approved by the board, the next phase is sitting for the rigorous exam. I spent nine months studying for the test, reading hundreds of research articles, textbooks, etc. It was a rewarding experience, and it provided me with a lot of growth and knowledge as a clinician.
What inspires you to help your patients with this condition every day?
My clinical specialties include Oncology, Lymphedema, and Pelvic Health. Educating and serving these communities and populations is a strong passion of mine. I decided to become a PT after growing up watching my Grandfather struggle with post-polio syndrome. It was a condition that no doctors or clinicians could help treat, and they lacked knowledge on ways to help him. This condition and disease weren’t well-known, and it left a feeling of hopelessness in the individuals living with it. I did start treating post-polio once I graduated from school, but there were so few cases it wasn’t a full-time job. I was introduced to lymphedema and cancer rehabilitation and quickly saw my grandfather’s same struggle with these individuals. There was not a lot of support or knowledge in the healthcare communities. This ignited the same purpose and passion I sought when I chose this career. My patients come to me with pain, discomfort, and limitations that they may have been struggling with for months or even years that no one has been able to help them with. There is nothing I love more than to try and bridge this gap and provide them with as much knowledge and support as I can.
When did you start Cancer Rehab PT, LLC? What was your hope and goal in creating this company, and why?
I started Cancer Rehab PT, LLC in 2019 as an educational platform. Over the years, I have seen a growing void. The education, knowledge, and awareness of ways and the importance of treating and addressing side effects and symptoms of lymphedema and cancer have been missing. Some individuals have local access to excellent care and healthcare professionals, but most do not. My mission and hope are to encourage & empower people living with and beyond cancer and lymphedema with education, resources, and support so they can reclaim control of their everyday lives. My goal is to provide as much knowledge and awareness to the public and communities so that they can be provided guidance on steps to take and hope that there are things that can be done to reduce the pain or discomfort they are currently living with. I started with an Instagram platform, @cancerrehabpt. I quickly realized I needed more space and time to show and explain techniques and exercises that I was limited by on Instagram. So, in 2020, I started a YouTube channel, Cancer Rehab PT, to provide more visual content like lymphatic drainage routines that someone could follow along with and exercises that I share with my patients to improve shoulder motion. I also have a website, www.cancerrehabpt.com, which provides more content and resources. My goal is to continue finding ways to share knowledge with as many individuals as I may need this support.
What do you think is essential for people to know about the patients you treat and just patients that deal with this condition on a daily basis?
I feel a couple of things are essential for people living with or beyond cancer or lymphedema to know. Most importantly, having pain, discomfort, and limitations after cancer treatment or with the progression of lymphedema are common, but it doesn’t make it normal. They are common side effects that we often see, but that does not mean they are things that someone needs to live with as their “new normal,” and there are treatment options and ways to address these issues so that you can reduce your side effects and focus on what is most important in life. Another thing I want everyone to know is that it’s never too late to get help with treatment. I have treated individuals for over 40 years after being diagnosed and treated for cancer and lymphedema. These individuals had never received care, had been living with a great deal of pain, and had lost the ability to do simple tasks like walking the dog or brushing their hair. After weeks of rehabilitation and help to obtain the right tools and products, they reclaimed shoulder motion, reduced pain, and were able to go for walks. Above this, they found freedom and joy and received their lives back.
What do you want the world to know about Airos Medical, and what are you most excited about joining our team?
The Airos Medical team has a genuine passion for supporting and serving various edema communities with high-quality products. This provides individuals with a fantastic opportunity to reduce their pain and limitations, to ultimately live more fulfilling lives. They are a brand of high integrity, and I am excited to be able to actively advance access to knowledge and resources for the healthcare and public communities.