Growing up, Conway’s Julie Shock always knew she wanted to work in the medical field when she was older.

That part was never a question but what was unclear was the discipline she wanted to pursue.

The 43-year-old recalled a day back in high school that truly set her on the path to what she does now as a physical therapist within the Conway Regional Health System.

Shock said her anatomy class welcomed two PT specialists as guest speakers, an area she knew nothing about. Through them, she realized it sounded like an “amazing job,” making the decision then that was what she was going to do.

“I don’t know who those guys were and they probably don’t know how what they said up there that day impacted me,” she told the Log Cabin Democrat. “They were the first ones.”

Shock is originally from Springfield, Illinois, her mother an employee at the hospital in town. She said her mother got her in touch with a therapist there who allowed Shock to shadow her all throughout college, another integral addition to Shock’s career choice. That therapist also got Shock her first job in Illinois.

“That was just a huge relationship that just built through the course of about six years what I knew I wanted to look like as a therapist,” she said.

Shock followed said therapist during her last clinical – her first was in Arkansas, then Dallas, then back home – who was a stroke team leader in a rehabilitation unit, which also got the neurological patient “ball rolling” in her head.

“Over the course of time, that was just a type of patient that I really liked to work with,” she said. “I think of it like a puzzle. There’s so many little pieces that these folks are giving you and you’re trying to help them put it back together again. It may not necessarily look like what it’s going to look like on the box, but trying to figure that out, I liked that challenge of it.”

When a position opened in Conway, Shock jumped at it. That was 19 years ago.

In the past 16 years, the physical therapist has served as the supervisor at the therapy center in the fitness center.

Shock said that in that time, the clinic has changed, going from only offering physical therapy to adding occupational and speech therapy as well.

“The type of diagnoses and patients we see has changed,” she said.

Where it used to be focused more toward orthopedics, Shock said they see a lot of neurological patients now as well.

In a given week, Shock can have between 20-30 patients who come a couple days a week. Of that around 30% of that are Multiple Sclerosis – an unpredictable disease which affects a patient’s central nervous system disrupting flow of information from brain to body – and neuro patients.

Seven years ago, her and a patient with MS began talking, noticing a need for patients to have a place to come for support, so, together, they started the self-help group, which currently meets the first Tuesday of every month – they take off during the summer but will pick back up at 6 p.m. on Sept. 3 – in the center’s waiting room to chat, ask and answer questions and hear from guest speakers.

She said the group is open to both people with MS, their caregivers and others interested – they can call the clinic to see who the speaker is if interested or for more information at 501-327-9944.

“We’ve had everything from exercise and balance to disability determination to how to make a will to hula-hooping,” Shock said, laughing. “[It] really just depends on what they’re interested in.”

She also mentioned a closed Facebook group they started so those who can’t attend can still be active.

“Through that, we’ve just kept a really strong relationship with the MS society,” Shock said.

Over the years, the center has put on MS walks and helped with other events.

Danielle Morrison is the head of programming with the National MS Society. Shock said she Morrison approached her and asked what she thought about becoming a partner in MS Care and while she had no idea what that entailed, was still eager to hear.

“So, basically, it just designates people in a whole variety of medical facilities whether it be therapy, whether it be physicians, whether it be mental health workers, all of that, who have a little bit more training in treating people that are living with MS, have a little bit more specialization,” she said.

Shock went through a six-month process reporting the types of education she has done, how many MS and neuro patients she works with and more information about her work.

Conway Regional announced that the physical therapist had officially been recognized as a Rehabilitation Partner in MS Care through the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s Partners in MS Care Program on July 10, the only physical therapist in the state to hold the designation.

“It’s super humbling,” Shock said.

She said she had to speak at an event recently, joined by two physicians, one from University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, the other from Arkansas Children’s Hospital. Both also hold the honor.

“These folks are experts,” Shock said. “It is incredibly humbling to be in that same designation with them, but, its also super energizing too because, just to hear them speak and how fortunate we are to be in this part of the state with this type of care available, is amazing.”

Through the National MS Society’s South Central Division, the formal recognition honors the health system’s “commitment to providing exceptional, coordinated MS care,” and a continuing partnership with the society to address the challenges of those affected by MS, according to the hospital system.

“The Society’s Partners in MS Care program recognizes committed providers, like Shock, whose practices support its initiative of affordable access to high quality MS healthcare for everyone living with MS, regardless of geography, disease progression, and other disparities,” hospital officials said.

Shock said she does that through focusing on each patient’s individual needs, taking a detailed history, looking at their current state and where they want to go, and trying to get them back to that baseline where they started.

“What I hope is … people who are living with MS … know that they can come here and that they are going to be heard and that they are going to know that they’re not going to be treated ... just like anyone would treat them somewhere else [and] that we have enough of a knowledge base we can say, ‘this is what we know we need to do for you to help you,’” she said. “Level of disability and quality of life, those are probably the two biggest things that PT can help keep on the higher end so that they’re not declining as fast.”

After nearly two decades in this profession, Shock’s love for physical therapy hasn’t changed, only evolved.

“I think it’s a love for people and hearing their stories,” she said. “I don’t think I fully realized that when I was a new grad coming out, how much someone won’t tell you because they don’t think it’s important, that comes out just in getting to know them.”

Shock said as therapists they’re blessed to build relationships where physicians, who only see their patients for a few minutes every six months or so, can’t.

“I get to know these people, get to know their families and find out what is truly important and what is missing that I can help them with,” she said.

Over the years, Shock said that passion has only grown. Through her career, she said, she’s learned how to speak to a variety of different people, figured out how to get her point across but also how to advocate for this demographic.

“So many people who come through our door don’t have anybody,” she said.

Shock said she has come to realize how many people need that and how physical therapy can be a part of the start to that.