Air Force Veteran Helps Improve Outcomes at Jefferson’s Pro Bono Clinic

As a physical therapy student, Jonathan Adams helped underserved community members overcome language and care barriers.
Photo of Jonathan Adams
After leaving the military, Jonathan Adams attended Jefferson to earn his doctor of physical therapy degree. He graduated at age 40. “It’s never too late,” Adams says.

In honor of Veterans Day, we interviewed doctor of physical therapy alumnus Jonathan Adams. He served in the United States Air Force for 14 years, and while at the University, he developed a program to aid Jefferson’s Pro Bono Clinic, which provides care to Philly’s underserved community.

“The military taught me how to serve the country,” Adams says. “Jefferson taught me how to serve the individual.”

Describe a bit about your time in the military.
I was married at 19 years old to my wife, Charlene. I joined the United States Air Force in 2004 and “celebrated” my 22nd birthday while in basic training. My first duty station was Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, where I was an aircraft armament maintainer for F-15s. We had my daughter, Kinley, while we lived there.

Photo of Jonathan Adams in Uniform

Jonathan Adams served in the Air Force for 14 years.

After three years, we moved to Moody Air Force Base in Georgia, where I worked as a weapons loader for A-10s. At this point, I had earned my BS in professional aeronautics. I was encouraged by a prior enlisted officer to apply to become an officer. I was accepted in 2009, went through officer training school, earned my commission and then my family was transferred to Columbus, Miss., for pilot training. We found out two months into pilot training that my wife was pregnant with our son. He was born premature, which made this time additionally stressful for us. He pulled through and did well.

I graduated from pilot training in 2010, and we moved to Robins Air Force Base in Georgia, where I flew JSTARS for about four years. I wasn’t home a lot during this time and missed being a present husband and father. In 2014, I transferred to Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, where I flew MQ-9s until 2017. Some significant life events happened at this time, and I was offered the option to separate from the Air Force if that was best for my family. We chose to separate and pursue other things.

Why did you decide to enter the physical therapy program at Jefferson?
I initially didn’t pursue PT after leaving the military. I used my resume to find the highest-paying job I could find. I worked as a national program manager for an international logistics and technology company. In the middle of all my moving, I also earned an MS in health science. I loved exercise and considered becoming a personal trainer on the side. It just didn’t pay as well as I would have liked.

So, I found myself making a lot of money while sitting behind a desk with a phone glued to my ear at work and home. I loved to move and feel autonomous, and yet, I had chosen the exact opposite career path. Just like a relationship that ended: It wasn’t them; it was me.

Physical therapy student Putira Peter Siv working with a patient
At the Pro Bono Clinic, physical therapy students gain real-world skills while helping those in need. Most patients speak Spanish, Indonesian, French, Chinese, Korean or French Creole rather than English as their primary language. (Photo by ©Thomas Jefferson University Photography Services)

I contacted Veterans Affairs to see what services they provided for a career transition. I realized I needed to be in a field where I could help serve others and be passionate about my work. Physical therapy was a perfect fit. Since I was a kid, I had known about Jefferson hospitals and education as some of the best. I crossed my fingers and applied.

What was the best part of your time at Jefferson?
Hands down, the people. On day one, I met Jeff Sass, who became a great study partner, friend and now business partner with TheraXPro. I met professors like Dr. Stephanie Muth, who inspired my passion for learning and discovery. In her class, I leaned over to Jeff and said, “What do you think it would look like for us to build better tools for PTs?”

Photo of Jonathan Adams in plane

Jonathan Adams left the military in 2017. He started at Jefferson shortly after.

The Pro Bono Clinic was a favorite experience. It was intimidating and challenging to begin the process of helping people who didn’t have many community resources. It allowed me to serve others in a different way than my previous experiences, yet it was still extremely fulfilling.

What were some of the issues you discovered at the Pro Bono Clinic, and how did you solve them?
The most prominent barrier Jeff and I found was language. Handing the patient unclear black-and-white pictures compounded this issue. I remember thinking, “How can I expect someone to adhere to a home exercise program when we give it to them in a language they don’t understand and pictures they can’t decipher?”

The other issue was outcome measures. Most outcome measures are handed to the patient as a piece of paper in English. So, now we don’t have an accurate evidence-based representation of the patient’s quality of life and functional impairments. A road map is useless if you don’t know where you are. Don’t get me wrong. I worked with phenomenal clinicians who did a great job with the tools they had. It just felt like they had to do that job with one arm tied behind their back.

Jeff and I brainstormed ideas on how to solve the barriers we observed. Long story short, we realized we needed a team with skill sets that we didn’t have: software development, creative design, video and photography. Our team now consists of seven people, including four DPTs (three graduated from Jefferson: me, Jeff Sass and Grayling Harrison), two software architects and one electrical engineer.

Photo of Jonathan Adams with his children

Jonathan Adams, pictured here with his two children, went to Jefferson for physical therapy to be in a field where he could help serve others and be passionate about his work.

How did this work evolve into TheraXPro, and how does this website improve outcomes?
The first issue we tackled was cost. Pro Bono Clinics obviously don’t turn a profit, and the likelihood of them paying for an additional product seemed unlikely even if it provided more options. We had to make everything on TheraXPro free to the clinician and patient.

The next step was to find out what clinicians wanted. We sent out surveys and contacted hundreds of clinicians through social media, email and Zoom. We discovered that most clinicians don’t prescribe more than a few dozen varieties of exercises.

We then built a list of the top 120 exercises prescribed. We filmed and created the videos (mostly in my garage), wrote the descriptions, and built an email delivery service with a patient portal option so patients could view their home exercise program in HD on their phone. Next, we hooked up Google language translation services so all exercise programs could be prescribed in the patient’s primary language.

We officially launched the home exercise portion of TheraXPro for public use in December 2021. Since then, we have used the same approach of asking clinicians what barriers they face in the clinic and then pursuing viable solutions.

The best ideas often don’t come from our team. They come from talking with others and actively listening to their barriers. Most people have solutions; they just lack a creation and delivery mechanism. TheraXPro provides that.

Currently, TheraXPro features home exercise program creation; education content, including special tests, surgical protocols and general knowledge required for therapists; visual tools (pain and exertion scales); and outcome measures that all can be translated. Most recently, we added the ability to prescribe specific equipment (for example, a foam roller, weights and an ankle brace) to a person’s home exercise program. In another few weeks, patients can receive their program by text.

Photo of Jonathan Adams

With other Jefferson alumni, Jonathan Adams created TheraXPro to improve outcomes at the Pro Bono Clinic.

How has a Jefferson degree prepared you for your career?
In the book “Good to Great,” Jim Collins talks about getting the right people on the bus. It doesn’t matter where the bus is going. If you have the right people on the bus, they will figure it out. Jefferson has a phenomenal collection of instructors who pour into their students. I believe you can learn information just about anywhere, but the passionate application of that knowledge is a special skill set. I observed a team of people who truly love being physical therapists and used their skills to teach and help others.

What are you doing now?
I work at the Cantrell Center, an outpatient physical therapy clinic in Warner Robins, Ga. I also continue to create, develop and improve on TheraXPro with my team.

What’s something people would be surprised to find out about you?
I graduated DPT school at 40 years old. It’s never too late.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give our current students?
When you see a barrier, find a way to move it while everyone else complains about it. People notice.

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