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Premier Physical Therapy and Sports Rehab on Shirreff Avenue in North Bay is open for business and owner Dan Popkie says he’s looking forward to making connections within the community.
“I was born in North Bay and grew up in Powassan and coming back to the area is basically a homecoming for me,” he says.
“I know lots of people in the district and there has been a real comfortable setting here as I’ve gone about setting up this clinic. The difficulty will just be in getting our name out there and getting people to know my skill set and what I have to offer to the community.”
Popkie has a few decades of both practical knowledge and education behind him to help his patients. After playing in the North Bay minor hockey triple-A system for a few years, Popkie had always taken an interest in sports.
“I went to high school at St. Joseph Scollard Hall and that’s where I had this great co-op teacher name Mike Doyle who was also my football coach. He saw my interest in Kinesiology and guided me toward a physiotherapy place in town called PT Works,” he says.
“That was in grade 11 and it was a wonderful experience and that’s where I really wanted to start pursuing physiotherapy.
However, at the time I came from a family of four boys and so fiscally it didn’t make any sense for me to go away to university and so I decided to stay closer to home. I wanted to stay within the health sciences realm and at the time there were lots of nursing jobs available and so I took the Registered Nursing Program at Canadore College.”
Popkie then spent the next several years enhancing his education while getting hands-on experience.
“I took a job right out of college at North Bay General Hospital for a very brief period and then moved on to Ottawa. That’s where I got into the emergency department, but also did a lot of things to beef up my resume so to speak,” he says.
“I worked with the Ottawa Heart Research Institute and did two studies there through the ER as part of the research team where I was collecting data. I also worked at the Ottawa University Kinesiology Department, collecting data for their studies.”
Popkie says this is what allowed him to make connections and learn about different areas within the health care field and obtained his degree in nursing.
“From there I was dabbling in going into Med. School and got interviewed twice and was on the wait list. While that fell by the wayside, I still had physiotherapy in the back of my mind,” he says.
“I moved back north and fell into a partnership with a PT clinic and managed that for a while. We opened another clinic and while I was managing that one, I was still working at the ER.”
Popkie says working in the ER is very much like being in the middle of a game.
“You have your real highs, and your real lows when you’re dealing with human nature at its worst, you really are in a sink or swim environment, and honestly, playing triple-A hockey prepared me for how hectic that setting can be. Sometimes you just have to put your head down and go do what you have to do. I saw a lot of terrible things, but I also saw a lot of wonderful outcomes,” he says.
While managing a clinic and working at the ER he says they were having a hard time maintaining staffing numbers at the clinic because people were hoping to go back down south.
“That sparked my interest in thinking that I wanted to go back to school and so at 35 years old I threw my hat in the ring and was accepted to D’Youville College in Buffalo, New York and got my doctorate there.”
Popkie did a three-year doctorate program in Buffalo, “Although I was down there for four years because I went a year in advance and got another ER job in Niagara Falls to help augment the cost of schooling, while being a dad of two young boys,” he says.
“It was a great experience they have top notch schooling there in New York state, and they had a really good affiliation with the Canadian Physiotherapy Association where we had lots of cross border presentations from that side, so it never really felt like you were too far from your home country.”
Popkie says being a mature student helped him over the course of those three years.
“Having the experience of working at emerge for all those years, I was able to pick and choose what information I needed that I already hadn’t learned yet and sort of push aside some of the stuff that was repetitive for me and that really helped in getting through those three years.”
He also had an opportunity to find his way back to athletics.
“There was also a really great opportunity that arose while I was in Buffalo; I got to be in the NHL Combine. I had a professor that asked me if I wanted to be involved and so I did, I got involved on the measurement side for that event for three years. I love hockey and so I was able to cross something pretty neat off my bucket list there.”
Popkie says, “It was a really interesting experience, but what’s more interesting is seeing the human aspect of those players. When you boil it down they are just like everyone else except that you can see the professionalism and the commitment to the sport that they have put in. You see the maturity level compared to their cohorts in the same age group. I mean you’re looking at a 17 or 18-year-old that is all business and is about to have 20 or more interviews with as many teams and when you ask them to step on the scale they are worried if their body fat percent is too high or if their range of motion on their hips is good enough. For the most part, they are on top of it, they know their bodies, but they are just going through this experience that could be life-changing for them and you’re just there witnessing it.”
After he finished with his education in Buffalo, Popkie was approached to stay on and work in the United States, however with a young family he knew he wanted to return to the Canadian side of the border.
“I always knew that I was going to come back and I had kept in contact with the clinics that I had managed previously so I knew there was an opportunity as well to work back home and I also knew that at some point I wanted to get back into athletics,” he says.
“I have been able to do that on a small scale as I was asked to help out with the North Bay Battalion for a two-week stint while their Athletic Therapist went to the Canadian Junior Camps, and that is something that I will return to doing again this season. I’ve also been able to help out with some minor hockey groups and I’m just reaching out to different community groups involved with North Bay’s athletics scene and make partnerships there.”
Popkie says running a Physiotherapy Clinic can in some ways mirror that of working in an ER.
“There are times where you might have emergency patients where they come in to you and they are in acute pain and you have to work on them without the medication that would help them numb that pain as you would have in the ER,” he says.
“So you have to work with that patients pain and that can be very stressful. You have to learn how to deal with that pain. It’s usually a much more controlled environment than at the ER though and usually both the physiotherapist and the patient can do things to prepare themselves for the work, because you can self-medicate sometimes where you can have those patients on over the counter medications or prescribed medications and it helps augment the treatment. You’re still doing a lot of thinking and assessing the person in front of you and trying to think ‘where do we go from here, what’s next, how do we improve their mobility or their pain or their quality of life.’”
Popkie says the experience of having been a part of setting up two other PT clinics has really helped as he pursues his own centre.
“I was able to repeat some of that work in setting up the day-to-day operations of my clinic. A few things fell in to place pretty easily for me in terms of finding a space,” he says.
Now it’s a matter of putting his name out there and showing the community what he can offer them.
“My goal is more of a generalist approach; I want to see people from all walks of life, from any age range. I have a strength in sports and vestibular rehabilitation which involves concussions and balance rehabilitation, as well as pediatric gross motor development which also segues into the sports angle as kids who sometimes can’t do basic gym class won’t be able to move on and excel in other extra curricular activities and so I’ve really taken an interest in that.”