After earning a daunting 109 credits over eight consecutive semesters, with 34 weeks of full-time education and training, the members of the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) Program Class of 2019 gathered with faculty, family, and friends in the Dorothy Betts Marvin Theatre to celebrate their accomplishments and recognize the program’s highest achievers during the George Washington University (GW) School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) annual DPT Graduation Awards Ceremony on May 17.
Ellen Costello, PhD, PT, director of the Physical Therapy Program, and Joyce Maring, DPT, EdD, chair of the Department of Health, Human function, and Rehabilitation Sciences, along with the physical therapy faculty and staff, welcomed the graduates and guests on hand. The event featured national awards, university-wide honors, Health Sciences Program awards, and departmental recognition.
Jeffrey S. Akman, MD ’81, RESD ’85, vice president for health affairs, Walter A. Bloedorn Professor of Administrative Medicine, and dean of SMHS, opened the event, welcoming the graduating class of DPT students and reminding them to “always put patients’ values first and conduct your lives with integrity.” Akman followed his welcome with a personal story emphasizing the importance of that patient-first philosophy. “My parents are 88 and 85 years old,” Akman told the audience. “They have both broken their hips, and now my father is now dealing with spinal stenosis.” He recalled how, when his father was undergoing physical therapy for his hip fracture, his father scanned the hospital clinic watching the physical therapists working with their patients. “My father went to the head of the rehab center and said, ‘I want that physical therapist over there. I don’t want the one I’m with. That person is working patients much harder than I’m being worked and I want to get better,’ ” Akman said.
Fast forward to three weeks ago, the elder Akman was again in the hospital, this time for leg weakness and spinal stenosis. “Before he even got to physical therapy, he told the head of the rehab center, ‘Give me the physical therapist who is going to work me the hardest because I want to get better.’ ” The moral of the story, Akman told the graduates, is that “patients are watching, they are evaluating you. And being patient-centered is really about getting the best outcomes for your patients that you can get.” Following Akman’s remarks, Senior Associate Dean for Health Science Reamer L. Bushardt, PharmD, PA-C, addressed the DPTs, commending them for their altruism, something that led the GW Center for Student Engagement to select the PT Student Organization (PTSO) for its Student Organization Outstanding Service Award.
“The physical therapy student population really pours themselves into the needs of the community,” Bushardt said. “Your spirit of volunteerism, philanthropy, altruistic commitment to D.C. and beyond is one of the things I believe we can be most proud of at the School of Medicine and Health Sciences. … When others can see your great work and the impact you can make they will join your cause. “The person that you are,” he continued, “the reason the PT faculty sought you out, and chose you, and brought you here to GW because you were so special; that character is what will really help you have an incredible career. … Sometimes the pace and rigor of the work will try to pull us away from the necessary human connection we have with the patients we serve, but hold onto that part of your character that cares about the individual as a person and their experience and their function and their lives.”
The awards presentations opened with inductions to the Alpha Eta National Honor Society and the National Physical Therapy Student Honor Society. Alpha Eta Honor Society is the National Honor Society for Health Science Professionals. Inductees must be in the top 20 percent of their class and have displayed leadership qualities and demonstrated a commitment to community service. This year’s student inductees were Kyra Corradin, Mandy Dunyak, Christina Greenwood, Cianna Kriegish, Haleigh Parola, Alison Rieck, and Marin Smith.
The National Physical Therapy Student Honor Society was established by the American Council of Academic Physical Therapy to recognize DPT students who demonstrate excellence, integrity, and professionalism in areas of academic achievement, leadership, and service. The Class of 2019 inductees are Christina Greenwood, Kyra Corradin, Mandy Dunyak, Haleigh Parola, and Marin Smith. Among the awards spanning all of the health sciences programs, Elony May received the Health Sciences Outstanding Graduate Student, and Catherine Schutte received the Health Science Ozgur Ekmekci Interprofessional Leadership Award. Marin Smith received the Academic Excellence Award, as the student with the highest cumulative grade point average.
The Service Excellence Award was presented to Mandy Dunyak, Erin Dalisay, and Hannah Kimberly for their outstanding community service throughout their time at GW. Rachael Sottile received the Peer Recognition Award. The graduates nominate a peer who consistently shares their knowledge and skills, acts as a resource for others, and works for the benefit of the whole class. Tyler Heath and Ashley Wahl shared the Excellence in Clinical Leadership Award, which is presented to those who exemplify outstanding performance in clinical practice. Rebecca Schumer, DPT ’10, BS ’06, received the DPT alumni award, while the clinical instructor award went to Jack Bal, DPT ’12.
The Jean Johnson Award for Leadership, Excellence, and Quality was presented to Melinda Avery for demonstrating excellence in academic course work, clinical practice, research, and community service. The award is named for the dean emerita of the GW School of Nursing, Jean Johnson, PhD, RN, a former senior associate dean for health sciences, who was an ardent advocate for the Physical Therapy program. Dinu Jayaseelan, DPT ’10, co-academic director of the orthopedic residency and assistant professor of health, human function, and rehabilitation sciences, received this year’s Outstanding Faculty Award. The graduating DPTs continued the tradition of dedicating the class gift to the PT white coat initiative.
Since 2015, graduating PT classes have donated funds to cover the cost of white coats for the incoming class. In addition, each coat comes with a handwritten note tucked into the pocket from one of the graduating DPTs. To close the awards ceremony PTSO leaders Zachary Carroll, president, and Melinda Avery, vice president, issued a student charge to the graduates. “When we began PT school,” Avery said, “we had no idea what the next three years would entail for any of us — the hours of studying, the loss of sleep, the seemingly endless group projects, or the fact that we would see these 46 people almost every day for so many years. We got to know each other in many more ways, and so much more closely than we ever imagined.”
She continued that looking back she was reminded of the “overwhelming feelings of kindness and compassion, when classmates experienced a personal joy, such as the birth of a child.” Avery also noted how the class banded together in support of classmates who had experienced significant loss. “Our class showed no limit in our ability to seamlessly move from moments of laughter to moments of sincerity.” Carroll pointed to the seven core values set forth by the American Physical Therapy Association, qualities that go beyond the technical skills and knowledge acquired in the classroom. “Our ability to remember those traits, our ability to remember that we are treating a person and not just a condition, someone with a story that has shaped their current experience; that encompasses what it means to be a physical therapist.”