Photo by Sarah Walor
Much like an orthopedic physical therapist, Ann Dunbar uses exercises to treat her patients. She helps her patients strengthen muscles and work on body mechanics, and she teaches them about posture. But as a pelvic floor physical therapist, she deals with a much more intimate part of the body, and some of the female patients she treats are coping with traumatic experiences such as a painful child birth, sexual abuse or delicate issues such as their bladder, uterus or rectum slipping out of place.
"As a woman, I can identify with the child-bearing years and the struggles that it can bring," Dunbar says. "I really appreciate working with someone in the most intimate areas of their lives, and how we can bring about big change by working together. And that applies for pain and also the impact incontinence can have on someone's life."
Working with several physicians, Dunbar started a pelvic floor program at VCU Medical Center in 1998 and works with patients who have urinary and fecal incontinence, as well as patients who experience pain from lumbar spine problems, intercourse, operations and pregnancy, as well as gastrointestinal issues.
"She is a huge asset to us who work in the VCUHS and is a tremendous referral source for practitioners in the community," Dr. John Pierce, who refers many of his OB-GYN patients to Dunbar, wrote in suggesting her for recognition. "[She is a] superb pelvic physical therapist who specializes in a needed area and possesses expertise, knowledge, diagnostic skills, patient management and planning."
Dr. Susan Wolver, a general internist at VCU, adds that Dunbar assists women in regaining their dignity, noting, "She has helped every single patient I have ever sent her."
On top of her job as a full-time clinician, Dunbar teaches a women's health course at the physical therapy school to entry-level students. She started the program in 1988 and has taught the class every year since.
"I think a big part of what I do is educate women, and the opportunity to empower women with knowledge so that they can become their own problem solvers and they can create wellness," says Dunbar.