Student Profiles: Evelyn Villarreal
Major: Doctor of Physical Therapy
Why did you pick UTEP?
I chose UTEP because its Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) Program offers integrated Spanish in the curricula, which allowed me to continue my research with my mentor, Dr. Celia Pechak. I also chose UTEP because of its Scholarships for Disadvantaged Students (SDS) program, which allowed me to afford graduate studies. With my mother also pursuing her Masters in Speech Language Pathology at the same time, it would not have not been possible for me to afford graduate school without SDS.
What sparked your interest in physical therapy?
My interest was sparked when I was volunteering in an emergency department and noticed a lack of Hispanic/Latino and Spanish speaking health care providers. As I transitioned into a physical therapy setting, I realized the importance of mobility and function, yet I noticed the same trend in lack of Spanish speaking health care providers. As a Spanish speaker, I was motivated to interact more with limited English speaking patients and offer my assistance when appropriate. This experience, along with my research (which showed me that individuals who have limited English speaking face health disparities and limited access to health care), motivated me even more to pursue physical therapy. Communication is vital to give patients instructions, commands, precautions, etc. in order to help a person continue living their life, whether it be going back to work, playing sports, and even basic necessities like being able to get in and out of the shower.
Tell us about a service-learning or research experience you’ve had at UTEP.
When I decided to pursue physical therapy, I made it a goal to understand more about the field and what it entailed. Through the Student Engagement and Leadership Center, I sought mentorship under Dr. Celia Pechak in the DPT Program as an undergraduate. Through this experience, I was able to learn more about physical therapy, observe the program’s simulation labs, and interact with DPT students.
I then applied to conduct research with Dr. Pechak through the Campus Office of Undergraduate Research Initiative’s (COURI) Mentored Experience in Research, Inquiry, and creaTivity for Undergraduate Scholars (MERITUS) Program. The UTEP DPT Program is unique in integrating Spanish language training throughout the entire curriculum. My project consisted of investigating the effects of this Spanish language training. Through MERITUS I was able to apply my statistics, writing, and Spanish language into writing monthly reports, collecting and analyzing data, and doing a poster presentation.
With the guidance of my mentor and MERITUS, we submitted my final manuscript to the Journal of Physical Therapy Education where it was published in the December 2017 issue. I have also presented my research at the COURI Undergraduate Symposium, the Student Annual Interdisciplinary Research Symposium, and at Posters on the Hill in Washington D.C. I will also present at the American Physical Therapy Association’s Combined Section Meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana in February.
What are your career aspirations?
After graduating, I want to complete a residency or fellowship program. I am considering focusing on women’s health and/or oncology rehabilitation management. However, there is much for me to learn and experience before I graduate and my aims for further education may change. However, I would like pursue a PhD in Interdisciplinary Health Sciences. My main goal is to work with underprivileged and socioeconomically disadvantaged populations in order to decrease health disparities and advocate for patient health.
What advice would you give to a student thinking about studying physical therapy?
My first piece of advice is to reflect on what they aspire to bring into this very rewarding profession. Most students seeking a career in the health field know that they want to help people, but I challenge students to think beyond that. Physical therapists are movement experts and agents of change. I believe that the American Physical Therapy Association’s Vision statement, “Transforming society by optimizing movement to improve the human experience,” is a concise and accurate description of what physical therapists do. What do you have to offer or want to offer that adds to this profession and the lives of others?
My second piece of advice is to not take any opportunity for granted and challenge yourself beyond the classroom setting. I believe that I have been successful in my education and research because I was willing to take risks and challenges, and to network with individuals in my field of study. No one else is going to get you where you want to be but yourself. Taking on challenges in pursuit of increased knowledge and personal growth is a quality that a physical therapist must have. Volunteer in different physical therapy settings, ask your supervising physical therapists to challenge you while volunteering, consider doing undergraduate research, start networking and participate in service learning in your community, etc. There is a lot you can gain from experiences outside of the classroom that will be beneficial in the long run.