Traci Schafer

Traci Schafer, Alumna Physical Therapy
“One of the things I really like the best about this job, it’s not just hands-on work, it's really about teaching the patient how to do more for themselves.”

The Pathway to PT

Traci says, “I initially knew I wanted to be a therapist as an undergrad at UC Santa Barbara [class of ’99].” But, she admits, “I was lazy and didn’t want to finish the prerequisites, so I minored in Exercise and Health Science and went to work at a health spa in Mexico.” She taught fitness classes, which she enjoyed, but she also recognized that she wanted to do more. “I was having a great time but realized I really wanted to be a physical therapist.”

So she moved to Dallas in 2003 to work for a physical therapy clinic geared toward seniors, where she coordinated the wellness program. While there, she says, “I worked with two therapists who inspired me to go back to school.”

“The Right Fit”

First, Traci went back to school at Richland College and finished the courses she had not taken at UCSB — chemistry, physics, and math — while continuing to work full-time. Upon completing the missing prerequisites, she applied to two graduate programs, both in North Texas — UT Southwestern and Texas Woman’s University. “Fortunately,” she says, “I ended up having a choice, and went to UTSW because the program seemed a really good fit. The interview process was a chance not only to be interviewed, but to interview them and see if I liked the program, which I really did.” She also knew a number of UTSW PT graduates, and all of them were people with personalities and attitudes that Traci wanted to emulate.

On Campus and On Rotation

Traci says, “The program was set up in a way that we’d do the classroom work, interspersed with clinical work.” For instance, Traci did a six-week rotation at Zale Lipshy Pavilion – William P. Clements Jr. University Hospital, where she now works, and recalls, “I absolutely loved the people who work here, and the variety of patients — not only do you see general orthopaedic cases, you see head injuries, spinal cord injuries, the whole spectrum.”

Like Family

“I hope this doesn’t sound too corny,” she says, “but it just felt the most like a family. You spend 8-10 hours a day with these people so if you don’t like them, you’re going to hate your job. I love how welcoming everyone is here — it’s easy to ask questions, to work together. I love my manager, I love my manager’s manager — and on up the chain!”

Extremely Rewarding First Day on the Job

In July 2008, Traci’s very first patient on her first day on the job at Zale Lipshy Pavilion was a Dallas SWAT officer who suffered a spinal cord injury when shot in the line of duty. After nine months of therapy, she and occupational therapist Beth Daniels traveled to perform a home assessment for the officer, his wife, and their two children. Following the visit, Traci and Beth wrote a letter to Extreme Makeover: Home Edition to request help addressing his special needs.

At the same time, unbeknown to Traci and Beth, the officer’s fellow SWAT team members did exactly the same thing. Sure enough, Extreme Makeover chose him and his family to appear on the show in July 2009. Both Traci and Beth were consulted to help create an in-home gym, and both appeared on the show.


“The most important thing I can do is teach someone — that’s the thing I like best about this job. It’s not just hands-on work. It’s about teaching patients to do more for themselves. It’s powerful to be able to teach someone to be more proactive and preventive.”

Is working in physical therapy a depressing career? “I’ve heard that a lot,” Traci says. “But to be honest, I think quite the opposite. I think my job couldn’t possibly be more rewarding on a daily basis. Not a day goes by that I’m not grateful to do what I do.”

The Last Word

“I love this job!”