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At the Heart of Excellence

If you were to boil down the essence of what it takes to become a truly great physical therapist (PT), according to Sharon Dunn, Ph.D., PT, OCS, director of the PT Program and chair of the Rehabilitation Sciences Department at Louisiana State University, you’d be left with three crucial ingredients — humility, grit, and gratitude. Dunn presented the 2014 Excellence Lecture, the keynote address for the School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) annual Physical Therapy White Coat Ceremony and Convocation.

Dunn, who also serves as the vice president of the American Physical Therapy Association, is somewhat of an authority on the subject of what it takes to be truly great in the field. Widely published in top journals such as Physical Therapy, Modern Rheumatology, and Pathobiology, she is an expert in Orthopaedic Physical Therapy and Biomechanics with 27 years of experience practicing in, and volunteering her support for, the PT profession.

“It’s the humility that makes you want to do better,” the Shreveport, La. native told the 44 incoming Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) students, adding that humility breeds reflective practice. “Grit is the characteristic of tenacious and determined individuals; it’s perseverance and passion for achieving long-term goals,” she explained. Borrowing a line from her football-coach brother to make the concept concrete, Dunn said it’s that moment when “you decide, ‘Am I going to fight, or quit.’ When you have grit, you find it very hard to quit when you believe in your purpose.”

As for the final component in the formula for success, gratitude, Dunn said, “It’s the end game of humility. It’s recognizing that others have contributed to your success.” Dunn then detailed some of the individuals to whom she is most grateful, including her parents, her boss and mentor at LSU, and for her profession and those who blazed the trail for the physical therapists who followed.

The annual event opened with recognition of the program’s student leadership and the program’s newest residency alumni, as well as the presentation of the Excellence Awards to second- and third-year DPT students. Jennifer Halvaksz, DPT, OCS, academic director of the Orthopaedic Residency Program at SMHS, and Elizabeth Ruckert, DPT, NCS, GCS, director of the Neurologic Residency Program at SMHS, offered their congratulations to Payal Gaglani, DPT, PT, David Mueller, DPT, PT, and Craig Rudikoff, DPT, PT, who completed their orthopaedic residencies; and Emily Main, DPT, PT, and Latasha Thomas, DPT, PT, who wrapped their neurology residencies. This year’s third-year DPT student award winners included Amy Boerman, Brittney Jorgensen, Sarah LaBerge, Leanna Blanchard, and Megan Scovil. Second-year DPT students included Nicholas Ienni, David Smith, Katherine Albert, Lauren Arihood, and Susie (Katrin) Cooper.