D.P.T. student learns the power to drive lives forward through physical therapy

Austin Slone

First-year Radford University Carilion (RUC) Doctor of Physical Therapy (D.P.T.) student Austin Slone was introduced to physical therapy at age 17 when he tore his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). The injury happened while Slone was wrestling at Tuscarora High School in his hometown, Leesburg, Virginia. However, that wasn’t the motivating factor in his decision to pursue a career in the rehabilitation specialty.

“My injury helped me understand the benefits of physical therapy and what physical therapists do,” Slone said, “but it was seeing my relatives go through rehabilitation countless times to repair issues no one knew how to fix that really motivated me.”

Slone said he wanted to give physical therapy patients the power to drive their lives forward without recurring pain and endless rehabilitation. His family members had gone through knee replacements and suffered from chronic low back pain, but they also experienced lots of undiagnosed aches and pains.

“I wanted to help patients live better, more productive and pain-free lives,” Slone said. “It was a way to honor my family members by finding new ways to help others.”

Slone charted his course to a physical therapy career by majoring in biology and minoring in exercise science as an undergraduate at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI). Those programs helped him develop a solid academic foundation for his career aspirations, while the military training helped him prepare for an active-duty military enlistment he hoped to pursue after graduation. As he approached graduation, though, he reconsidered his options.

“I felt the best opportunity for me was to enter the reserves, complete school and then apply for active duty,” Slone said.

To stay in top shape during his education, Slone joined the Army Reserves, where he is currently a second lieutenant in a local unit.

“Having gone to a military school, I learned the importance of trust and putting your best foot forward for others, not expecting something back but to leave the world better than when you entered,” Slone said. “The reserves has allowed me to maintain readiness for the military and stay up to date on doctrine. I hope the connections I have built thus far will make the transfer process seamless when I graduate.”

Until that transition, Slone is supplementing his education by working as a graduate assistant in the RUC physical therapy department.

“RUC has given me the opportunity to learn the ropes of becoming a physical therapist, and this was a way I could say thank you for the opportunity,” Slone reflected. “The position keeps me accountable for my time and allows me to simultaneously continue learning while developing task management skills.”

Even though the degree that Slone and his classmates are pursuing is a doctorate, the curriculum is actually preparing them for entry-level positions as physical therapists. The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) has asserted that all physical therapists need a D.P.T. degree to enter the profession. The D.P.T. program at RUC mirrors that vision by aspiring to prepare responsive, engaged professionals who lead by example by providing best-practice care.

The program’s description states that “physical therapists will be recognized by consumers and other health care professionals as practitioners of choice to whom consumers have direct access for the diagnosis of, interventions for and prevention of impairments, functional limitations and disabilities related to movement, function and health.”

Slone said that this aspiration to continually improve and grow is one of the things that drew him to the D.P.T. program at RUC.

“RUC is always seeking feedback to improve, and a program or school that does that cares,” Slone said. “It is the same in the military, in the working world and in aspects of your personal life. If a person or organization seeks to be better than they were yesterday, that shows humility and the ability to grow.”

Slone said that he likes that RUC and his program also expect him to grow and become better so he can eventually be an excellent healthcare provider.

“At RUC, I am challenged and engaged by my classes,” Slone said. “So, I work hard to create mutual respect between me and my university, professors and fellow students. When that happens, RUC is no longer just a ‘school,’ but my home.”

Oct 29, 2021
Mark Lambert