From Volunteer to Employee Journey:
Our Director of Rehabilitation Services


Leigh Allen started as a volunteer at St. Mary’s on the weekends as she was testing out a career in physical therapy (PT).  She had an established career in fundraising but was looking for a shift. Her cousin, a physical therapist, suggested that physical therapy might be a good match. It was Leigh’s experience volunteering on the Acute Rehabilitation (Rehab) Unit at St. Mary's that finally convinced her to pursue it as her new career endeavor. After completing her graduate training at UCSF, she joined us as a PT on the Acute Rehab Unit in October, 2001.

The Foundation sat down with Leigh to hear about her successful progression at the hospital from volunteer to Director of Rehabilitation Services.

What has kept you connected to St. Mary’s?

LEIGH:  The available therapy continuum of care at St. Mary’s from acute to outpatient has always been a draw for me. I had been in the rehab unit for 6.5 years and was a bit fearful that I would lose certain orthopedic skills that I wasn’t using regularly in that setting. I decided to refresh my skillset with some long-term courses and try for a position in the outpatient orthopedic setting.  St. Mary’s wasn’t hiring at the time, so I chose to take a position at a private practice here in San Francisco.  In the meantime, I kept my eye out for an opening back at St. Mary’s since I’d had such a wonderful experience with the hospital from the beginning since my time as a volunteer.  Two years later, a spot opened up as an Outpatient Therapy Lead and I was able to bring back, not only my orthopedic skills, but also the marketing skills that I had gained at the private practice to that role.  

When our Rehab Director resigned at the end of 2015, I was asked to serve as the interim.  About 9 months later, I was offered the job permanently.  I’ve seen tons of change at St. Mary’s over the years, and rehab always holds a piece of my heart.  Now, my world has come full circle in that, even though I am no longer treating patients, I’m working directly with the therapists to promote quality in the program and I get to see the positive results for our patients.  And it’s great to be reconnected with the friendly faces of staff who are still on the acute rehab unit since the time I was there as a staff PT.  There is something wonderful about seeing the long-time nurses, CNAs, and EVS workers faces every day.  I feel at home. After all these years, I definitely have skin in the game.

If we’re sitting here a year from now celebrating what a great few years it’s been, what have you achieved?

LEIGH:  I see it as our goal to be the rehab unit of choice for referring providers and patients.  I know that we will have improved access to our outpatient services, improved efficiency in our delivery of care in our acute services, and a stable census in acute rehab.   We are already achieving in these areas and I know we will continue to improve.  We’ll have continued to make strides in the ICU with regard to our role in early mobility.  The ICU nurses are already noticing our team’s level of engagement increasing and our knowledge base expanding.  

When do you find yourself at your most comfortable?

LEIGH:  This role has been a stretch for me and I’ve found strengths that I didn’t know that I had.  At this point, I’m feeling that aspects of my role are a lot of fun for me.  I like that I have the agency now to identify problems and barriers and I am responsible for pulling together solutions with my fellow teammates.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

LEIGH:  With so much history here, I’m really committed to honoring that and doing everything I can to see us succeed.