Meet Our Students - Aaron Smiley - Paying It Forward
Major: Rehabilitation Sciences (Bachelor of Science in Rehabilitation Sciences; Concentration: Physical Therapy)
What sparked your interest in the Bachelor of Sciences in Rehabilitation Sciences Program?
I had worked in military medicine for eight years as a Combat Corpsman (Navy variation of a medic) for the Navy and Marine Corps and had been fascinated by the medical field since I was in high school. I was always interested in physical fitness and had the opportunity to train sailors at my previous commands for their bi-annual physical fitness tests. I ended up getting a bad case of rhabdomyolysis, which led to multi-organ failure and a 20-day coma. When I woke up, I couldn’t walk or use my right arm. It was a long road to recovery, and in a span of about four months, I went from the ICU to a rehabilitation department where I received intensive treatment to regain the ability to stand, walk, and return to regular function.
When I got out of the Navy at 25, I was unsure what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. As I looked back, I remembered the high-quality care I had received from the physical therapists and thought about how helping people walk, run, hold their kids, and independently carry on their normal daily routine would feel, and I decided to become a physical therapist.
I learned a lot about myself, as well as mental health during rehabilitation, in my long road to recovery, which I would argue is still not complete. Although I am still recovering and finding ways to rehabilitate myself back to where I was before the illness, I feel I have the ability to help people that have come on hard circumstances to take their lives back.
What has been your greatest challenge academically so far, and what did you do to overcome it?
Academically, my greatest challenge has always been math, but that level of thinking, rule following, and attention to detail is important for those in the rehabilitation field. I didn’t look at learning math as crunching numbers, but as following certain protocols as closely as possible, paying attention to every detail that brought me to the final result. I found that the best way for me to achieve this was practice, practice, practice. I’m still not the best, but I’ll give my best effort every time I’m afforded the opportunity.
What has been the most interesting experience you’ve had in the BS-RHSC Program?
The most interesting experience I’ve had while in the BS-RHSC program has been the opportunity to participate with my peers and mentors in several research projects. Learning through action has been the most effective way for me to gain an understanding of a subject, and it’s even better when I get to have an awesome team to share information with, and to learn and grow with. Also, becoming involved in the Student Association of Rehabilitation Sciences (STARS) student organization and the volunteer opportunities afforded while in the organization has been wonderful. The UTEP BS-RHSC Program has taught me more life lessons than I can count.
What are your career aspirations?
My absolute dream career will start with acceptance into and completion of the UTEP DPT program. I would love to join the UTEP Physical Therapy Program to gain further knowledge so that I can pay it forward to future patients, family members, friends, peers, and the community, as I had done when I was in the service. I look highly upon the emphasis the UTEP DPT program puts on community service and feel that service goes hand-in-hand with my life goals as a future provider of educating, influencing, and empowering whichever community I am a part of.
After graduation, I would like to learn under an experienced physical therapist to gain further understanding of the discipline using evidenced-based practices, as well as gain a deeper understanding of the business aspects of the job. Given my past experiences as a medical professional and patient, and while shadowing other health care professionals and physical therapists, I would like to work with veterans, but also those within the community who have suffered spinal cord injuries, cerebral vascular accidents, and general musculoskeletal injuries that require rehabilitation.
After being in the profession for 10-15 years, I would like to become independent and open my own private practice in an underserved community. There, I could employ, empower, and educate members within my community, give them a living wage that allows them to have a better life, and possibly even mentor younger physical therapy assistants and techs to give them the tools to improve their own lives, all while rehabilitating community members with professionalism and the utmost care that they deserve.
What advice would you give to a student thinking about studying rehabilitation sciences?
My words of advice would be to make sure it is something you want to do, and once you do that, go for it and don’t let anything hold you back. Be tactful, but also do not be afraid to speak up to ask for opportunities or help to further improve your own knowledge. As providers, we will always be learning new things and it is probably best to start exercising those learning muscles as soon as you can.
Photo courtesy of Aaron Smiley
To learn more about the Bachelor of Science in Rehabilitation Sciences Program, please visit: https://www.utep.edu/chs/bsrhsc/