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Catherine MacCartney, D.P.T. (SHSP)

Catherine MacCartneyAmbition, Discipline, Success… Repeat.‌

School of Health Sciences and Practice

From a high school student with little affinity for science to an acute-care physical therapist at NewYork-Presbyterian and award-winning professional bodybuilder, Catherine MacCarthy, D.P.T. ’06 proves that dedication, drive and clear-set goals pave the path to success.

More than once in her life, Catherine MacCartney, D.P.T. ’06, has surprised herself. She declared biology her major in college after barely passing high school science. She fell in love with working in a hospital after setting her sights on outpatient care. And, after years of wishing for the confidence to become a professional body builder, she won her first pro competition. Though these experiences may seem unrelated, each gave the highly-motivated MacCartney a goal to achieve. “If I have something to look toward, I focus better on it,” says the assistant supervisor of acute care at NewYork–Presbyterian Hospital. “I always need a project.”

Becoming a physical therapist was not one of MacCartney’s goals, especially during her years at Nyack High School, where she struggled in science. Even at St. Thomas Aquinas College in Sparkill, N.Y., where she began as a fine arts and graphic design major, she veered away from science, until graduation requirements pushed her to take one course in the subject. She took marine biology and was completely enthralled with the course. By junior year, she had changed her major to biology.

A longtime athlete and former personal trainer, MacCartney wanted a career that would combine her newfound love for science with her passion for fitness. Physical therapy was a perfect fit. She entered the field with the intention of working in an outpatient orthopedic setting. “I wanted to treat sports injuries,” she explains. “I didn’t want to work in a hospital.”

But an opportunity to specialize in acute-care at NewYork– Presbyterian Hospital—her first job offer after graduating from NYMC’s School of Health Sciences and Practice—was not one to pass up. She figured she’d stay for a while, then move on. “Nine years later, I’m still there.” In fact, in 2011, she was promoted to assistant supervisor. “I gave myself five years to have an administrative position, and I got the promotion within a month of my five-year anniversary.”

Just as MacCartney fell in love with—and excelled at—science, so did she fall in love with acute inpatient care. “I totally swung in the other direction,” she says, sounding surprised. “I love being in the hospital.” She divides her clinical time between patients in the emergency department, where she is the head physical therapist, the neurology department and among those who have lymphedema. 

“We get the sick of the sick,” she says, referring to patients who are recovering from brain or spinal injury or surgery, stroke, or who have progressive neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Huntington’s. “Even if they pass away, their time here was made better because we helped them. That’s what makes my job totally worth it.”

In 2014, MacCartney became a certified lymphedema therapist, making her a specialist in the evaluation, education and treatment of the condition, which involves local fluid retention most commonly in the arms or legs. “Becoming a certified lymphedema therapist became my project.”

Some projects are personal, like competitive bodybuilding. It was during college, when the former dancer and high school lacrosse player started working out in a gym and lifting weights when the bodybuilding “bug” bit her. “For 12 years, I wanted to compete but I was too afraid,” she recounts. At the end of 2012, she mustered the courage to step on stage. “I won my first two shows,” she says, proudly.

MacCartney approaches bodybuilding as she does everything else: with discipline and dedication. She begins every day with an hour-long 5:30 a.m. workout before heading to work, equipped with meals of chicken, vegetables, rice and sweet potatoes. After work, she hits the gym again. “When I’m dedicated to getting something done, it gets done,” she says. “I get home at 7 or 8 p.m., pack up my meals for the next day, and do it all over again.”

Such dedication has taught her that taking on challenges is the best remedy for self-doubt. “Don’t ever sell yourself short,” she says. “Don’t ever say you can’t do something.