Physical Therapist Assistant Student Feels She Would Have Been a Mental Health Statistic if she had not Enrolled at Carrington College
The coronavirus pandemic has tested citizens around the United States in unprecedented ways since its start in early 2020. Healthcare professionals have been forced to improvise and even reuse medical goods while caring for patients battling a virus that is more aggressive than anything they have ever treated. Citizens are disconnected from their loved ones for extended periods, even while they receive hospital care. Teachers, parents, and students have transitioned to classrooms online instead of in-person around the country. All along the way, there has been burgeoning exploration into the effect that this period of extended social distancing and isolation is having on the mental health of individual human beings and society at large. Humans have evolved over millennia to be social creatures and rely on complex regular interactions with our own for survival. That’s why countless articles and blog posts have been published advising how citizens can stay connected and minimize negative effects.
24-year-old Nicole Silva said that she might have been one of the mental health statistics mentioned in recent articles if she hadn’t enrolled in Carrington College’s Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) program in Mesa, Arizona during the autumn of 2019. Being in school during this challenging time has not only been an essential way for her to fulfill her life’s passion while charting her career path, but it has also been a strategic way for her to endure the pandemic with a healthy mindset.
She said, “I am grateful for being in school during COVID. I think I would have gone into a depression and not known what to do with my life. It kept my brain going and busy and not thinking about all the things in the news.”
Nicole has worked hard to not just survive but thrive while isolated during the COVID19 pandemic. That’s not to say that the transition was a breeze for her—she is a very active and social person by nature. She even has her Bachelor of Science degree in Exercise and Wellness from Arizona State University (ASU). She also studied abroad in the metropolitan city of more than 5 million people, Sydney, Australia in 2016. Her life experience has been enthusiastically international and multicultural. She grew up between the border cities of Nogales Sonora, Mexico, and much smaller Nogales, Arizona, USA. Nicole enjoys spending her time hiking, going to the gym, and Latin dancing. Being cooped up at home during a pandemic already was going to be difficult because living like that goes against her nature. This is why attending Carrington with a community of like-minded individuals quickly became a bright spot in her life.
One of the common recommendations in articles about coping with social distancing during COVID19 is to develop peer support relationships via the internet utilizing sites that allow social engagement via written and video chatting. Psychologists know that positive attachment and bonding via these communication forms are key to supporting the ability to cope and be resilient in the face of trauma and stress. Nicole and her classmates have weathered the stress of the pandemic together through these means. They even rallied and encouraged each other during the transition from in-person to mostly online when their morale was being tested and confusion was at an all-time high about the virus and their futures. Building resilience and gaining experience pushing through tough times will give them understanding and insight for engaging and motivating patients who are facing adversity in their own lives. The PTA students have also provided support for each other when classmates have lost loved ones to the Coronavirus. Nicole lost one uncle who was a medical doctor in Mexico. Thankfully, her aunt who is a nurse treating COVID19 patients in Tucson has continued to stay healthy. She obviously comes from a healthcare-oriented family. Her little sister is even studying psychology to become an applied behavior analyst working with autistic children.
When Nicole started the PTA program in September 2019, the classes and labs were in person and hands-on, which suited her personality well. Then Coronavirus arrived in the Spring of 2020, forcing all classes online. She has only been on campus for labs since then. This is changing soon, with one of her classes starting in person and her labs continuing on campus. The class is doing a clinical rotation in October for two weeks using students as both patients and PTAs. This will give them a well-rounded hand on experience. Much longer clinical rotations at physical therapy practices will start later in the program, giving them more extensive real-life experience. Nicole already acquired two years of experience in a physical therapy practice working as a physical therapy technician after graduating from ASU and before attending Carrington.
“Ever since I was a little girl, I always wanted to help people one way or another. And I just always related to fitness my whole life and so I thought this is the perfect career for me,” she said.
After graduating from Carrington and passing her state and national licensing exams, Nicole hopes to branch out beyond the sphere of general physical therapy practice and work with special populations she hasn’t yet worked with, including juveniles, amputees, and/or patients with complex neurological damage. She connects her career choice to her passions for exercise and helping people,
“What really drove me to it was how you can help people through exercise. When you go to a doctor and you tell them that you don’t feel good, like your legs hurt or something, they want to give you a medication right away. Physical therapy is about movement. They teach you how you are supposed to move. The importance of moving, stretching all of that. Putting all of it together. I think that it’s such an amazing thing how we can work on our bodies by moving our bodies. I think that’s the biggest drive for me.”
Nicole is looking forward to returning to campus soon where she can see her colleagues and professors in person more regularly and get more hands-on experience. She also feels as though it reflects well on her and her classmates that they are staying engaged and doing something positive and productive during this turbulent and trying time in our nation’s history. Though it may be different from an illness or injury, students coming out of the program during Coronavirus will have faced adversity and built resilience that will serve them for years to come. This will help them empathize with and motivate patients to push through their own adversity to heal and make progress.
Nicole is very clear on the resilience factor being critically important as a reflection of her and her classmates’ strong characters when she explains, “Getting through school during this pandemic is going to look really good for us for the future. It’s going to show a lot. We were able to push through what we were going through and come out successful on the other side.”