From Pirouettes to PT

Meet Kayce Davis, Shs ’14, Who Found Her Passion in Physical Therapy… After a Successful Fifteen-Year Career in Musical Theater

January 12, 2016
Kayce Davis

At the School of Health Sciences (SHS), our Doctor of Physical Therapy students come from all different backgrounds. But whether they enroll straight out of college or as a jumpstart to a second career, our alumni consistently receive competitive placements at hospitals, clinics, and health centers.

Kayce Davis, DPT, is one such example. For fifteen years, she performed nationally and internationally as a professional dancer in Broadway musicals (like Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella at New York City Opera at Lincoln Center), working with star-studded cast members like Eartha Kitt, Ana Gasteyer, and Meryl Streep.

When Kayce decided to go back to school to study physical therapy, she chose Touro. She completed her undergraduate science pre-requisites at NYSCAS in 2011, and subsequently graduated from the School of Health Sciences’ DPT program in Manhattan three years later. The former dancer now works as a physical therapist at NYU Langone Medical Center - Rusk Rehabilitation in outpatient neurology, and loves it. In this interview, she spoke to us about her unique journey to PT, experience at Touro, and exciting job at NYU. 

Touro: When, and why, did you realize you wanted to transition to physical therapy? Were you prepared to give up dancing?

Kayce Davis, DPT, SHS '14: “You know, when you’re in a show, it’s amazing. But there were always windows, in-between periods of time where I had no steady job. After a while, I was ready for something concrete. I’d been dancing since I was three, so I was always in tune with my body, and I was leaning towards a career where I could be on my feet and active. I had undergone physical therapy myself in the past for a couple of different injuries— as a dancer, they’re inevitable—and I always thought it was fascinating. I actually became certified in Pilates, and I did that for a while, but then my clients started having issues I didn’t know how to help them with. It would be stenosis, or fibromyalgia, or a hip replacementI decidedI wanted to know more about these diagnoses, and what I could to do to help my clients further. And that’s what helped me decide to pursue PT, and make the transition to go back to school.”

How did you hear of Touro?

“I already had a B.A. in Psychology and Theater from Wesleyan University, but I had been out of college for over ten years, so I had to redo all my sciences before I even applied to PT school. I knew I wanted to be in Manhattan; I didn’t want a long commute. I also wanted to be able to maintain my part-time job while I was in school. When I found out about [Touro’s undergraduate program], NYSCAS, I went there in person, spoke to admissions, and told them I just want to start as a non-matriculated student for one course. And they were fine with it, which was wonderful. It made me feel so comfortable, because it was a huge leap for me to even walk through that door.

And I loved it at NYSCAS. The very first professor I had…was amazing. I remember a skeleton assignment—we had to go into the classroom one at a time and name the bones and the muscles—and he was so patient with me. After that one biology course, I ended up taking all my science prerequisites in a little over one year.

That’s one of the things I loved when I was accepted to Touro’s DPT program, too—the great professors. I felt like I had a personal relationship with each one of them, and I knew that besides personal references and school-related matters, they were available for us 24/7.”

Tell us about your clinical affiliations.

“I had five of them, and I loved each one. In my last one, the Performing Arts affiliation, I worked with Broadway dancers backstage in between their shows. We’d travel to the theater and the actors and actresses would come see us for their feet, knees, ankles, whatever. A dancer could say something like, ‘My knee hurts when I do this certain high kick; can you help?’ And we’d do manual therapy, stretches and exercises with them. Or, for certain VIPs and leads, we’d go to their dressing room and have private sessions.”

Wow. Sounds like it must have taken you back to your days on Broadway! 

“Definitely. It felt like home. And I actually knew some of the dancers, from my old days! When they saw me, they were so impressed that I had chosen to go back to school.” 

Do you ever find the skills you’ve learned from dancing have carried over to PT?

“In a way, yes. Oftentimes I think outside of the box in terms of exercises I might give. Also, as an actor, we’re trained to think that every speech and action should be carried out with intention. I use that with my patients sometimes: I tell them to think of the intention behind the exercises. Having a reason to do the exercise makes it more personal and more likely that the patient will want to repeat it as a home exercise.”

What do you like most about your job at NYU-Rusk? What kind of patients do you see there?

“Firstly, I knew I wanted to be in a hospital setting because of the mentorship opportunities it offered. Here, they focus a lot on education. Also, they’re functionally oriented—the focus is on keeping the patient functional throughout the day, and helping them conduct their real-life, daily activities. When I heard that in the interviews, it really struck a chord. And with NYU’s reputation…it’s such an honor to be here.

This is outpatient neuro, so we have patients with anything from spinal cord injuries to strokes, MS, Parkinson's, traumatic brain injury…. They call it the medically complex floor. It’s a very challenging job, but the rewards are huge. On this unit, we see patients that often are profoundly involved. The changes that occur over time can be monumental. Helping a person stand for the first time, after many months of sitting in a wheelchair due to injury, is intense. To see the patient’s face is a touching moment…It just takes your breath away. And these occurrences happen all the time.”

How did your education at Touro prepare you for these complicated diagnoses?

“Even though I wasn’t exposed in my fieldwork to many of the complex situations I’m dealing with now, we were taught many, many different clinical presentations and diagnoses in depth. So although I’d never, for example, administered PT to a patient with a spinal cord injury, I felt confident going into the scenario. Also, my professors at SHS were amazing. They were clinic owners and physical therapists working in the field, so they were experts—because they were practicing, not just teaching about, physical therapy! That made all the difference…both in the skills I gained and in the confidence I needed to grow beyond what we learned in school.”

What tip would you give to students now in Touro’s DPT program on getting the job of their dreams?

“While in school, I was very focused on getting that dance affiliation. I never really saw myself working in any other setting. But after I had my hospital affiliation and learned how much there was to offer there, I knew that’s what I wanted. So be open to different ideas; don’t be so rigid about your future. Your real dream job may not be the one you’re working towards now…another clinical experience may strike the right chord later!”