Tell me a little bit about yourself
I’m a doctorate of Physical Therapy (PT) student at Nova Southeastern University (NSU) wrapping up my 2nd year and set to graduate May of 2019. I was born and raised in Fort Lauderdale, FL and I am a single mom to my 5-year-old daughter, Malia. My undergrad is also from NSU, Bachelor’s of Science in Athletic Training. Once I graduated, I went on to play semi-pro/entertainment basketball. Then returned home, enrolled in Broward College’s Physical Therapy Assistant (PTA) program, became licensed and worked four years before being accepted into graduate school.
What made you choose PT?
I’ve always had a passion for helping people as well as health and wellness. They both encompass who I am as a person. When I was a child, instead of going to recess, I would volunteer to assist students in the special needs classes. Later in life, I was very hands-on in helping my grandmother who become a paraplegic after having a tumor removed from her spine. I love working with people and Physical therapy allows me to work with a variety of populations while fulfilling my passions.
Tell me about your Pre-PT journey?
In the beginning, I wasn’t sure if I was interested in physical therapy, so I completed the PTA program as a trial. During my last semester, I discovered that I was pregnant, which was an unexpected surprise. I thought “oh no!” but at that point, there was nothing I could do about it. I finished school, studied for my boards and became a licensed PTA right before I had my daughter. I began working the following year with a great mentor. She told me “Ashley we need more PTs like you. You’re motivated, you want to learn and you treat your patients very well.” I thought to myself, “slow down lady, I just got out of school and had a baby. I’m not ready yet” But over time as I continued to practice, my patients would say the same thing. That made me start inquiring about the application process. The longer I practiced, the more I loved my job, the more I wanted to become a PT. I felt that there was more for me to offer and gain in terms of knowledge as a PT, so I went on to complete my pre-reqs. I applied to several schools but my first choice was NSU since it was the best decision for my family. I prayed on it and applied to several programs that were all interested in me, but my struggle was the GRE.
What was the struggle?
Completing the pre-req courses, working full-time, being a mom, while trying to prep for the GRE almost felt impossible to accomplish. There were very little moments when I was able to sit down and review the GRE. Some Saturday’s, I would take my daughter to a daycare that operated on weekends while I headed to the library to review prep exams. The hardest part of this was trying to find enough time in the day. But I didn’t let that stop me, I had a goal to be finished with school by 2020 and here I am set to graduate next Summer.
Tell me what went through your mind when you found out that you were pregnant while in the PTA program?
My last rotation was a pediatric rotation. I heard stories from moms who had normal, healthy pregnancies but something happened during the delivery and their kids were born with disabilities like Cerebral Palsy. That became my biggest fear, to suddenly have my life and the baby’s life forever changed without a moment’s notice. Other than that, there weren’t any significant adjustments to make since I was early in my pregnancy and graduation was not far away. I knew that I would not have the luxury of completing my career for becoming a mom, but I would have someone to share these experiences with me.
What held you back from applying to the doctorate program?
The fear of not getting in and a lot of self-doubts.
I’m a single mom so the question of finances and being able to balance my responsibilities as a student and parent were a major concern. I knew the program would be a huge time commitment and sacrifice. What was I going to do about money? Would people understand? At the time I was still in a relationship with my daughter’s father and I wondered if he would be supportive. I was quickly becoming a victim of my fears. But deep down inside I was thinking that I had to get this done. Even with those doubts and a lot of hesitancy, I still chipped away at different tasks on the to-do lists.
How did you get over that obstacle?
When I started reaching out for letters of recommendations and things of that nature, people were very supportive. But it was my letter of acceptance from NSU that really took it the rest of the way.
It’s an interesting story because initially, I didn’t know that I was accepted into the NSU program. One day I was scrolling through my email and stumbled across a message from my mentor that said: “thank you for choosing NSU, here’s what we have coming up.” I was so confused because I hadn’t heard back from them. It turns out that my acceptance letter was sent to an old address. I called them immediately to confirm my acceptance and took that as a sign of me being on the right track. When I got off the phone, I burst into tears of joy and disbelief, falling to my knees to thank God. All of my doubts and fears were erased at that moment because I knew everything would fall into place.
You talked a little bit about Finances, could you elaborate on that?
The financial struggle is hard… very hard. I had some money saved which made the first year less of a burden but as time went on, I definitely felt it. But with the loans and my support system that helps out from time to time, it all works out. I’m one of those people that was always helping others but never wanted to ask for help. But every unasked question is a no. I almost let the fear of having such a large student loan debt deter me from accomplishing my goals. Then I remembered that my focus was to get my degree, and that would require making an investment in myself.
What would you say is your biggest motivation?
My daughter and family. I’ll be the first doctoral graduate in my family, an accomplishment that I am proud of. I look at my daughter and remind myself that I’m doing this for us. I don’t ever want her to see me quit, because she feeds off that energy and I feed off of her energy as well. She’s always telling me “Mommy I’m so proud of you” or “Mommy I’m praying for you.” At first, it was a difficult adjustment because she was wondering why mommy was always away. But over time it changed from “mommy you’re always studying” to “mommy make sure you study today, and I know you will come to get me when you’re done.” It shows me how resilient and mature she is. I went from being a very interactive mom to a PT student who was always in class or studying. There were tears of mom guilt, But my My Mother would remind me that this was not going to come easy. I am doing the right thing and Malia will understand one day…. And she was right, Malia does understand now.
How would you say this process has affected her?
I think at first she was sad because mommy wasn’t there. But in my absence, I had to rely more on her father and now their relationship has grown into something much stronger and more beautiful. Which I appreciate because I never had the opportunity as a child to be “daddy’s little girl.” We still have our special relationship but it’s changed. When I see her I don’t want to talk about homework and chores, instead, we catch up on life and her days at school. The quality of our time has become richer and she understands the importance of education. She’s motivated to study more and work hard at school. It’s definitely had an overall positive effect on her. It started out rough but now she is a ball of fire.
Tell me the importance of a support system?
I don’t know where I would be without my support system. My parents, siblings, Malia’s father and family, sister in law, friends, daughter, church family, even my classmates and faculty at times…. They have all been right there behind me offering words of encouragement, advice, help with Malia, prayer… you name it and they have been there. A support system is vital, and I couldn’t imagine doing this without them. My daughter is my priority and without them there to step in and say “You don’t have to do this alone” … I do not think I would be here.
What advice would you offer a mom considering doing this without a support system?
Anything is possible, but it will be extremely challenging. There have been times when I had to conquer the day on my own by rushing Malia to the park to play for a few minutes or sitting her in front of the tv a little longer than I would like to. It’s not ideal, but it is a temporary situation. I’d suggest reaching out to your classmates, they are often very willing to help. There have been days when they have volunteered to babysit or study with me at the children’s library so my daughter can play for 2-3 hours. So find yourself a few close friends who understand and are willing to help when needed. Use your resources to find a way to make it work. Also, see what the school has to offer. NSU has the Alvin Sherman Library which has a children’s section that always has activities for the kids to participate in. You don’t want the lack of help to hinder you from accomplishing your goals because you will live in regret.
So how do you manage being a single mom in a doctorate program?
My faith. There have been times when I wanted to throw in the towel but I reach out to people I trust and ask for prayer. In addition to that, my perseverance- I’m not a quitter. My faith gives me a God to lean on and trust with all my burdens while my perseverance is the fire which keeps me going.
What does a typical Day look like for you?
Any specific days of the week off limits?
Every Friday night is mommy and me time. She loves the park, so that’s usually where we end up. We often spend weekend nights after 5pm and Sunday mornings together but Fridays nights are consistent.
What do you wish you knew before starting PT School?
Advice from a parent about what it would be like to juggle being a graduate student and mom. There’s not a whole lot of advice out there. In my class of nearly 50 students, there are 3 parents including myself – 2 moms and 1 dad.
If you could rewind back to the moment that you decided to become a PT, what would you tell yourself?
Not to be so hard on myself and just be proud. You’re doing something many others have not been able to accomplish. Embrace this moment.
Undergrad GPA: 3.64
Science GPA: 3.5
PCE & HCE: 5,000+
What would you say to the mom out there who is hesitating?
Every untaken opportunity is a no. Three years will come and go before you know it, what will you do in that time? Just take the step and it will always work out in your favor.