Teaching the language of medicine

Olympia High school: Greg Creighton’s students benefit from his career change, years of experience

lpemberton@theolympian.comNovember 19, 2012 

It’s not often that a teacher gets to design his or her own job.

But that’s basically what Greg Creighton was able to do with Olympia High School’s sports medicine program.

Creighton, 59, of Olympia, worked as a physical therapist for several years before pursuing a teaching career. He recently talked to The Olympian about himself and his school’s popular Career and Technical Education program. Here are excerpts of the conversation.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I graduated from Olympia High School in 1971. I’m married to Laurie Creighton. She just retired from Olympia High but still coaches (volleyball). I didn’t start out to be a teacher. I started out to be a physical therapist. I went to Washington State University for four years for a degree in physical education and pre-physical therapy, and I went to the University of Washington for two years for my degree in physical therapy.

I worked as a rehabilitation therapist at Good Samaritan Hospital (in Puyallup), then a pediatric therapist. I got a job with the Olympia School District in the late 1970-early 1980s as a school physical therapist.

After about six years as a school physical therapist, I was – for a short time – the director of Parent-Educator Pre School Intervention program, the developmental preschool. At that time, I was simultaneously getting my teaching credential at The Evergreen State College and the University of Puget Sound.

Working in pediatrics can be slow, and progress is not forthcoming. I went by the high school and asked if they needed anyone to teach anatomy. I got my teaching credential and developed the two classes that I teach.

What is sports medicine? What types of classes does it cover?

Basically, it’s kind of an introduction to health sciences. We do a lot of medical terminology. It doesn’t matter where kids might want to go in medicine; this is a pretty foundational class.

They learn the language of medicine, and what physicians would use and how to navigate around the body. We look at the most-injured parts of the body – ankles, knees and shoulders. We look at how those injuries occur and how they might be treated.

The kids learn how to tape and wrap ankles, arches, Achilles and wrists.

I also have the kids job-shadow health care professionals. We have an athletic trainer at our school that they can work with, too.

What makes Olympia High School’s sports medicine program unique?

There are some really good programs out there. I think ours is unique because of how it came about and the skill sets that are involved in it.

Since I’m a physical therapist who came into teaching, I come into it one way. We also have an athletic trainer, Taelar Shelton, who graduated from my class and is a 2008 Olympia High graduate.

How has the program changed over the years?

The program started in 1998, and it is has morphed basically with more resources.

When we first started out we didn’t have an athletic trainer, so a lot of it was more academic. Until we got an athletic trainer, some of the practical side of it wasn’t able to be developed.

I would be remiss if I did not recognize our former athletic trainer Diana Roberts, who was instrumental in launching the program to the next level. Without her help, the program would not be what it is today.

We’ve articulated with South Puget Sound Community College, so the kids can get technical credits for the program. We also have built partnerships with Dr. William Peterson, an orthopedic physician, Dr. Gregory Bell, a neurologist, and Dr. Garry Myers, a dental trauma specialist. All of those guys are great resources to us. We’ve gone in a positive direction every year and we’ve grown a little bit. And were still growing.

How many kids are in the program?

I have five classes. The morning class is human biology, which we do an overview of the body; we go broadly and maybe not as deeply, and we go through all the systems of the body.

I teach three sports medicine classes in the afternoon and there are about 75 kids in those classes. We have about 12 advanced (second-year) kids embedded in those programs.

Have you ever had students go into the field?

I have had kids that are chiropractors. I have kids that have gone on to be physical therapists, athletic trainers, nurses and physicians. I just had a gal come back and visit me who’s an OB-GYN in New York. Some of my former students have gone on to be physical educators and coaches.

What do you enjoy about teaching?

I enjoy watching kids master things, especially in taping, it looks easy when someone else is doing it, but when you start to do it, sometimes it’s not easy for kids.

Sometimes it’s the first time something’s been hard for them. But to watch them gain the skills and be really proud? I really like that. What’s nice is that kids come back and they’re taking anatomy (in college) and they’ll say, “We were really prepared for our classes.”

What do you do to keep your physical therapy skills up?

I fill in as a physical therapist for Providence Tumwater Valley Physical Therapy in the summer. I’m not ready to lose my physical therapy hat yet. That’s probably something I will do after I get out of education.

When I’m teaching the class, I’m talking about stuff I still do. I have experiences to share with the kids that are practical. And two, it’s about trying to keep my fingers in the physical therapy world. … I still take physical therapy classes to keep my credential current, and I try to pick things that are pertinent in my sports medicine classes.

What do you enjoy about working in physical therapy?

People come to physical therapy, and they want to get better. It’s very gratifying when you can help them get better.

Is there anything else you want to add?

I’ve appreciated the opportunities I’ve had at Olympia High School and Providence to work with some great people. I don’t think I’d work anywhere else.

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433 lpemberton@theolympian.com theolympian.com/edblog @Lisa_Pemberton

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