Thomas J. Long’s Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) students are in it for the long haul. Just ask Nicole Molina ’14. Molina has had a wide range of experiences in her educational journey; she not only attended the Combined Sections Meeting in Las Vegas, but also traveled to Bolivia to assist in wheelchair distribution and customization for the underserved. She exemplifies the immense potential of Pacific students as well as a spirit and compassion for life and global wellbeing.
Molina was one of two class representatives for the Decades of Giving program, which fundraises to sponsor the DPT class of 2014 to attend the Combined Sections Meeting (CSM) in Las Vegas. CSM is an annual meeting of physical therapy professionals and students nationwide that allows for tremendous opportunities for growth and learning. For example, at CSM, students learned about wheelchair technology, robotic assisted gait training and running shoes. Molina elaborates on her attendance at CSM further, “CSM was a great experience. I wanted to jump into everything without any expectations since this was the first conference I had been too. I loved being around and learning from other physical therapists and students. I had the opportunity to learn about new innovative technologies in physical therapy, current legislative issues we are facing and about new techniques in patient care. I hope I’ll have the opportunity to attend this meeting in future years as well.”
Before the exciting trip, Molina and her peers had to go through a long process of applying for the Rotary International grant. This process includes being judged on their ability to make up any missed work as well as the benefits they would receive from the experience. Also, Dr. Peterson required that the students learn about fitting wheelchairs prior to the trip. Molina says, “One of the projects she had us complete before the trip was taking apart a wheelchair and putting it back together so we could understand how a wheelchair was assembled.” While in Bolivia, the students’ practice with fitting was put to work; Molina and her colleagues customized over 200 wheelchairs for the underserved. She worked with seating specialists who taught her how to customize everything from the foot rest to the head rest. If this sounds like tough work, just ask Molina, “It was definitely a tall task. Everyone on the project worked hard to ensure that the children received the best possible chair for their condition. In some instances we would work for hours to fit one child making sure that the chair was specific to their needs.”Molina’s experience with wheelchair technology was one aspect of her education that qualified her to travel to Bolivia with Dr. Cathy Peterson for wheelchair distribution. Bolivia is one the poorest South American countries and many people do not have access to healthcare. By providing wheelchairs to the underserved, Molina and her peers were able to give children the ability to finally go outside their homes without being carried by a parent.
This life changing trip allowed Molina to grow immensely as a future PT. She learned many things during that trip that she wouldn’t have learned in the classroom; she learned about patient care, communicating with patients, and flexibility and creativity in altering wheelchairs. The impact of their experiences is immeasurable; students were not only able to gain field experience, but more importantly, they were able to make a difference in others’ lives. Molina explains, “This trip has allowed DPT and Pacific to extend outside the borders of our community and affect individuals in need around the world. The most rewarding part of the trip was being able to help children become more mobile. Often the child’s mother, grandmother or family member walked away crying because of what we had done. Being able to change a child’s life to that degree is enormously rewarding.”
Molina is definitely on her way to making a worldwide change. She is a big believer in the importance of global health. She believes that global health means giving each individual the ability to receive appropriate health care quickly and efficiently despite economic, social or other hardships. Molina explains, “One physical therapy principle is to provide pro bono services for individuals in need, volunteering, educating individuals or providing financial contributions. If each individual took the skill set they had and offered it to others we would be much closer to enhancing global health. The Bolivia Wheelchair fitting is one example of offering services to others.”
As the first in her family to attend college and receive a graduate degree, Molina has exceeded great expectations. She is currently looking at attending pediatric physical therapy residencies and plans to apply in 2015. She is also looking forward to passing her licensing exam in January. Molina’s tips for aspiring PT students is this: “Give back to the community and advocate for physical therapy. Physical therapists are movement specialists. This is the best way to serve others—helping them move!”