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Staff Spotlight: Elizabeth Nixon, DPT, NCS

Friday, October 25, 2019

As a high school student, Elizabeth Nixon suffered an injury that kept her from her beloved ballet--until a physical therapist was able to help her recover in time for a big performance. The help Nixon received inspired her to become a physical therapist herself. Now, she works with patients with Parkinson’s and other movement disorders to improve their walking, physical activity, risk for falls and more. In this week’s “Spotlight’ interview, Nixon talks to us about helping patients in and out of the water, how physical therapy can help patients with movement disorders, and traveling and enjoying time with friends outside of Duke.

This interview appears as part of the December 2019 issue of Move More!, the quarterly newsletter from the Duke Movement Disorders Clinic. Read that issue here.

How long have you been at Duke? How long have you been with Movement Disorders Clinic?
I’ve been working at Duke since early 2017. I’ve been seeing patients with neurologic impairments and movement disorders that entire time but just joined the Movement Disorders Clinic when the Benchmark visits (weekly interdisciplinary clinics for existing patients) started in July.

Would you briefly describe your responsibilities? What does your average work day look like?
I evaluate and treat adult patients with neurologic impairments at Lenox Baker and the Morreene Rd clinics. Every day is different which is what I love. I see patients in clinic on “land” and also in the pool at Lenox Baker for aquatic therapy. I see patients at Duke’s metabolic clinic on Mondays and then on Thursdays I see patients with Parkinson’s Disease at the Benchmark clinic visits. 

How did you decide to become a physical therapist?
I grew up doing ballet regularly and had a bad injury my senior year. I could walk okay but wasn’t able to dance en pointe. I went to one health care provider that told me to just stop dancing. I didn’t want to take that as an option so I found a PT (that worked at Duke actually!) who didn’t know a lot about dance but she knew a lot about rehab. 

She helped find exercises that actually used my pointe shoes to help me rehab and return to doing what I loved, just in time for a big performance. I decided that I wanted to become a PT to help people be as active as possible and do the things they love. 

What kinds of patients do you see most often? What kinds of benefits can physical therapy offer to patients with movement disorders?
I see a wide variety of patients but patients with movement disorders and specifically Parkinson’s disease are my favorite. Physical therapy can make a huge impact on improving movement and gait, decreasing falls, strategies for minimizing freezing, helping to identify ways to increase physical activity, and so much more!

What do you enjoy most about your work?
I love meeting my patients and hearing their stories. Most of the time I wish I had more time to just sit and listen to all the cool things patients have been through or experienced in their life. In addition, helping people become more active and independent is always really rewarding.

What’s the hardest part of your job?
Honestly, the documentation. Not hard in itself but the worst part by far. I wish I could just spend all my time with patients without having to type away.

What passions or hobbies do you have outside of the Department?
I love to travel and I’m always looking for recommendations of places to add to my bucket list. Watching college basketball, reading, spending time with friends, and exploring new places in Durham are up there as well!

Nixon Queenstown

Nixon poses during a recent trip to New Zealand.