June 21, 2022

Jennifer Emery is used to celebrating patients’ successes in physical therapy. This time, she’s the one being celebrated as a Credo Award winner.

“It’s such an honor. You work hard every single day and live by the Credo behaviors — to be recognized for that feels really good.”

Credo Award Winner Jennifer Emery poses for a photo on April 7, 2022. Photos by Donn Jones/Vanderbilt University Medical Center

Jennifer Emery. Photo by Donn Jones.

Jennifer Emery, DPT, was listening to her manager discuss Credo behaviors at a routine team meeting when her photo popped up on the screen. Robert Horn, MBA, DPT, told the group that Emery would be receiving a Credo Award at the May 2022 virtual Leadership Assembly.

“I was at a loss for words, thinking, did I hear that correctly?” Emery said. “It’s such an honor. You work hard every single day and live by the Credo behaviors — to be recognized for that feels really good.”

Emery is a physical therapist and clinical coordinator at Vanderbilt Orthopaedics Rehabilitation Therapy.

She got her start in physical therapy early in life by helping take care of her mother who suffered from spinal orthopaedic issues.

“My mom always told me that I would be a physical therapist, where I always thought I’d be a pediatrician,” Emery said. “I guess moms really do know all.”

During college at Georgia State University, Emery taught water aerobics and helped people with injuries modify their practices. She also volunteered at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, which specializes in rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injuries.

“That was the thing that really pushed me into physical therapy,” she said.

After earning her Master of Occupational Therapy and Doctor of Physical Therapy degrees at University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences in Florida, Emery practiced in Los Angeles for five years as a physical therapist and clinical director. She joined the spine team at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in December 2011.

During her first years at Vanderbilt, the clinic began getting an increased number of referrals for pelvic health physical therapy, and Emery enthusiastically agreed to attend courses and specialize in this challenging area. At the time, she was one of very few pelvic floor therapists in the area.

“Pelvic floor rehab as a specialty has grown so much,” she said. “People are now talking about it more via social media including TikTok and Instagram.”

The pelvic floor muscles are important for bowel, bladder and sexual functioning.

“We do sensitive exams and ask sensitive questions of our patients,” Emery said. She most enjoys building relationships with her patients and celebrating their successes, for example when they gain bladder or bowel continence.

“Jenn actively listens and helps her highly complex patient population cope with a number of impairments, sometimes of a very traumatic episode,” one of her Credo nominators wrote. “She treats each patient that she sees like a member of her own family, which allows her to build a strong bond with her patients.”

The nominator also noted that Emery has “worked tirelessly on improving patient-facing marketing material … to ensure that those that can benefit from pelvic health physical therapy are aware that we can provide services that will help them.”

In addition to her patient care role, Emery serves as a clinical coordinator, acting as a liaison between staff and management. She helps update schedules when clinicians call out, runs continuous quality improvement projects, keeps up with the latest research to update protocols and clinical practice guidelines, and coordinates clinical experiences for physical and occupational therapy students. It’s almost as if she has two different full-time jobs.

“Her work ethic is unmatched,” wrote another nominator. “She is a team-first clinician that supports her colleagues in more ways than they can imagine.”

Emery said that her colleagues “make it really easy to come to work every day and do the jobs that we do. They should get as much credit as I am.”

If you are a VUMC employee, you can nominate a colleague for an Elevate Credo Award, Five Pillar Leader Award, or Team Award. Visit the Elevate website to fill out a nomination form. Employees demonstrate credo behaviors when: they make those they serve the highest priority; respect privacy and confidentiality; communicate effectively; conduct themselves professionally; have a sense of ownership; and are committed to their colleagues. Elevate award nominations are accepted year-round. If a nomination is received after the cut off for an award selection period, the nomination will be considered for the next period. VUMC VOICE will post stories on each of the award winners in the weeks following their announcement.