A veteran comes home to Falmouth Hospital
These days, retired Army Lt. Col. Paula Smith of Falmouth, can be found bustling around the Falmouth Hospital Rehabilitation Department checking in with her staff and patients. She is a physical therapist who wears many hats as director of Rehabilitation Services, Sleep Lab and EEG at Falmouth Hospital.
Smith is also a daughter who has come home. She grew up in Falmouth and her mother, Carole Knebel, worked in billing and the Breast Care Services at Falmouth Hospital from 1988-2008. Since her retirement, she has remained active as a volunteer eucharistic minister and a cashier in the cafeteria.
While Smith loves her job at Falmouth Hospital, it was just a little more than one year ago, that she was living and working in the military world. Her final military career assignment was health director for the Soldier for Life Program, Department of the Army, in Arlington, Virginia. This was just one of the many programs she created, originated and oversaw during her 20 years of military service.
At times, she dealt with overwhelming obstacles and challenges, but they didn’t stop her from getting the job done.
A motto, passed on to her by an Army Medical Specialist Corps chief, is “you bloom where you’re planted,” and it served her well throughout her military career.
Smith concedes that her journey to becoming a physical therapist was not only a path of discovery but achieved in a rather roundabout way.
“I had initially attended the University of Iowa studying veterinary medicine,” said Smith. “I stayed in that track for a couple of years and then caught the bug for communications. I changed my major, graduated with a degree in communications and started a sales job with the Falmouth Enterprise.”
While she enjoyed working in this area, with a goal of eventually going into broadcast journalism, she felt she needed a career that was a bit more “sure-footed” and decided to go back to the sciences.
A Journey To Physical Therapy
She did her research and found that physical therapy was an up-and-coming profession. She interviewed a couple of physical therapists who “seemed to like their jobs” she said. She took pre-requisite science courses at Cape Cod Community College. To make sure physical therapy was truly a career she wanted, she not only worked locally as a physical therapy aide, but also logged 2,000 volunteer hours.
“I worked in numerous therapy settings; hospitals in- an out-patient, equine therapy, school-based programs and military,” said Smith.
It was one opportunity in particular, at the Naval Station Newport, where she noticed that the physical therapists got to spend a lot of time with their patients, talking with them and focusing on education. They also worked closely with the techs doing treatments.
“I thought that was awesome,” said Smith.
When she started applying for colleges to major in physical therapy, she heard about a program from another aide, called the US Army Baylor University Graduate Program in Physical Therapy. College applications were expensive and he told her this application was free but she would have to join the Army.
“We laughed about it and then he dared me to apply,” said Smith. She took the dare. “I’ll fill it out and I’ll get there.”
She applied for the physical therapy program and was told she had to go through the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) first to be approved by the Army before she could apply. She attended the all-day testing that included a complete physical.