About Damien Howell


Damien Howell’s Story

Damien’s path to a career in Physical Therapy started with undergraduate study in Health & Physical Education. While participating and lettering in Division III Collegiate Soccer, Cross Country, Basketball, and Track & Field at Frostburg State College, Damien decided the best way to pursue his interest in sports was to become an Athletic Trainer. At that time the path to become an Athletic Trainer was to apply to Physical Therapy school. Soon after entering Physical Therapy program at the University of Pennsylvania he realized it was more rewarding to work with sick and injured individuals than it was to work with injured athletes.

After graduating from University of Pennsylvania and beginning his career as a Physical Therapist, Damien made a conscious effort to focus his athletic endeavors into one sport: long distance running. Eventually Damien reached his potential in the sport of long distance running with a personal record time of 2:29 in marathon, and 6:09 for 50 miles. When he realized that he had reached his potential in the sport of long distance running, and looking for new opportunities and goals, he got involved in sport of Triathlon and completed the challenge of finishing an Ironman Triathlon. Eventually a traumatic knee injury that occurred while playing collegiate soccer developed in to post traumatic osteoarthritis ending his long distance running career. Now Damien finds reward participating in open water long distance swim events including the Challenging Great Chesapeake Bay 4.4 mile swim.


Damien’s lifelong interest in sport and exercise has helped shape how he works with clients and peers.

Empathy/Understanding Musculoskeletal Pain:

Isaac Newton said “If, I have seen farther than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants”.

Damien believes he has seen more, understood more, because he has figuratively been lifted on or climbed on the shoulders of mentors and role models.   He has had the opportunity to be exposed to some remarkable Giants, who have kindly mentored his career and life.

One of the tribulations of getting older is developing ailments, and Damien has been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. This diagnosis is not amenable for his life style of participating in ultra-endurance exercise events. This diagnosis resulted in pause and reflection and he asked himself “who is a role model or mentor that I can learn how to deal with a chronic medical condition?” Through this reflection he concluded there are attributes or values he observed in patients with chronic complex chronic health problems that can serve as a role model.

Lifelong learning Professional Development

As the profession of Physical Therapy advanced, and because of his belief in lifelong learning, Damien went back to graduate school early in his career at Virginia Commonwealth University achieving a master’s degree, and later at Washington University St. Louis obtaining clinical doctorate of Physical Therapy.

As a Physical Therapist he has had the opportunity to practice in a variety of situations including as an academic teacher (Indiana University and Virginia Commonwealth University), researcher, administrator, and clinician. Damien came to realize his abilities and passion are best matched with that of a clinician and teacher.

Treatment Philosophy:
 Active Therapies – Passive Therapies - Responsibility


Damien’s treatment philosophy can be described with Confucius’ statement (Circa 551-479). “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime”. As soon as possible he gets the patient or colleague actively involved in the intervention or learning process.


An anonymous author once said that there are really only three kinds of people in the world. There are those who watch things happen, there are those who make things happen, and then there are those who wonder what happened. This is a pretty broad bush to paint all of mankind with, but overall Damien’s experience has shown this to generally be true. The challenge for healthcare providers is to help their clients and colleagues to become less like those that watch and wonder, and more like those that make things happen.


Learning from mistakes

A question he continues to ponder is do we improve and learn more from mistakes or do we improve and learn more from our successes? Damien believes mistakes are vital to the learning process. Samuel Smiles author of Self Help (1845) said, “We learn wisdom from failure much more than from success”. The process of helping patients, students, and colleagues to change their behaviors involves observing, and framing their mistakes in such a way that they can change their behavior in the present for a positive outcome. Damien wants to change the way Physical Therapy is practiced for the better.


Teaching Philosophy

Damien’s preferred method of teaching clients and colleagues is based on the Socratic Method. He believes it is important for healthcare professionals to be good critical thinkers   Critical thinking always requires to be shown the evidence. Healthcare professionals must question, “Conventional wisdom” to verify the truth for themselves, rather than rely on tradition. The Socratic Method involves disciplined deep questioning focusing on fundamental concepts principals, theories, issues and problems facilitating the process of lifelong learning.


Change the way Physical Therapy is practiced

Very early in his career as a Physical Therapist he realized there were things that needed to change. He was deeply involved in leading his peers while working with the Medical Society of Virginia, and the Virginia General Assembly to change a statute to allow individuals to see a Physical Therapist without requiring a Physicians referral. While involved with this process, Damien worked to establish an independent Virginia Physical Therapy Board.


Honors Awards:

  • Grant from DonJoy LLC "Kinetic Effects of an Elastomeric Brace on Osteoarthritis of the Knee”
  • Honorable Mention Physical Therapist Best Bedside Manner Award from Our Health Richmond
  • Jack Echternach Research Award Best Clinical Presentation, VPTA Annual Conference
  • American Physical Therapy Association State Legislative Leadership Award
  • Beb Cash Award for Clinical Excellence from Virginia Physical Therapy Association
  • Board Certified in Orthopedic Physical Therapy
  • Member of the Road Runners Club of America “Volunteer Hall of Fame”