In the Dorothy Betts Marvin Theater, images of GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) students — side by side with their baby pictures — flashed on the screen.
“Talk about a transition, right?” said Joyce Maring, Ed.D., DPT, PT, program director for the Doctor of Physical Therapy Program and chair of the Department of Physical Therapy and Health Care Sciences at SMHS. “And here we are at another.”
At the 2016 DPT Awards ceremony, part of Commencement Week, faculty and graduating students presented awards and recognized the leadership, academic excellence, and commitment to service that mark the program. More importantly, however, the ceremony highlighted the impact of choices.
“When you make a choice, you change the future,” said David Smith, DPT ’16, class president, quoting alternative-medicine advocate Deepak Chopra. “In December 2012, a week before Christmas, I made a choice.”
Smith, who grew up in the Washington, D.C. area, decided to pursue physical therapy close to home and found himself immersed in a demanding academic environment; he also discovered a new family in his cohort, who had likewise made the same life-changing choice. “Now, here we are, May 13, 2016, with the results of those 39 choices, these 39 outstanding new doctors of physical therapy, these 38 new members of my family,” he said, joking, “God help us come Thanksgiving.”
The impact of Smith’s choice, however, extended far beyond his family; he was also selected as the recipient of the prestigious Jean Johnson Award for Leadership, Excellence, and Quality.
“What people want in their leaders are people they can trust, that they have confidence in, that provide stability, and that are compassionate,” said Jean Johnson, Ph.D., RN, founding dean of the GW School of Nursing and former senior associate dean for health sciences at SMHS, who was on hand to present the eponymous award.
Smith, she said, exemplified that kind of leader. “I think the most important thing about David is what he said and what other people said about it him: ‘Dave Smith has served as our class president without a complaint for three years. Through his tireless dedication to his role, his love for the GW PT community, and his selfless devotion to making our time in Foggy Bottom better, our entire class has benefited greatly.”
Smith, who attributed all credit for his success to his classmates and the SMHS faculty, accepted the award to a standing ovation.
In describing another choice, Ellen Costello, Ph.D., PT, associate director for the Program in Physical Therapy and director of admissions at SMHS, presented the Outstanding Alumni Award to Josh D’Angelo, DPT ’13, remarking, “We are so pleased that we chose Josh, but even more so that Josh chose us and made GW his home away from home.”
Joe Signorino, DPT, PT, OCS, FAAOMPT, clinical coordinator of clinical education at the George Washington University Hospital Outpatient Rehabilitation Center, received the Outstanding Clinical Educator Award, and Cody Meashaw, DPT ’16, was presented with the Clinical Leadership Award. Graduates Rachel Wolfe, Krissy Mariano, Sara Lewis, and Jim Buckley, who together accumulated more than 500 hours of community service, earned Service Excellence Awards for their efforts. Katie Albert, DPT ’16, received the Academic Excellence Award.
“To sum up [Katie] in one word,” said Sue Leach, Ph.D., PT, NCS, CEEAA, assistant professor of physical therapy and health care sciences at SMHS, “brilliant.” Albert earned the highest cumulative grade point average in her class.
The SMHS faculty also recognized students who served as research assistants, class leaders, and pro bono clinic volunteers, as well as Alpha Eta Honor Society inductees, who placed in the top 20 percent of the class.
The students then took the stage to recognize Elizabeth Ruckert, DPT, PT, GCS, NCS, director of the MedStar-GW Neurologic Residency Program and assistant professor of physical therapy and health care sciences at SMHS. Ruckert, this year’s Outstanding Faculty Award recipient, was noted for her kindness, generosity, and creativity, having baked and pipetted cerebrum cupcakes before a test and structured a final exam review session around Dr. Seuss.
The Class of 2016, who “wanted to do something new and sustainable,” explained Meashaw, also presented their class gift: funds to help cover the cost of white coats for the incoming Class of 2019, a custom that started with the Class of 2015. “Our contribution will help make last year’s one-time occurrence into a tradition, one which demonstrates each class’s obligation to giving back by paying it forward,” Meashaw said, adding that 100 percent of the class participated in the gift.
Smith, in his charge at the conclusion of the ceremony, urged his classmates to continue making those kinds of choices.
“You chose this rigorous program; you chose this worthwhile profession; and you chose to advocate for those you are fortunate enough to treat,” he said. “Choose to make an impact, every day, every patient. Choose to be great.”