Health Sciences Award Recipient Says Future of Physical Therapy is Prevention

Date: January 04, 2016
Thomas Protopapas
Thomas Protopapas
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Deborah Anders

New York, N.Y. - Thomas Protopapas of Leonia, N.J. was named recipient of the Maimonides Award from Touro College School of Health Sciences.

Protopapas completed the School’s Physical Therapy (PT) Program in Manhattan and was one of nine graduates selected to receive the Award for demonstrating the highest professional ideals of a health sciences practitioner.  

A graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Exercise Science/ Sports Studies, Protopapas knew early on that he wanted a career that involved physical interaction. “I always loved working with my hands, building model kits and fixing things,” he said. During his sophomore year, he worked as an aide in a physical therapy clinic and realized then that PT was his calling. “As soon as I set foot in there, I felt right at home.”   

At Touro, Protopapas was trained in a variety of intensive clinical settings including the Traumatic Brain Injury Rehabilitation Center at Universal Institute; the Cardiac and Infectious Disease Unit at St. Joseph’s Hospital; the orthopedic clinic at Sportscare; and the neurologic clinic at Kessler Rehabilitation Hospital. 

According to faculty advisor Ted Marks, Protopapas excelled in all of his clinical rounds and mastered complex material in the classroom. “He was an exemplary student and an invaluable member of the research group,” said Marks.  

Protopapas was also president of the Student Physical Therapy Association and organized a wide variety of extracurricular activities for his class− from a visit to the Bodies World Exhibit to dodgeball tournaments.   

As a student, Protopapas said he received some of the best professional training there is: from patient care meetings and diagnostic tools, to hands-on therapy techniques alongside clinicians and professors. But despite all of the state-of-the-art therapeutic treatments he has learned to administer, Protopapas thinks the future of PT lies with preventative treatment modeled on health fields like modern-day dentistry. 

“I think the current healthcare system is unsustainable,” said Protopapas. “We need to prevent injuries and diseases instead of trying to fix them after the fact.” But for that to happen, he adds, clinical evidence needs to support the effectiveness of bi-annual musculoskeletal checkups in identifying and minimizing potential problems. It would take a long time to happen, he concedes. “It takes on average, 17 years for the worldwide implementation of an effective treatment to be administered after its discovery,” said Protopapas.

In the meantime, Protopapas is putting his physical therapy training to work as a member of a collaborative care team at Orthology, an outpatient orthopedic company that recently partnered with NYSportsMed and has 11 locations in New York City, Minneapolis, and Washington D.C. “It’s a growing community and I’m honored to be a part of their process.”

Prof. Marks knows that Protopapas’s patients are in good hands. “Thomas's keen intellect and self-possession put him consistently at the head of his cohort. He exemplified what we expect from a Maimonides student.”

The other Maimonides Award recipients were: OT Program: John Denny of Franklin Square, N.Y. and Elana Rosenbaum of Teaneck, N.J; Physical Therapy Program: Ji-Nee Lo of Manalapan, N.J.; Physician Assistant Program:  Matthew Stamm of Roslyn, N.Y., Kristina DiMezza of Lindenhurst, N.Y., and Rachel Goldstein of Ridge, N.Y.; and Speech Language Program: Esther Schorr of Brooklyn, N.Y