In May 2020, stay-at-home orders and social distancing restrictions continued to prevent gatherings and in-person celebrations in many states across the country because of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, those restrictions couldn’t keep the Physical Therapy (PT) Program at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) from overcoming the distance to meet virtually and celebrate the Class of 2020.
Ellen Costello, PhD, PT, director of the PT Program, welcomed the graduates to the PT Graduation and Awards Ceremony held on the Zoom platform, tearing up at not being able to share the moment with them in person. “We spend so much time together that we see each other as a family,” she said.
In her remarks to the graduates, Joyce Maring, PhD, DPT, chair of the Department of Health, Human Function, and Rehabilitation Sciences at SMHS, said the pandemic “in a sense, shines a spotlight on how critical your acquired and proven skills are to the health and recovery of the nation.
“Physical therapists ameliorate the impact of chronic conditions on wellness in a way that reduces risk for severe outcomes,” she said. “They have the skills to promote recovery and return to meaningful life for persons and families surviving the virus.”
Reamer Bushardt, PharmD, PA-C, DFAAPA, senior associate dean for health sciences and professor of physician assistant studies at SMHS, reflected on how the PT Class of 2020 arrived on campus around the same time he began in his role. He also provided words of encouragement as the graduates prepared to enter the workforce.
“You’re coming out of your program at a very critical time,” he said. “There’s going to be this tremendous wave of patients whose personal health has declined and those who have missed critical rehabilitation days and opportunities to recover and they’re going to need you more than ever.”
In addition to awards recognizing alumni, clinical educators, and student accomplishments, the graduates thanked the faculty who had supported their journey through the program and presented the Outstanding Faculty Award to Marisa Birkmeier, DPT, assistant professor of health, human function, and rehabilitation sciences at SMHS.
Student speaker, Shira Racoosin, DPT ’20, shared a personal story highlighting the togetherness and sense of family that the Class of 2020 built during its three years at GW.
“On March 1, 2018, I could tell that something just didn’t feel right. I can vividly remember walking around the classroom doing a group activity, as the tightness began to fill my chest,” she said. “I began to worry, my breath becoming uneasy, throat beginning to close. I turned to my classmate and told her how I was feeling and she tried to comfort me.”
Racoosin had suffered a panic attack. She shared that she experienced several more attacks in the following months.
“I’m not telling you this story to tell you about my struggle,” she said. “I’m telling you this story to tell you about the response that followed.”
Her classmates and PT program faculty members kept her calm, checked her vitals, organized groups to direct EMS, and continued to check in and offer support in the days and weeks after.
“The support and love I have felt through this program was no doubt recognized by each of your past patients,” Racoosin remarked. “And it will no doubt be recognized by your future patients.”
National Physical Therapy Student Honor Society Marie Blasi
Alpha Eta Inductees Marie Blasi Rebecca Cunningham Avi Feldman Chris Fielder Cameron Gordan Kendel Lipe Morgan Panzer Hayden Schober Raymond Strazzulla
Ozgur Emecki Interprofessional Leadership Award Stephanie Johnson
Academic Excellence Award Hayden Schober
Clinical Leadership Award Tara Holderman Rebecca Cunningham
Service Excellence Award Jennifer Kinch Cam Gordon Shira Racoosin Raymond Strazzulla
Peer Recognition Award Rhiannon Clark
Jean Johnson Award for Leadership, Excellence, and Quality Hailey Yohn
Outstanding Alumni Award Ryan Cusack, DPT ’17 Gabe Kresge, DPT ’16
Outstanding Clinical Educator Award Thelma Wilkins, Inova Fairfax Hospital