By Dr. Liam Johnston, DC
In my close family, I am undoubtedly the outlier in terms of career paths. Being the only member of my family in health care, I am often asked why I deviated so far from my parents and older brothers. I simply respond with “I wanted to do something different, and have some autonomy in my life”. However, reflecting on all the individual choices and events that led me to Chiropractic is a bit more complex.
I grew up in Halifax, with two extremely supportive parents and two encouraging older brothers. My father, a Labour Lawyer, and my mother, an Accountant and owns a clothing store, were very persistent with my brothers and me about hard work, determination, and excelling academically. However, another key trait in our family was athletics. My father grew up playing basketball and football, excelling the most in football, which led him to playing for the Mount Allison University Football Team, and eventually being drafted by the Montreal Alouettes. I always found this to be such a cool side of my dad; however, he decided to attend Dalhousie Law School instead of pursuing professional football. My mother also grew up involved in athletics, seemingly playing almost every sport there was, and to this day is active in sports, participating in tennis, golf, skiing, and yoga. They were both determined to have my brothers and me involved in sports at an early age, and the athletic drive that followed became an integral family characteristic.
As the youngest of 3 brothers, I tended to be quite the copy-cat as a kid. Whatever my brothers watched on TV, whatever music they listened to, whatever sports they played, etc. I was right there behind them. By the time I was in Junior High, both my brothers had narrowed down their sport focus to mainly basketball; so of course that is what I did. I would tell my parents that I didn’t like any of the other sports that I was playing so I could just play basketball like them. At this point both of my brothers were excelling in basketball, playing for both Grammar High School and Citadel High School Varsity teams. As most people with siblings will understand, there is always a level of competitiveness, so the pressure was on them to be as good, if not better than they were. The drive to meet their standards and expectations in basketball led me to make Grammar Junior High Varsity team all 3 years, the Citadel High School team all 3 years, and the Nova Scotia Provincial team from U-14 to U-17 and having the great opportunity to represent Nova Scotia in the 2013 Canada Games in Sherbrooke, Quebec.
In Grade 11 at Citadel High, I was a multisport athlete, playing both Varsity Basketball and Varsity Football. Safe to say I experienced my fair share of sport-related injuries. There was seldom a week where I was not in either a Physiotherapy or Chiropractic office. Reflecting on those days, it was then that I gained a fascination with human anatomy and injury rehabilitation. I always found it so interesting the different techniques my Physio or Chiro used to help me recover from my variety of injuries, and I always recovered so quickly which emphasized the success of manual therapy and rehabilitation with injuries.
Then in Grade 12, I was left with the pivotal decision of what to do after High School. At this point, both my brothers had gone on to university, graduating with Business degrees, like my parents, and were pursuing further specialization in Accounting and Finance. Now with so many years of athletic experience and a growing passion for rehabilitation and health care, I knew that business was not the path I wanted to take. Instead of doing what my brothers and parents had, I applied to Acadia University’s Biology Program. My goal at that time was to obtain a Bachelor of Science Degree and go on to Medical School. However, after the first year in the Biology program, I knew that type of science was not for me. Luckily, my roommate at the time was in the Kinesiology program, and I had come across some of his Human Anatomy notes, and I knew immediately that was what I wanted to be learning about. The next year I transferred to Kinesiology, and I had a dramatic shift in how interested and passionate I was about what I was learning.
During my first couple of years at Acadia, I remained involved in Athletics. I was not playing competitive basketball anymore but picked back up a sport that I enjoyed as a kid, which was Lacrosse. I still played a lot of recreational basketball, but I had the opportunity to play competitively in Lacrosse throughout the summers and I couldn’t pass it up. Being a bit older and a couple of years removed from competitive sports I unfortunately sustained a couple of serious injuries while playing Lacrosse, which included a torn ACL and a shoulder AC separation. Both requiring surgery and extended rehabilitation had me right back to the Physio and Chiro offices. Even though they were tough injuries that kept me out of the sport for a while, my time in the Kinesiology program made me more interested in what was going on with these substantial injuries and how to recover more efficiently.
It was in 3rd year I found out that Acadia had a program for Kinesiology students called the Sports Injury Assessment and Management (SIAM) Program that offered additional courses on anatomy, athletic therapy, and injury assessment while allowing the opportunity to work with Acadia sports teams as Junior Athletic Therapists. It was the perfect fit for me and my interests, so I made sure I did everything possible to be accepted. I had so much personal experience with sports injuries, which was driving my interest in learning how to diagnose and treat them, but also instilled an empathetic nature and care toward individuals recovering from injuries because I had been in their shoes so many times. I believe this made my time on the field working with the Acadia Football team much more beneficial.
By the end of my 4th year, I had a year of experience in the Athletic Therapy field, a Kinesiology degree, and a rapidly growing interest in pursuing the healthcare system, I was left with another big choice of what to do next. Back when I was accepted to Acadia, Medical School was my plan, and it was something I still pursued that summer by writing the MCAT. However, when I was thinking about what my life would be like down the road while studying that summer, my experiences with Chiropractic kept popping back into my head. I loved the way I felt every time I left the Chiropractor. That was important to me because I really wanted to be in a profession where I am helping people, providing relief from pain, and always having individuals walk out of the office feeling better than when they walked in. I had many of those experiences already as a patient at Active Approach and reflecting on them solidified Chiropractic as the path for me. That led me to apply to the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College (CMCC) in Toronto.
Four years later, and here I am back in the community where I grew up, doing what I have grown to love, which is helping people recover from their injuries and pain, in hopes that they will always leave my office feeling better than when they came in. I am grateful for all the experiences, good and bad, that have happened in my life because it has led me to where I am now.