Wednesdays with the Women of Vitality: Jennifer

Occasionally, we like to turn the tables on the Vitality team to give you a peek inside the lives of the real women who help our patients each and every day. Because, isn’t it refreshing to know more about your doctor than where they studied or how many degrees they earned?

This is your chance to get to know us and the stories behind all those years of experience, the real-world learning that came with those degrees and certifications, and everything in-between, including our top mom tips for the communities we live and work in.

Jennifer, Vitality’s founder and women’s pelvic health expert. We lost count of how many women Jennifer has helped to regain their health, strength, and confidence (not to mention their ability to enjoy sex again and get rid of their dependency on always finding the closest bathroom).

Meet Jennifer Sergeant Hungate: The Vitality Visionary

Why did you decide to pursue physical therapy as a career?

While studying at UNC, I planned on applying to medical school to pursue Sports Medicine. But, through a series of events and realizing that a physician’s schedule didn’t fit with the work/life balance I wanted, I ended up instead in a Kinesiology master’s program at Boulder.

After Boulder, I worked as a clinical exercise physiologist at a program that paired PT and fitness programs. This is where I found my calling in PT. I realized it would allow for greater autonomy with patients and a greater variety of clinical settings to work in. I quickly applied to a Doctor of Physical Therapy program and the rest - as they say - is history.

How and why did you decide to specialize in women's physical therapy?

After working in outpatient care at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) for a year, an initiative to develop specialists in the area of women’s health began. At the time, I was treating many women with back, spine, and hip pain, and thought it would be a great opportunity to learn a new specialty and better serve my patients. So, I jumped at the chance to begin this area of education.

What is your most memorable moment as a physical therapist?

While working in the women’s health program, I was seeing patients for a range of women’s health issues when a young woman with chronic pelvic pain landed on my caseload. She was married and unable to have sex with her husband without experiencing agonizing pain.

Her pain was affecting their relationship and preventing them from starting a family. After working together, she was able to return to pain-free sex and heal from her chronic pelvic pain.

When I received the birth announcement for her son, who was conceived naturally and without pain, I realized that I couldn’t imagine doing anything else in PT but focus on helping women overcome their struggles related to pelvic health.

How'd you come up with the idea for Vitality and what's your vision for the clinic?

I’ve specialized in women’s and pelvic health for years now and was frustrated with the limitations of a large organization in providing me opportunities to provide the best care for my patients. I found that my female patients in particular were embarrassed for taking up my time when others in the waiting room seemed to have far more severe issues than their incontinence for example. I also found clinical treatment rooms to be sterile and uninviting, and it was nearly impossible to manage wait times or schedule ongoing appointments.

Besides struggling to provide patients with the care they needed, I also struggled caring for myself. While working at a crazy, unsustainable pace, I experienced four miscarriages in five years, coupled with failed fertility treatments, while trying to conceive my son, Tyler.

When Tyler was born, I realized that I needed to take better care of myself. I also wanted to create a work environment that allowed me to treat patients the way I felt they deserved to be treated, at a pace that allowed me to be fully present in my son’s life.

My vision for Vitality is to create a place where women feel like they can take the time for the care they deserve. Care that should go beyond physical therapy by providing fitness classes for women and education on their general health and wellness. Through Vitality, I have been able to spend more time focusing on myself and my growing family, which includes our newest family member, Ian!

Describe Vitality in 3 words.

  • Empowering
  • Invigorating
  • Family Focused

What was the most surprising thing about starting your own clinic?

This shouldn’t surprise me, but every day I am amazed by Amy and my business partnership. We started off as roommates when we attended PT school together and, to be honest, we weren’t a perfect fit initially as roommates. Our living styles and habits were different and it took some time for us to learn how to live with each other.

I think we learned a lot from each other that first year as roommates. We turned that into a lifelong friendship which feels more like we're family. Our history, the differences in our personalities, and our combined strengths and weaknesses make for a perfect business partnership. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that you can’t do it alone. If you are going to partner with someone in business, it is such a gift to do it with someone who embodies all that you aren’t and also fully understands and appreciates who you are.

What makes Vitality different from some of the other physical therapy clinics in town?

I don’t know of any other clinic in town (or even the surrounding area!) that prioritizes the needs of women through the lifespan like we do at Vitality. There are several PTs who specialize in women’s and pelvic health in Chicago, but we are the only clinic with the mission to provide comprehensive services beyond this niche PT practice. We are committed to providing education and fitness options to women in a way that fits their lifestyles because we understand both their physical needs and their busy lives as moms, professionals, athletes and more. We truly are the women that we care for.

Complete this sentence. In 5 years, I'll be...

My vision has always been to have a clinic that allows me to serve the needs of women while making my family my number one priority. I'm now lucky enough to be within walking distance of the clinic so that I can spend more time with my 4 boys (2 sons, dog and husband).

I hope that in five years, our practice will grow so that I can provide specialty care for women and, at the same time, mentor younger clinicians to do the same.  There is nothing more rewarding than seeing the impact mentored PTs and students have on their own patients.

When I’m not in the PT clinic, you can find me…

Trying to keep up with my boys, dog and new house! My family just moved from Chicago to Elmhurst over Memorial Day weekend in 2017.  We can be found in the yard playing soccer, catch or pulling weeds.  We've also enjoyed being close to the clinic and downtown to take walks for "special treats" by the train.

At Vitality, we help women be at their best by specializing and treating disorders related to pelvic and back pain, bladder and bowel dysfunction, and restricted movement. Together, we’ll develop a personalized treatment plan to help you relieve your aches and pains, and support your body.

Contact us today!