Career Decision to Help Others Inspired by Experience with Injury

Career Decision to Help Others Inspired by Experience with Injury Emily Testerman serves as Rehab Director with Legacy Healthcare Services at Heritage Woods, a senior living community in Winston-Salem. She graduated from Surry Community College’s Physical Therapist Assistant program in 2015.

Posted: Jul 12, 2019

A sports-related injury led one woman to select a career path where she could help others with physical ailments. 

Emily Testerman, then Emily Roberts, came to Surry Community College to play volleyball on the Surry Knights team after graduating from Forbush High School in 2011. She had plans to study at SCC for two years and then transfer to a university. She was undecided about what to study, but was leaning toward forensic science. 

“I came to play volleyball and figure out my future while I was at Surry,” Testerman said. 

Her volleyball career abruptly ended in November 2011 when she had back surgery for a severe lumbar herniation, which was mostly caused by playing volleyball. 

“It took six to eight months for full recovery,” she recalled. “Even now, I have some deficits from it, and that’s been eight years ago. That’s why I decided to enroll in the Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) program at Surry. I went through so much physical therapy that I decided that was the field I wanted to go into.”

Testerman graduated from Surry in 2015 with an Associate in Applied Science in PTA. She was involved in campus activities serving as an English tutor, administrative work study student, PTA representative in the Student Government Association, and Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society member.

During a recent campus visit, Testerman spoke fondly of her time spent at Surry and said she always feels at home at SCC. 

“Surry is very welcoming. It feels like family here because there is a big sense of community. With it being a smaller campus versus a university, it is more personal,” she said.

Testerman now serves as the Rehab Director with Legacy Healthcare Services at Heritage Woods, a senior living community in Winston-Salem. She has worked there three and a half years. 

“I love the relationships that I build with my patients because so many times it’s not that they just need help with something physical. They need a consistent person that they can talk to and feel comfortable around,” she said. “I get to help the patients not only improve their physical abilities by decreasing their pain for a better quality of life, but I also get to become their friend.”

“All the residents that I work with at Heritage Woods have a desire to participate in therapy, and a lot of them come directly to us for help even before a doctor orders it,” she said. “Working with eager people makes my job fun.”

Many of her patients ask her why she went into physical therapy. 

“I share my back injury and recovery story with them. I feel like my personal experience going through physical therapy gives me an appreciation for my patients, especially those who come to me with back pain. I have had the opportunity to treat multiple geriatric patients who have had the same surgery as I did.” 

Testerman started out as PTA for one year and was then promoted to Interim Rehab Director. Then, after six months, she was offered the permanent position. As a Rehab Director, she identifies residents in need of therapy services, contacts the doctor to receive orders, and files insurance. She is also the main contact for families that may have concerns about their loved ones or want updates.

At 25, she is the youngest employee in the therapy clinic that she manages. Her therapy team at Heritage Woods includes a Physical Therapist and Occupational Therapist. She treats four to five patients a day along with doing all the administrative work and enjoys flexibility in her schedule. A PTA works under the advisement of a Physical Therapist (PT), she explained. 

“The PT does the initial evaluation on a patient and writes the goals for the patient. They are in charge of the plan of care. As PTA, I get the opportunity to do whatever treatment I feel is necessary for the patient to meet those goals,” Testerman said. “I am in constant contact with my PT, and we discuss the patient’s progress as it applies to the plan of care.”

Before working at Heritage Woods, Testerman worked for nine months at a clinic that offered short-term rehab and skilled nursing. 

“I had a job before I even graduated, and I worked with one of my best friends and classmates from Surry’s PTA program. My PTA class was a close-knit group of students; I am still in contact with nearly all of them. A majority of us are working with the geriatric population.”

Since she is so happy at her job, Testerman can see herself retiring with the company. 

“I would like to move up at some point and be an MSM or Multi Site Manager,” she said. 

Testerman now resides in Boonville with husband Tyler who is in the U.S. Army Reserves. They have Emma, their five-month old daughter. The couple enjoys gardening and raising chickens to provide eggs for their family. Extra vegetables from their garden are sold at Ben’s General Store in Yadkinville, and the money raised from the produce goes into Emma’s college fund. 

Testerman offers this advice to students who want to go into the PTA field:

“Take the time to get the pre-requisite classes out of the way before you attempt to apply to the program. Then, you can focus on just the PTA classes, and it’s more manageable. You can also get extra points for admissions to the PTA program by working in a clinic setting as a rehab tech.”

She also recommends taking the board exam as early as it is offered, even if that means taking it before graduation. By doing this, students are taking the exam while the information is still fresh in their minds from studying during clinical rotations. 

“It is extremely stressful to study for. A company called Scorebuilders that writes the study book for the board exam came to campus and helped us with a study schedule,” she said. “If you stick with it, you will come out with a passing score. Don’t take studying for the board exam lightly, and don’t wait until the last minute.” 

Testerman said she is incredibly happy with her decision to study at Surry Community College. 

“I wish people realized that you can get a degree at a community college that can carry you just as far in life as going to a university to get a four-year degree. And, you save so much money. I don’t have student loans that I have to work and pay off. With my two-year degree, my yearly salary is competitive if not exceeds those classmates who went on to university,” she said. “The teachers at Surry were very thorough, but very relatable. I always felt like they went above and beyond to answer to my questions and cared about me as a person and as a student.”

Admission to the PTA program is a competitive process as only 16 students are admitted each fall semester. Students must complete the application process by May 31, before the fall semester for which they are applying. 

Interested students should contact Eileen Coleman, PT, DPT, Surry’s PTA Program Director, at (336) 386-3513 or colemanei@surry.edu. You can also follow the program on Facebook @SurryCCPTA or go to the college’s website, www.surry.edu, for more information.


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