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A Letter to My Younger Self, by Nicole Sullivan

Hi, I’m Nicole Sullivan. I’m a Physiotherapist and the proud co-owner of [mend]physio in Toronto. I have
always had a passion for movement. I grew up in the East end of Toronto tobogganing down the hills of Riverdale Park and spent a lot of my time riding subway trains to soccer fields and volleyball practices. I have always had the desire to create, learn, and motivate those around me. This led me to the University of British Columbia where I studied Human Kinetics, Exercise Science, and Sports Medicine at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. I eventually made my way to McMaster University to obtain my MSc in Physiotherapy, and I feel so lucky each day to love what I do for a living.

The connections between the many complex systems of the body have always amazed me. I am thankful to have studied with many teachers, in a variety of settings, but learn the most from my patients and their stories. I use an integrated and individualized approach to organize and apply a variety of assessment and treatment techniques to each of my patients, but in the end, it always comes back to movement.

I have certifications in Strength and Conditioning (NSCA-CSCS), Manual and Manipulative Physiotherapy
(FCAMPT), as well as Dry needling and Acupuncture, but have taken many courses that have spanned various elements of treating the whole person. I am a lifelong learner and love taking complex ideas and breaking them into more simplified terms for easy consumption. This has to lead me back to assisting with teachers such as Diane Lee in her Clinical Mentorship of the Integrated Systems Model as well as mentoring students and assisting on courses with the Orthopedic Division of the CPA.

Outside of the clinic, I am also the Physiotherapist for our Canadian National Beach Volleyball Team, and most recently had the privilege of traveling to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. I enjoy traveling, running, and endlessly wandering the neighborhoods of Toronto with my amazing husband Jamie.

I want to thank Maggie for giving me a chance to reflect on the time that has passed since graduating from Physiotherapy school. When asked if I could answer the question: “if you could fill a time capsule and send it back to yourself at the moment of graduation from PT school, what would you include?” I was inspired by the players’ tribune articles in which athletes write letters to their younger selves. So here it is, a letter to my younger, freshly graduated, Physiotherapist-self!

Dear newly-graduated Nicole,

Tomorrow you start your first day as a Physiotherapist. You have been in school and working multiple part-time jobs for almost a decade, but for the first time in your life, you aren’t quite sure what to expect. Despite being a resident many times over the past two years in various clinics, hospitals, and even in India, you realize that every one of those places was so different from what you are about to do. What you do know is that you care a lot, talk a lot, that you have always worked very hard, and that you can take the worst of situations and somehow make it work. You are stubborn, don’t say no very well, and sometimes overstretch to make sure others’ needs are met. Don’t worry though, you will continue to remember who you are even when others try to tell you to “take it easy”, to “let others to do the work”, and to “put yourself first”. You read a lot, think too much, and worry about what is coming, but you find that your strengths and weaknesses aren’t so absolute and that both will help you to get to where you need to be. Here are a few things that I want to let you know.


You will study more than when you were in school

 You will become a ravenous consumer of numerous books on business, you’ll become a fan of Brene Brown, and anatomy will continue to be an evolving passion of yours. You will learn how to code and use Adobe online, listen to podcasts, and follow clinicians, scientists, and business people on Twitter to see what they are doing and reading. It’s endless, it’s gratifying, and it’s a lot of hustle, but you will still feel comfortable knowing that there is so much out there to learn, critique, try, and fail before ever getting to any form of an answer.

A mentor is so important.

This is something that you didn’t know would affect you so profoundly. You have always been self-sufficient, tough, and unwilling to quit. Having someone believe in you and inspire you, while questioning your goals and future plans will change you. Receiving constructive criticism, learning to be vulnerable, sharing your fears and failures, along with your successes and aspirations with someone who then shares the same with you, is what drives you to let go, trust your gut, and be better every day.

Don’t throw away your paper planner!

As things become increasingly tech-focused, you will miss the daily ritual of reflecting on your day, using your penmanship skills, and planning for the next big or small thing. Using your phone for everything has you feeling like your memory isn’t quite what it used to be. Priorities start to blend into one big task, too many things are happening all at once. You are a visual learner, so seeing the weeks, months, and the year helps you to plan for what’s ahead. Sketching, checking things off of your to-do lists, and reserving days specifically for hobbies, family, and friends are all things that will help to keep you balanced when there are a million things on the go. Keep that Hobonichi planner!!!

The way that you speak to people really does matter.

What they don’t teach you in school is what you say, and how you say it, can really transform what happens with your patients and everyone around you. Your practice will benefit greatly from reading countless books on the neurosciences, psychology, motivational interviewing, emotional intelligence, and communication. Your patients will tell you that they appreciate feeling like they are part of the solution. You learn the difference between empathy and sympathy and often reflect on a paper that you wrote on the “Art and Science of Physiotherapy” while in school. You realize that, in the end, educating people about their bodies, in a way that they can identify with and understand, is what gives them the tools to create change, and that’s what feels right to you.

Be willing to take risks

 It’s going to be really hard to believe in yourself when you first leave school. With each job that you take there will be so much to learn, you will figure out what you like, what you love, and what you don’t like so much. You will uncomfortable with not liking things, it will be hard for you, but everyone has different goals, beliefs, and needs as it relates to their work life. You will have to ask yourself some hard questions and be willing to make a change when things aren’t feeling quite right. I know it’s risky because of your student loans, your new mortgage, and the uncertainty of the future, but you may find that it’s a risk worth taking if it means being true to yourself. Realize that you have earned this opportunity to take a risk, by working hard, being open to failures and success alike, and by taking in all of the advice and support from those around you who also believe in you.

So in the end just remember to stay true to yourself. Surround yourself with a group of people that you enjoy working with, that challenge you, inspired you each day. Continue to work too hard, care too much, do too many things, and worry. It’s ok, that’s just who you are.

Can’t wait for you to see what’s ahead,



Nicole Sullivan Owner, Co-Director & Registered Physiotherapist at [mend]physio + Therapy Lead at Volleyball Canada Beach National Team

Physiotherapist, strength and conditioning specialist, a lead therapist with Volleyball Canada’s Beach National Team, and co-founder of [mend]physio. An avid learner, she has studied and taught with many teachers in a variety of settings but continues to learn the most from her patients and their stories. She uses an individualized, evidence-informed approach in clinical practice and is passionate about patient empowerment, simplifying complex concepts, and understanding the barriers to knowledge translation in physiotherapy education and practice.

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