First-year Physical Therapy student Aaron Weeks quickly learned that his field is more than just treating sports injuries.
“Many of the people physical therapists treat have diseases that can’t be cured,” said Weeks. “Physical therapy is often the best way they can improve their quality of life. Now that I am exposed to all the different aspects of the profession, I look forward to experiencing all of them.”
The Birmingham native may not have taken the usual route to get to the PT program. He spent his undergrad one floor below the PT labs in the Nuclear Medicine Technology program.
“It’s a field, like physical therapy, where you can make a huge impact on the quality of a person’s life at times when they have no other options,” said Weeks.
He graduated in May 2011 and was able to work before starting the PT program to gain valuable general clinical experience.
Weeks said the PT program is a natural fit for him.
“I have always been a physically active person and realize how important it is to our health to be physically active,” said Weeks.
As a student, he has maintained a 3.5 GPA. As an alumnus, he remains active as a member of the UAB National Alumni Society. As someone who has been on both sides of the coin, he offers advice to incoming students.
“It’s important to make good grades in school, but I think it’s just as important to maintain a good balance of family, friends and school so that you won’t get burned out.” said Weeks.
He still has a few years left of the PT program with an expected graduation date of December 2014, and he already knows what the future holds.
“I would like to get a job as soon as possible working in an outpatient setting,” said Weeks. “Then I hope to get married and start a family.”
It was an ambitious goal, but Lynae Hanks was up to the task. Typically, a doctoral student in the Department of Nutrition Sciences would graduate in five years because most students went straight from a bachelor’s degree to the doctoral program. The Brewton, Ala. native started the doctoral program in 2008 and finished it in three years.
“I was the first to enter the PhD program with a master’s degree,” said Hanks. “Dr. Jose Fernandez set the ambitious goal and I was able to accomplish it.”
She not only earned her master’s in the department but also completed her dietetic internship. She did a traineeship at the Clinical Research Unit, an independently-funded grant through the American Dietetic Association and the Cancer Prevention and Control Training Center.
She is currently working as a postdoctoral fellow completing Interdisciplinary Training in Kidney-Related Research through a T32 Research Fellowship by the Nephrology Research and Training Center in the Department of Medicine. One of her mentors is Krista Casazza, Ph.D., R.D. an assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition Sciences.
“My current focus is characterizing how disturbances in calcium, vitamin D and phosphorus metabolism manifest into early risk factors for chronic diseases across systems, particularly those pertaining to the bone-kidney nexus,” said Hanks.
Her doctoral work and postdoctoral fellow allow her the opportunity to work with various groups.
“Being involved in a multi-disciplined team, who continuously challenged common conjectures of others in the nutrition field and beyond, facilitated the practice of empirical scientific approach techniques,” said Hanks.
She said she tells students to allow for unexpected opportunities, be proactive, don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo and, above all, give it your best.
“Sometimes that opportunity may not permit being the best due to steep learning curves, time allowance, etc, but give 100 percent of whatever you have in every situation,” said Hanks. “Do not get so focused on going through the steps necessary to complete graduation that you lose sight of the future. Look beyond and prepare for that is to come not just directly after graduation, but in pursuit of long-term goals.”
Brittany McGee became interested in the health care field in middle school while assisting her family to take care of her grandmother. Due to complications with diabetes and diabetic retinopathy, her grandmother experience total vision loss and bilateral lower extremity amputation.
“I assisted with self-care activities including bathing, feeding and dressing,” said McGee, a Selma, Ala. native.
It wasn’t until years later in high school she was formally introduced to the profession of occupational therapy. She realized she had been engaging in occupational therapy all those years with her grandmother.
“I was finally able to put a name to what I was doing,” said McGee. “I decided that it would become my passion in life.”
She first earned her bachelor’s degree in Nuclear Medicine Technology in the Department of Clinical & Diagnostic Sciences at UAB. She decided to stay at UAB to earn her master’s degree in occupational therapy for two reasons.
“I received an exceptional undergraduate education, not only in my core curriculum classes, but also in the Nuclear Medicine Technology program,” said McGee. “I chose the UAB Occupational Therapy program because of its national recognition and ratings as being one of the best programs in the nation.”
During her collegiate experience, McGee says she’s been able to successfully maintain a comfortable balance between academic achievement and extracurricular activities on and off campus. She encourages incoming students to do the same.
“Make sure you maintain a healthy balance between academics and leisure in order to ensure longevity and to make sure you don’t get burned out so easily.”
McGee has plans to earn her master’s degree in the fall of 2013. She hopes to pass her board certification exam on the first try.
“I hope to assume an ideal job position that will allow me to demonstrate my expertise as much as possible while enabling me to make a difference in the lives of others,” said McGee. “I am most interested in working with the young adult to middle aged population in a general rehab or acute care setting.”
It was an opportunity to be a part of a new program in a different part of the country that drew Jamison Beek to UAB’s Genetic Counseling program two years ago.
“I wanted a new experience,” said Beek. “I have lived in the Midwest my whole life.”
He grew up in Sioux Falls, S.D. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Biology from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. Beek said graduate school provided him the chance to experience life somewhere else and opportunities at his fingertips.
“The main reason I chose UAB was because I was impressed by the variety of clinical opportunities that were available to me as a Genetic Counseling student,” said Beek.
As a Genetic Counselor, he’s able to interact with patients which he didn’t get to do spending years in a laboratory. He can talk to families about genetic disease, family history and inheritance of different risks and treatment options and provide psycho-social counseling.
“I just wanted to use my passion for genetics in a way that would allow me to connect with people,” he says. “Even when people are going through difficult situations, I get satisfaction through supporting them in any way that I can.”
He’s been working recently at the UAB Medical Genomics Laboratory. In March, he took home first place in the annual UAB Graduate Research Day in the category of “Public Health and Social and Behavioral Sciences.” His research was titled, “Are Health Care Professionals Ready and Willing to Incorporate Direct-to-Consumer Genetic Test Results Into Patient Care?”
Now he is one of five students about to graduate as the first Genetic Counseling class in the Department of Clinical and Diagnostic Sciences on May 12, 2012. He even has a huge role to play that day.
“I’m honored to have the privilege to be the graduate speaker at the spring commencement,” said Beek.
As he reflects on his final days as a student, Beek tells students to find something you are passionate about and just go for it.
“I’m a firm believer that if you work hard you can accomplish your goals,” said Beek. “Ever since the day I decided to become a genetic counselor, I’ve been putting all my efforts to making that goal happen.Beek’s goal now is to pursue his career as a Genetic Counselor back in the Midwest to be closer to family and friends. And his biggest purpose yet is his upcoming marriage this fall.
Alyssa Pennington is your typical college student. She changed her major after her freshmen year. She tells incoming students to choose a major in a subject that you love.
“By investing your time in a subject that you really enjoy, you are more likely to find yourself in a career that you are truly invested in,” said Pennington.
After researching and gaining advice from advisors, Pennington found her true calling in Health Care Management.
“The program perfectly blends my interest in healthcare and business,” said Pennington. “My major has allowed me to explore many different facets of the healthcare industry, and gives me confidence in my abilities as a future leader in healthcare.”
She said being in the UAB School of Health Professions has given her the opportunity for hands-on experience and applied learning. The Madison, Ala. native recently completed an internship at Cooper Green Mercy Hospital.
“I had the chance to learn first-hand what it’s like to work in a safety net hospital,” said Pennington. “I have come to have a greater respect for the Birmingham community and the importance of access to care for all citizens.”
That rewarding experience solidified her desire to become a healthcare administrator in which she will pursue a master’s degree once she graduates in May. She plans to focus her studies on hospital operations and quality management with a fellowship following graduate school.
Pennington has taken advantage of the student life at UAB while maintaining a 3.96 GPA. She’s a member of the University Honors Program as well as the School of Health Professions Honors Program. Pennington has been actively involved on the Homecoming Executive Board, UAB TrailBlazers and her sorority Alpha Omicron Pi. She said each of those experiences has enhanced her learning knowledge and encourages other students to get involved while living their college life.
“Become involved in something during your time as an undergraduate,” said Pennington. “Whether it is a student organization or a volunteer opportunity, you will gain great things out of those types of experiences and enhance your college experience far beyond your expectations.”