Since the Blackfeet Tribe began creating a series of clinics to supplement what the Indian Health Service offers, treatment opportunities have expanded for local patients. One such clinic at the Southern Piegan Health Center just added a physical therapist to its stable of health care professionals, and for Mya Stiffarm, creating a physical therapy program is one of her life’s goals.
“Many people have chronic pain, so that’s the big thing,” she said. “I’m working with people who do manual labor and who have sustained injuries. I’m very lucky for the opportunity to help people get back to their jobs and what they enjoy doing.”
Mya Stiffarm PT/DPT (physical therapist/doctor of physical therapy) was raised in Browning and attended high school in Billings. She graduated from Rocky Mountain College with a BS in health and human performance, as well as playing college volleyball for four years. She began her physical therapy training in Missoula in the fall of 2017 and graduated last May.
While she had offices in other clinics, when Roberta Wagner called and offered her a position at Southern Piegan, she jumped at the chance.
“I always wanted to come back home and practice, but I didn’t know how that would happen,” she said, “but I’m here now.”
Being the sole PT on site is something of a challenge. “Starting a clinic from the ground up takes a lot of work so working with others helps,” Stiffarm said.
The current situation with the coronavirus complicates things as well because people have been going to Cut Bank and Kalispell for physical therapy. “We’re taking all precautions, screening everybody and we’re always cleaning because so many people are coming in and out,” she said.
The pandemic also impacted Stiffarm’s profession. “It’s difficult for the new graduates because the clinics aren’t looking to hire because there’s not as much demand,” she said. “I have classmates who are without a job so I’m very lucky to have got with Roberta early on.”
Asked about her plans for the future, Stiffarm responded, “This is my future plan. My goal is to build up the clinic. Maybe in the future we could get another PT or an assistant, but for now it’s just getting the clinic.”
Stiffarm’s inspiration for her career path is personal.
“When I was young my uncle had a stroke and didn’t get physical therapy right away, and I saw his decline,” she said. “In physical therapy I saw improvement mentally, physically and emotionally. Part of my job is to make the exercises enjoyable and to be creative for the patient so they come back.”
Contact the Southern Piegan Health Center at 338-7912 for more information.