Graduate Education, Undergraduate Programs

Studying Physical Therapy At Clarkson And Starting My Own Practice

A couple pose for a selfie in the crowd at a hockey game.

Hello readers! My name is Dr. Amber RZ Astafan, PT, Certified MDT, and I live in Carthage, NY. I graduated from Clarkson in 2008 with a BS Biology with concentration in Cognitive Neuroscience. I then completed my Doctorate of Physical Therapy at Clarkson in 2011. 

I am the President and senior Physical Therapist for Journey Physical Therapy PLLC. My company is a private outpatient clinic, located in Lowville, NY. I’m here to share my story about building my own practice into what it is now, from a practitioner and business perspective, and how that success impacts our rural Lewis County community!

Why I Chose Clarkson To Study Physical Therapy

The Physical Therapy program at Clarkson has many great aspects that put it above other schools! For those who attend Clarkson as an undergraduate like I did, you are able to get familiar with the PT program right away. I was able to have many of the same professors from my freshman year until I completed the Doctorate program. 

By the time I started the doctorate program, I had been to that part of campus and met all the staff. The Physical Therapy program is housed in Clarkson’s downtown campus in Potsdam. There are lots of incredible resources downtown, like the cadaver lab, where you work with real cadavers to learn more about the human body. 

Being familiar with the faculty and facilities took a lot of stress out of progressing to a graduate program. I loved that the program is “problem based” and not lectured based. I got hands on learning and problem solving by having to go search for what was needed in every scenario we studied. 

Clarkson is known for being a challenging institution, and the Physical Therapy program is no exception. My doctorate class happened to be a very small one at the time I was in the program, with only 13 members. My class got to be a close group of individuals, a comradery I will always miss! I felt I received a lot of one-on-one attention that larger schools don’t offer. Even to this day, the program remains very selective in filling its class roster. 

Starting my Own Practice: Journey Physical Therapy

A woman stands on one leg as her right foot hovers over a stack of small blue cones, while she is supervised by a younger woman who stands behind her.
Here I am working with a patient at Journey Physical Therapy, my first grade teacher, Ellen Ischia.

I always knew I wanted to live and practice in the area where I was raised. I wanted to be close to family and knew there was a need for quality care in the area. When I started my practice, only the local hospital offered Physical Therapy services. 

I saw an opportunity to open my own practice and took it. I knew this meant giving up my income and working long hours, but determination and hard work are qualities every Clarkson graduate is trained to have! I read once in an article that 1 out of every 10 Clarkson graduates becomes the CEO of a company. That number has grown to 1 in 5! Being one of those 1-in-5 feels like being put into an elite group!

I saw the potential to practice the way I wanted to and not how any other employer would want me to. After all, being a Doctor of your profession means you alone are ultimately responsible for the decisions you make for your patients. My patients are never labeled as numbers, injuries or illnesses to me. They are the people who make up my community. When they prosper, we all prosper. This is truer for a rural community than anywhere else! In Lewis County, cows outnumber people 3 to 1!

I Love My Work

My favorite part of patient care is when I use my knowledge and experience to solve the problem a patient is having. In Physical Therapy, this is more than labeling a problem with a diagnosis, it means I also need to make sense of why the body is having trouble moving and what to do to help the patient fix it! 

One of my Professors at Clarkson, Dr. George Fulk, PT, once said in class “We (Physical Therapists) need to consider ourselves the movements specialist for healthcare.” Imagine living your life without the ability to move, even if it was only one body part! 

My Business and the Community

Journey’s team members get great opportunities to help in the community! For example, we participate in Career Day at the local school, doing an interactive class with high schoolers to learn about Physical Therapy as a profession. 

Journey is also a sponsor for several community events throughout the year, including children’s sports teams, golf tournaments, the Lewis County Fair and supporting the local food pantry. 

A sign reading "Journey Physical therapy" is in the foreground of a photo of a green and gray building across a gravel parking lot.
I am the President and senior Physical Therapist at Journey Physical Therapy PLLC in Lowville, NY.

My company is now 8 years old and has grown! The company provides 4 full-time positions and 2 per diem positions. So, not only does my company provide excellent care in a rural location, but more jobs! 

On top of the jobs we provide, there are other advantages Journey offers our community! For example, we built a new facility this year. With this building there is another income source for other businesses. We hire local businesses for lawn care, snow removal, trash pick-up, maintenance care and other necessities. I look at what my company and the Journey team has accomplished and can’t wait to see what is yet to come. 

In Conclusion…

A man in a plaid shirt stands with a woman in a purple shirt, while their two young children pose in matching blue dresses in front of them.
My family! This is me with my husband, John, and my daughters Zia Siree, 3, and Skylar, 6.

For others thinking about Physical Therapy, all I can say is there is no other job I would want. I love working with patients and spend the majority of my working hours doing this. I never work nights or weekends and am never on call. It’s a great career for anyone who wants a family, as I have 2 girls and a wonderfully supportive husband! As a Physical Therapist you have many options for employment now and in the future. 

As a business owner, I also do many administrative jobs related to business operations. Something Clarkson included in my graduate and undergraduate years. Healthcare after all, is a business. Clarkson makes you work hard to earn your degree. But once you’ve learned to work hard and put that into use, you see the benefits. One of the proudest moments in my life was receiving my Doctorate in Physical Therapy at Graduation on May 11, 2011!

I hope you enjoyed learning about my journey to a career in Physical Therapy! If you have any questions about my business or Physical Therapy in general, please feel free to reach out to me via email at


  1. Wonderful article. I am so proud of you, Amber, Thank you for making such wise choices in life.

  2. A very proud uncle and patient. Amber has guided me through right and left shoulder repairs. I would not go anywhere else. She is demanding yet understanding. You must do the sometimes painful work to recover the best mobility. Journey Therapy is outstanding!!

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