Over the next few months, I hope to share profiles of people with interesting and unique career paths.
Today I’d like to feature Rima Sidhu, who works as an exercise physiologist at Maze Sexual and Reproductive Health in New York City.
Rima has a master’s degree in exercise physiology and nutrition from Columbia University. She has worked as a personal trainer and exercise specialist for over a decade. She also has competed as a professional Muay Thai kickboxer and a Division I soccer player at The George Washington University. Here are Rima’s responses to questions I emailed her about her job, which she’s given me permission to share with you. Thanks so much, Rima, for sharing about your work! -Meredith
Could you describe a typical day for you?
I get into the office by 8 a.m., log onto my computer and review upcoming patient charts for the morning. I’ll see patients, usually for 15 minutes at a time, and take some measurements: body fat, weight, waist/hip circumference. Then we discuss their exercise and eating habits.
It’s mostly exercise and dietary counseling with the patients, and sometimes exercise testing, which lasts an hour. It consists of a pulmonary function test, RMR (resting metabolic rate) assessment, and Vo2 Max (aerobic capacity). This is usually done prior to a patient starting their treatment (usually some sort of testosterone replacement therapy).
I work at a high-end practice for sexual and reproductive medicine. For new patients coming in with erectile dysfunction, I do an EndoPAT test, which measures the amount of nitric oxide in the endothelial cells that line the arteries and make them dilate. Essentially, it measures the flexibility of the patients’ arteries. One or two days of the week, I call patients with their blood work results. I also write articles for our blog, posted to our website, 1-2 times/month.
How did you find your current job?
Through an emailed list that I subscribe to.
Your career seems to have always touched on physical fitness in some way. How did you discover your love for exercise?
At a very young age, I was very physically active. I played unorganized sports in the neighborhood with friends, and then I started playing soccer when I was 8 or 9 years old. I loved soccer and also just love exercising my body. I don’t really know where it came from.
My father is a physician (as are all my relatives on his side of the family), but aside from that link, not quite sure. Soccer was also a big outlet for me during my youth. I played a lot and was very competitive. I suppose I’m a very physically competitive person. Yes, I’ve always loved sports. I’ve always appreciated the different skills and feats that the human body can attain through consistent and deliberate training.
You’ve had quite a bit of success as a competitive kick boxer. How long did you compete, and what were some of the challenges you faced?
I’ve been a competitive Muay Thai fighter since 2004. My last fight was in 2011, a few months before my daughter was born, and I haven’t fought since then. But at the moment I’m training to get back in the ring early in the new year.
The challenges that came along with competing were several: finding time to train sometimes twice per day 2-3 days/week, 6 days out of the week, while working and in grad school; cutting calories in order to fight in a particular weight class; being pretty much anti-social for the 4-weeks leading up to the fight, as the only thing I had energy for was training and working/studying. Plus, eating clean and not consuming any alcohol isn’t the easiest thing to do while socializing There are times when opponents would pull out of fights or not make weight, so then after all the training the fight wouldn’t happen, and that’s very frustrating.
How did you decide to shift from competing to working in other areas of the fitness world?
I worked as a personal fitness trainer and nutrition coach while in graduate school and while I was competing. I continued this work, running my own business, after I got my master’s degree in exercise physiology and nutrition. Over the next couple of years I was sort of passively looking at different job announcements in my field, and I was happy to find the place where I am currently employed.
What are some of the most satisfying aspects of your work?
I love working with people in a way to help them get healthier and feel better. It’s very satisfying when a client or patient reports back to me that they’ve taken my advice and noticed positive changes, when patients perform better on their exercise tests than previously, and when they see improvements in their bio-markers.
I also love the fact that where I work is very different than any other medical environment I’ve ever known. It’s a very comprehensive practice, where all aspects of the patients’ wellness are being addressed (we also have a sex educator/therapist), so that we get a complete picture of what is going on, and how best to treat them. I also like being part of a team, where we’re working together towards the same goals.
Is there anything you dislike about your career, or things that you’d like to change?
The practice where I work is unique, as I mentioned above, and it would be great if the majority (if not all) medical practices took this holistic approach. I think as a whole, the job of an exercise physiologist is undervalued, in terms of compensation range and ways in which we can be employed in a variety of settings.
I’d like to see practitioners like myself and others working with bigger companies and corporations as employees responsible for maximizing workplace wellness. I’d also like it if there was a clear path for upward mobility in this profession.
What advice would you have for someone who is considering becoming an exercise physiologist?
First think about the job you want to have, or the type of work you’d like to do, and then look into programs that have courses in their curriculum that specifically relate. There are a variety of settings for this position, hospitals/private practices, and the settings are continuing to grow. You may not need a master’s degree in it, but it could increase your salary range.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
A big part of my job satisfaction is also enjoying the people that I work with. There’s a level of respect among the whole team, and the staff, that is universally mutual.