Faculty Interview

Dan Malone


Dan Malone, PT, PhD, CCS is a core faculty member at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. He teaches Medical Conditions. In addition, Dan works as a clinician at the University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora, CO.

Where are you from?

I was born and raised in the Philadelphia area. I left Philadelphia for a short period of time and lived outside of D.C. as a child.  All that I remember from that time is that we had an in ground pool and nobody is more popular than the in ground pool kid.

Where did you go to Undergrad?

I received my undergraduate degree in Exercise Science and Athletic Training at the University of Pittsburgh.

What are your hobbies?

I’m a sports nut, I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve with sports—I’m a Philadelphia guy. You can take the boy out of Philadelphia, but you can’t take Philly out of the boy. Philadelphia Eagles, Flyers, 76’ers, Phillies, they’re all my teams (as ESPN App notifications ding in the background). I will go and watch the Rockies and I was happy the Bronco’s won the Super Bowl, but if they were playing the Phils or Eagles I would’ve wished the Denver teams lost 66 to nothing!

I’m also a civil war buff. I came to that later in my life, but I think American History is really cool. The only history class I ever took was my last year in undergrad about the history of medicine (Magic, Medicine & Science), which was very cool but otherwise I never really studied history. I think the Civil War era is a fascinating time in our history, and as much upheaval as we’ve seen with our recent election, thinking back to the 1850’s-1860’s and how the country was divided then and we overcame that, I’m still very optimistic and hopeful.

I also love hiking and I bike a little bit; I like the Breckenridge area in the summertime. I’d love to be a regular skier, but I don’t know if my schedule would allow it.

I also play the guitar very poorly. I try to tinker around and I took lessons as a way to relax when I was getting my PhD. I can’t sing—I couldn’t carry a tune if you strapped it to my back; I have one note and it’s flat. But I’m a huge music guy and I’ve always got music playing in my office. I love rock and roll and the blues.

Do you have a favorite place to eat in the Denver area?

Not yet, I’m still exploring. My wife and I rarely go back to the same place twice because we’re always trying something new. Denver has a really good food scene, but we don’t have a favorite yet. I’m a huge fan of microbrews, and I loved gastropubs in Philadelphia—I really wish they had more places in Denver with both really good beer and really good food (not a food truck).

Do you have a favorite quote and if so what?

The best way to predict the future is to create it.  (A. Lincoln)

We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give (W. Churchill)

If you had to recommend one book to read what would it be?

A Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin. It’s basically the history of Abraham Lincoln and how he got the candidacy as the first Republican presidential candidate and formed his cabinet. There were three other rivals for the presidential candidacy (E. Bates; S Chase; W Seward) and each of the other guys were well known and well respected. People made fun of Lincoln as the “prairie lawyer” – essentially a country bumpkin.  He was not the first choice as a candidate by anybody, but he positioned himself to the second choice of everybody. None of the rivals could get enough votes to become the candidate. Eventually voters came to the second choice, which was Lincoln, showing how politically savvy he truly was. His rivals held him in little esteem, calling him the ape in the white house because he was a tall gangly guy, but Lincoln had each of those three rivals as part of his cabinet. Over the course of years, Lincoln’s brilliance of learning to put the goal ahead of personal bias led each of his former rivals to respect and admire him. The idea of being able to put the goal ahead of individual desire and bringing together a team of individuals who don’t necessarily get along, but are the best and the brightest for the better part of a goal is pretty impressive.

Where did you go to Physical Therapy school?

Temple University. It is also where I received my PhD in Physiology.

What made you interested in PT?

I was in 8th grade playing football, which was really funny because I was probably 85 pounds soaking wet. I played wide receiver and I tore my ACL, but no one knew it at the time. I remember jumping up and coming down and my right knee hyperextended and then it blew up. I went to my PCP and they gave me crutches and then eventually the swelling went down and I got better after some time. During the basketball season I remember going up for a lay-up and coming down on my right leg and it shifted on me, causing me to fall. My knee swelled up again and I got put back on crutches. I spent probably 3-4 months of that year on crutches. It wasn’t till high school that I was referred to an orthopod. It took him maybe 2 minutes to figure out I tore my ACL by doing a Lachman’s or anterior drawer test. I had surgery on it where they trimmed up the edges of my ACL and meniscus. They didn’t do an ACL repair on me because I was still growing and didn’t want to disturb the growth plates. I’m still hoping for that growth spurt!  At the physician’s office a physical therapist there gave me some exercises to do. That physical therapist sparked my interest in physical therapy as I went through rehab.

What was your first PT job out of school?

My first PT job was at the Hospital at University of Pennsylvania (HUP). Initially I planned on working there for 3 years, but ended up staying for 20 years. During PT school I was totally sport’s oriented, with the goal of becoming the head PT for the Philadelphia Phillies. Like I mentioned earlier my undergraduate degree was in exercise science and athletic training, and that’s why I wanted to go to PT school. My final clinical affiliation was at Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital, a major rehabilitation center for TBI and stroke. This clinical experience steered me towards neuro and was a setting that I liked. Before working in the rehab setting, I wanted to see acute neuro trauma and this led me to work for HUP since they were a level 1-trauma center.

What is some advice you would give to new graduates in finding a job?

I would say keep your options open. Many students often come into the program with a designated career path in mind. If I think of myself as an example, I came in as an orthopedic sports guy, I finished out my clinical as a neuro rehab trauma guy, and I ended up as a cardiopulmonary guy. Before I even got to become involved in cardiopulmonary physical therapy, I was a generalist in the acute care setting.  I think the profession needs “generalists”. I think the “generalist” PT is often viewed as “unsexy” but this clinician has to possess an incredible breadth and depth of knowledge to be successful.  I think that is totally admirable.  On the other side of the coin, if you know what you want to do then follow your calling, but if you’re waffling and aren’t sure, there is a lot of benefit in being a generalist. Secondly, with regards to clinical development, I would say be a sponge. Not just with your physical therapy mentors, but with other professionals as well.  Many of my mentors were nurses, pharmacists, respiratory therapists and physicians.

What made your pursue getting your PhD in Physiology?

I was a late bloomer to getting my PhD; I didn’t start the program until after a decade of working as a physical therapist. I think my interest in pursuing a PhD was based off what I did clinically for a living.  I was the primary physical therapist in the medical ICU and cardiac ICU and I really wanted to understand in particular why these patient’s hearts and lungs were failing and my physical therapy education didn’t adequately prepare me for that. Also, part of it was that I really wanted to better myself and understand the medicine and science behind cardiac and pulmonary pathology, since much of medical treatment is based off of that physiology.

How has your PhD contributed to your career as a physical therapist?

My degree is in physiology with an emphasis in pulmonary physiology. When I was getting my PhD, I would have full semester courses on the physiology of all major systems, and that really helped me understand all of the organ systems of the body. In clinic, you see patients with comorbidities, and if you have a deeper understanding of normal physiology it will help you understand pathology and medical management to a greater extent.

What made you want to get your Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Clinical Specialization?

I was the lead therapist for the cardiothoracic team at HUP and gained so much clinical and medical research knowledge. After about 5 years of working at the hospital I was introduced to a physical therapist who was a cardiopulmonary specialist and put that bug in my ear.  I didn’t know much about specialization at the time. Specialization was still developing in 1998, and there still aren’t too many CCS certified therapists now. I wanted to affirm what I already knew about cardiopulmonary practice and the preparation for the exam was really helpful in my job because it helped me dive deeper into areas I wasn’t as familiar with. Afterwards, once I had my CCS I started getting opportunities to teach courses and assist with labs at regional PT programs, as well as step into a mentor position at my job.  The CCS also facilitated a promotion up the clinical ladder at HUP.

Since you had such an established career and loved Philadelphia so much, what brought you to Colorado?

Even before I finished my PhD, I was looking for faculty positions where I could teach Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation. My wife and I decided we liked certain parts of the country, Colorado included. I had never been to Colorado, but thought it would be a cool place to live. The job opening at the University of Colorado was for someone with a Cardiopulmonary background to be in charge of the medical conditions track courses, as well as participate in an ICU rehabilitation study.  So coming here married my clinical and research interests with what I wanted to teach – a perfect fit.

Where do you see PT going in the future?

Hopefully, upward and upward. I certainly hope that physical therapists are in the conversation of who is necessary for patient care. When we think of what a big push there is to keep people out of the hospital and prevent readmissions, and we know functional status is a huge part of that, who else is better than physical therapists? I think we have the background and knowledge base to put together the pieces to improve and optimize patient outcomes. I think we’ve started that conversation, but I don’t know if we are a regular part of it yet.

The advocacy piece is really huge. Legislators and payors don’t always think of physical therapists. We need to be a part of the first line of healthcare. Educating our patients on what we do will help them be our greatest public relations resource, and then we have to go up to our physician and nursing colleagues, and to local and federal legislators to really advocate for our profession.

Interview done by: Courtney Zwetsch and Victoria Borbas