A neurologic physical therapist for most of her career, professor-in-residence Jennifer Nash worked at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health prior to joining UNLV, loves competing in triathlons, and can’t get enough Necco wafers.
Prior to UNLV
I have been a physical therapist for 20 years. I graduated from Northern Arizona University in 1999 and have specialized in neurologic physical therapy since 2006. During the first half of my career, I worked at a level-one trauma hospital in Scottsdale, Arizona, which I loved. I was able to spend time all over the hospital before discovering my passion for treating those with neurologic conditions. Then I spent five years as the supervisor of the inpatient rehabilitation unit.
My husband and I moved to Las Vegas when he was relocated with his gaming-related job. Once here, I focused on neurologic and vestibular rehabilitation in an outpatient clinic. During the five years prior to coming to UNLV, I was the clinical rehabilitation manager of the neurorehabilitation department at Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health where we work with people who have neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and multiple sclerosis.
A daring adventure
During 2000, I celebrated my first work anniversary as a physical therapist and bought my first house, so I decided to add more excitement by signing up for an adventure race in Costa Rica. It was a fundraising event for United Cerebral Palsy and I had to raise $5,000 while training for four months to complete a 10-mile trail run, 15-mile off-road bike ride, and then a five-mile hike up the active volcano Mount Arenal. The experience was amazing. It was a grueling race, yet I was very happy that I finished well ahead of most of the participants. It also contained many adventures and firsts for me: flying in small propellor planes; riding on narrow roads through the treacherous mountainside in rickety, open-air buses (the ones with pet chickens in the overhead compartments); diving into the Pacific Ocean from Playa Flamingo; and playing with monkeys in Manuel Antonio National Park. Taking on this daring experience kick-started my love of triathlons, and introduced me to my future husband.
During my sophomore year in college, I wanted to become an interior designer. Then I took (and disliked) Interior Design 101. Fortunately, a class the following semester challenged me to interview two professionals in fields that interested me. That’s when I met Lori Biggers — physical therapist, wife, mom, and owner of a physical therapy practice. She helped me discover that I could be the mom I wanted to be and the professional I yearned to become. I was inspired by the work-life balance, the ability to help people, and the capacity to practice in a variety of settings.
Biggest career misconception
Historically, the biggest myth is that physical therapy means hot packs, ultrasound, and massage. Today, the misconception is that a physician must send you to physical therapy when you are having pain or difficulty with movement. I wish more people with pain, especially back pain, would go see a PT first and learn how to improve that pain without opioids or surgery.
Is this what you thought you’d do when you grew up?
No, and I am thankful to have learned about the profession when I did. I combined my love for fitness with the knowledge of movement, and can give people therapeutic options. Knowing I have the skill set that can help someone find the fun in life again after a life-changing injury or diagnosis is extremely gratifying.
Best tip for someone new to UNLV
Get connected. Find people outside of your department to help you. For me, OIT (office of information technology) and faculty development have given me friendship, knowledge, and resources that have supported me through my toughest times.
What drew you to UNLV?
I believe in UNLV and the physical therapy department’s mission and vision. The more experienced I become, the more I realize how crucial a solid mission and vision are for me. Now that I am here, I am proud to work for a state institution where students learn the skills needed without incurring an insurmountable debt. And the faculty I joined is diverse, passionate, and amazing. I am proud to be among them.
A breakthrough or discovery in your field you wish you had made
I wish I had discovered that aerobic exercise is beneficial for patients with neurodegenerative diseases and can stall the diseases’ progressions.
The world problem you would most like to fix
I would love to obliterate obesity. I feel it limits so many people from things they want and/or need to accomplish. It also increases the risks for serious diseases and often hinders rehabilitation and recovery.
A gear recommendation
I love to work out and my newest fascination is the ViPR. The ViPR bridges the gap between movement and strength training by introducing the body to task-oriented movement patterns with resistance. Loaded movement training patterns increase functional mobility and agility, and improve multi-directional stability, strength, and power. ViPR training also enhances balance, timing, and coordination, while increasing calorie burn during and after workouts. It’s available in weights ranging from 9 to 57 pounds.
If space tourism advances to the point where a trip to Mars and back were possible, would you go if the shortest round-trip ticket was three years?
Absolutely not. I would never choose to be away from any of my family for that long regardless of the lure of adventure.
A guilty pleasure
Necco wafers. Yes, that chalk-like candy. I love it. If I am stressed or need to focus, it does the trick every time. My favorite holiday is Valentine’s Day because every store has conversation hearts. I buy large bags of the big hearts. They are like five Necco wafers squished into one candy. YUM!