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A (Very Busy) Life in Service to Others: Jason Silvernail ’96, G’97, DPT ’06

A (Very Busy) Life in Service to Others: Jason Silvernail ’96, G’97, DPT ’06
Jason Silvernail ‘96, G’97, DPT ‘06 is pictured in Washington D.C. in 2014.

Jason Silvernail ’96, G’97, DPT ’06 speaks in quick, definitive sentences. Perhaps it’s all the demands on his time as chief of physical therapy at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Maybe it’s a result of his military training. Either way, his efficient and attentive manner has served him well as a physical therapist over the years. (His clinical and academic credentials place him in the top .5 percent of physical therapists in the United States.) 

Dr. Silvernail, who has 24 years of service in the Army under his belt, has been at his current position at Walter Reed since September 2015. He manages a staff of 50 who serve military members and their families. Under his supervision, the staff takes care of those severely injured in combat, including wounded warriors with limb loss. “It’s top-quality, world-class care,” he said. 

A Testament 

afghanistan

Early on during his time at Walter Reed, he happened to meet a volunteer he had treated in Afghanistan. Dr. Silvernail recollected flying by helicopter into a small base surrounded by cement walls after only two hours of sleep. “I was exhausted, but I just set up and started taking care of those soldiers.” 

Before long, a line of 50 soldiers was waiting outside of a tent to see him. 

“Our soldiers are driving around in armored vehicles, carrying heavy packs all day and all night. We have to keep their bodies tuned up and ready to do their mission,” he said. 

The future Walter Reed volunteer stood at the back of that line, in the heat. “He later told me that I fixed his back, and — because of me — he was able to stay on in Afghanistan leading his soldiers. That’s pretty powerful.” 

The volunteer told Dr. Silvernail that he was so inspired by him and his work that he had decided to go back to school for physical therapy. 

The Solider Life, the Scranton Life 

Dr. Silvernail has always wanted to be a soldier (he began his service less than 24 hours after graduating from high school), but his love for physical therapy came after he dislocated his kneecap in ROTC training at Scranton. “I saw firsthand what PT was like,” he said. “Here was someone who understood, in-depth, the exact problem I was having and provided a prescription for getting better that worked, and it didn’t involve just taking more pills. I thought, ‘This is what I want to do!’” 

boot campOriginally from Houston, Texas, Dr. Silvernail moved around a lot as a child. He ended up in Clarks Summit during his high school years and eventually chose Scranton for both the ROTC program and the promise of “the rigor of a Jesuit education.” 

“Scranton woke up this academic side of me that got me to go all the way through to get two doctorates,” he said. “Scranton lit that fire for me.” 

He received his doctorate from the University in 2006. He was selected for the Army-Baylor Doctoral Fellowship in Orthopedic Manual Physical Therapy at Fort Sam Houston for subspecialty training and graduated in 2010, earning both a doctor of science degree from Baylor University and Fellow status in the American Academy of Orthopedic Manual Physical Therapists. 

Scranton was also a place he learned — as he put it — to “go, go, go.” He spent one undergraduate summer juggling ROTC training, his clinical internship in Wilkes-Barre and a job at UPS. 

Barbara Wagner, DPT, faculty specialist at The University of Scranton, remembers Silvernail running into the old Leahy Hall from his internship, saying hello, disappearing to change into his UPS clothes in a bathroom and saying a quick goodbye before heading off to work. “He was busy, busy,” said Dr. Wagner. “He was always very driven, very self-directed and a great student. And he’s a nice, caring guy.“ 

egypt

Nine years after graduating from Scranton as a second lieutenant, he returned to Scranton to finish his DPT. “I remembered how much growing up and developing as a person and a leader I did in and around Scranton,” he said. 

He has stayed involved with the University through Dr. Wagner. She has given many students his name and he’s always willing to talk.

Having a Heart 

Prior to his current assignment at Walter Reed, Dr. Silvernail served on the U.S. Army performance triad team at the Office of the Surgeon General as the Surgeon General’s subject matter expert on exercise, fitness and musculoskeletal medicine. 

“I loved the work there, but I also learned how much I missed patient care. Just as I think that the military is a job that picks you, to some degree you have to have a heart to be in clinical practice … to be in that kind of ‘helping profession,’” he said. 

He missed the sense of reward he felt when a patient got better. “I need my patients as much as they need me,” he said. “It really does go both ways.” 

CAPTIONS: From top to bottom: Dr. Silvernail in D.C. in 2014; in Afghanistan in 2013; at boot camp in 1992; in Egypt in 2000.

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