When Michael Casillas ‘20 DPT finished his undergraduate degree, he thought he’d be a personal trainer and scuba diving instructor. Instead, after discovering a passion for training older adults, he enrolled in the University of Lynchburg’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program.
“I wanted to become a physical therapist because I love the blend between science and patient care,” Casillas said. “I was originally planning to be a personal trainer and scuba dive instructor … but that plan changed after I started personal training a few elderly adults.
“I loved helping my clients improve their physical abilities as well as making strong personal connections with them, learning from each other every day. Those experiences led me to want to dive deeper into patient care with an increased set of skills, treating a more diverse population.”
On Friday, September 27, Casillas was one of three DPT students who were awarded Orthopedic Excellence Awards. The scholarships — $5,000, $2,000, and $500 — were given by Rehab Associates of Central Virginia, a local physical therapy provider that has supported Lynchburg’s DPT program for more than a decade.
“We want to support people with the same mission that we have,” Dr. Josh Bailey, RACVA’s president and CEO, said. “Not people that are necessarily going to work with us. … Really, we just want good orthopedic PTs in the world and want to help those people further their education, to facilitate the quality of physical therapy.”
The RACVA scholarships are presented to third-year DPT students who are members of the American Physical Therapy Association, in good standing with faculty, and who are passionate about the PT profession. Students apply for the scholarships and RACVA and the DPT faculty participate in the review and selection process.
The first-place, $5,000 scholarship was awarded to Casillas. The $2,000 award was given to Tanner Cooke ’20 DPT, who praised the DPT program, its faculty, and students.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better experience these past two and a half years,” he said. “My cohort and our professors have made this very difficult program so rewarding and beneficial for my development as a future physical therapist and as a young man in general.
“When you have good people around you on a daily basis, it makes it seem less like work and more like play. We’ve all shared in each other’s highs and lows, and I will miss each person in this program very much, as they have become like a second family to me.”
Steven Pruett ’20 DPT, winner of the $500 scholarship, said he sees physical therapy as just one more way he can help others. “My passion for orthopedic physical therapy is rooted in my desire to see real and meaningful changes made in the lives of those around me,” he said.
“From a young age, I have spent a good portion of my life working toward improving the lives of those who were less fortunate than me and helping them live happier, more fulfilled lives. … Physical therapy has provided me with an extension of my life’s mission, and it has allowed me to reach out and help people in ways I never imagined.”
This year’s scholarships were presented at the end of the School of Physical Therapy Professional Symposium, an event organized by third-year DPT students. At the symposium, guests spoke on a variety of topics relevant to the PT profession, including preventing burnout, ethics, the opioid crisis, entrepreneurship and job searches, and others.
Bailey, who presented the scholarships, said it becomes harder and harder each year to choose the winners, and he joked that this year, “we made them arm wrestle.” On a more serious note, he added, “All of these gentlemen are going to do great things.”