For World Physical Therapy Day, get to know NAU’s PT students

A physical therapy student helps a patient lying on a table stretch.

Happy World Physical Therapy Day! In 1996, the World Confederation of Physical Therapy (WCPT) designated Sept. 8, World PT Day. This is the date that WCPT, the organization now known as World Physiotherapy, was founded in 1951. This day is used as an opportunity to advocate for the importance of physical therapy and for the crucial role that physical therapists play in keeping people feeling well, mobile and self-sufficient. 

To highlight the people behind the hard work of physical therapy, The NAU Review reached out to several students in NAU’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program (DPT) to hear about what inspired them to join the profession and what makes the hardships that accompany the profession worth it.  

Aija Amatrading 

Amatrading decided to pursue a career in in the PT field because of a patient she encountered during her time as a certified nurse assistant (CNA). The patient suffered from a spinal cord injury after being involved in an attack while trying to protect a girl from being robbed. This injury led the patient to require a wheelchair, “but it never let it stop them from having an amazing day.” One day, while she was running late for work, Amatrading observed the patient outside during one of his PT sessions.  

“I couldn’t believe he was standing and even taking some steps, to the point where I just stood by the door and stared in awe,” she said. “It was at that moment that I knew I wanted to not only help patients, but I wanted to help recreate that moment with patients—that ‘awe’ moment.” 

Amatrading is most proud of having completed her first year in the DPT program, while the best part of her experience in the program has been the people she’s met and the memories she’s created with them. 

“The first year was very difficult for me, and I am not saying it will get any easier, but I feel like I proved to myself that I can handle it,” she said. “I just have to continue to put in the work.”   

Although Amatrading is passionate about what she does, there have been many challenges along the way. One is a need for the PT industry to be more inclusive and diverse; she sees it as an opportunity for growth with each new generation of students and professionals entering the field. 

So, what makes it worth it?” she said. “The people who appreciate the hard work we put into caring for them. Seeing the smile on their faces and them genuinely appreciating you is a feeling that is hard to describe. As well as the increasing numbers of people of color showing interest in the field.” 

Taryn Harker  

Harker always knew that regardless of where her career took her, she’d be working with people to reach her overarching goal of making “as many individuals as possible be happy, healthy and confident.” After a consistent back-and-forth regarding the daunting question of what she wanted to be when she grew up, she stumbled upon physical therapy and “never looked back.”  

“Everything I wanted for myself, I could achieve with the field of PT,” she said. 

For Harker, the toughest aspect of the PT field is managing the general public perception of the work and value of physical therapists.  

“Many people believe we are glorified personal trainers, people who couldn’t make it into medical school or the person they will see when they get old and have a knee replacement,” she said. “I hope through future work in advocacy, public education and expansion of our scope of practice, we can inform everyone of what PT’s are, what we do and all that we have to offer.” 

In addition to her responsibilities as a student, Harker serves as the Arizona Physical Therapy Association’s (APTA) core ambassador, the vice president of APTA’s Student Special Interest Group (APTA SSIG) and a class representative for the DPT Class of 2023 at the Pheonix Bioscience Core.  

“It is a necessity for me to be involved, not for myself, but for the people I get to serve and the connections I get to make through my involvement,” she said. 

As part of that work, in June Harker went to Washington, D.C., to advocate at the Federal Advocacy Forum. The APTA successfully advocated for a minimized payment decrease for skilled nursing facilities. 

“Not only was this a stick-out moment for me as a student, but I was able to see first-hand the impact that advocacy has on the field of PT as a whole, and the people in my own backyard,” she said.  

Isabel Ticlo  

Ticlo graduated in 2016 with a degree in marketing and minors in communication and dance. She spent the next six years working for a Fortune 500 technology company while earning her master’s degree in business administration. During this time, she explored her natural affinity for helping people by doing community service over the weekends. Having spent more than 11 years volunteering with people with vision loss/impairment, Ticlo was often exposed to people who, along with vision loss, suffered from neurological or physical challenges.  

While vision loss is something they had to adapt to, many were able to live more independently thanks to the help of physical therapy interventions,” she said. “So, I started taking night classes after work to explore some prerequisites in preparation for applications. When it was time to take the leap, I only submitted to one school: Northern Arizona University’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program.” 

As rewarding as the profession is, the PT field is both mentally and physically demanding. At times, physical therapists use their full body weight to perform interventions on patients and often see many patients in a short time span. These factors can lead to burnout and exhaustion, though one way to address that is changing up the type of work; physical therapists have an incredible scope of practice across a multitude of specialties and settings. The rewards are also pretty good. 

“When you get to see a patient walk for the first time after having a stroke or get back to their hobbies and daily activities pain-free after getting fitted for an orthotic device, or use their arms after suffering a major trauma, it reminds you of how powerful movement as medicine can be,” she said. 

Ticlo said she was nervous coming to the field without a background in science, fearing she would fall behind or have difficulty keeping up with her peers. Fortunately, she found a great study group which has allowed her and her peers to be successful in their journey thus far.  

I’m really proud of the meaningful connections that I’ve been able to build at this school, not only with my classmates, but also with the incredible faculty who constantly go above and beyond to make sure we all become exceptional healthcare professionals. It’s because of these individuals’ support and encouragement that I felt brave enough to pursue and achieve my role as class representative, board member for the APTA AZ SSIG, teaching assistant and intern for my dream hospital. I feel incredibly grateful and proud to be a member of this program.” 

Kylee Austin 

Austin became interested in physical therapy after experiencing the benefits of pelvic health physical therapy herself. Transitioning from a career as an elementary school teacher, Austin started in the health and fitness career field as a personal trainer and group trainer helping other moms like herself.  

“My desire to become a Pelvic Health Physical Therapist myself grew as I continued to help more women, and I finally arrived at NAU DPT with that goal in mind,” she said. 

The biggest challenge she’s experienced is being an advocate for the profession.  

“As physical therapists, we need to constantly advocate for ourselves as professionals and a necessary part of health care for the wellness of society,” she said. “We find that many people do not understand what we do, how we can help and why PT is beneficial. That’s why World Physical Therapy Day and other national awareness days are so important to promote the profession we love.” 

Speaking of her own journey into this profession, Austin says she is most proud of being able to work on her studies while raising her three sons.  

“It makes me so proud to be a good example for them and to see how proud they are of their mommy becoming a doctor of physical therapy. I recently realized that I will be graduating from my didactic courses at the same time my twins will be ‘graduating’ kindergarten. I look forward to sharing that moment with them.” 

Stephanie Weiner 

Weiner has been working as a movement professional for seven years, doing a combination of coaching elite rowing, personal training and teaching Pilates. When she started working within the Pilates framework, Weiner noted that most of her clients were coming in with some sort of injury or chronic pain.  

“Helping them change their attitudes around movement was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done,” she said. “Because Pilates tends to trend towards a more affluent population, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to help a wide net of people within the scope of practice as a Pilates teacher. After three years of completing prerequisites, I was accepted at NAU. I’m excited to be able to have the degree and skillset to help spread more movement optimism to a larger crowd.” 

While she is not yet a practitioner, Weiner’s biggest challenge is the pending need to work within the U.S. health care system. What makes the prospect of encountering this challenge worth it helping others navigate the system.  

“No one gets into the health care field to do paperwork, but having the insider knowledge to ensure that patients can get the help they need is incredibly important,” she said. 

The moment she is most proud of in her journey in the PT field is being selected to go to Washington, D.C., to participate in a strategic fly-in with APTA.  

“It was amazing to get to participate in an event that was so directly impactful to the profession,” she said. “Since our meetings, one of the senators and one of the representatives have signed pieces of legislation, directly pertaining to the physical therapy field, that we lobbied for. Working within a system that is not governed by health professionals and is often less flashy than other news items can be challenging, but this opportunity showed me that change is possible.” 

NAU Communications