After earning a bachelor’s degree in exercise science at Sacred Heart University, Hannah Cook entered the three-year Department of Kinesiology’s Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program. She recently finished an internship at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria, Illinois, and will complete her clinical work this spring at the Cheshire Fitness Zone, a therapeutic center for children, and looks forward to a career as a pediatric physical therapist. When asked about a major issue facing students, she said that student debt, coupled with fewer opportunities for clinical internships as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, has added to the financial burden for students. On top of that, the pandemic has made it more difficult for graduates to find permanent employment. Read more about Cook’s experiences as a UConn student.
What attracted you to the UConn College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources?
There are many things that attracted me to the UConn College of Agriculture, Health, and Natural Resources. Most importantly, I wanted something different and to be able to have the freedom to see and speak with my professors when I need to. I did not attend UConn for my undergraduate degree, and I was ready for a new adventure and challenge. I loved UConn CAHNR because the College’s DPT program is small and intimate and I love how going to class every day is like seeing my second family.
Why did you choose your particular major?
I was an athlete my entire life and became injured in high school while running cross country track. I went to a sports medicine physical therapy facility and loved it there. I specifically chose PT because I always wanted a career where I could help people, and I wanted to work with children, particularly those with special needs. I shadowed a PTA while she worked with children, and I fell in love with the idea of PT for kids.
Which one of your UConn activities, internships or jobs was the most memorable? Why?
The most memorable UConn activity/internship/job for me was definitely volunteering with the DPT Program’s Go Baby Go! event. I had the amazing opportunity of volunteering for this event along with my classmates in our pediatric elective. It was incredibly rewarding being able to adapt vehicles and seeing the happiness on children’s faces when they could move around in such a fun way.
Name two other experiences that have enriched your studies.
Two other experiences that have enriched my experiences include being President and a member of the DPT Program’s Student APTA Organization and volunteering with Husky Sport. Being a member of SAPTA was really what got the ball rolling for me in terms of having the confidence to go for leadership positions and being really involved in the physical therapy profession outside of the classroom. On the other hand, volunteering with Husky Sport gave me a new perspective at UConn because I wasn’t around my classmates which put me out of my comfort zone. With Husky Sport, I learned how to make lasting connections with kids who come from diverse backgrounds.
What has been the biggest challenge in your UConn career?
The biggest challenge in my UConn career so far definitely has to be adjusting to graduate school. I was always a good student throughout all of my schooling including undergrad, but graduate school is a completely different situation. Trying to find what study techniques work for me and getting comfortable in a new school with new people around me was not easy. Luckily, with how welcoming the UConn DPT Program is, it didn’t take long for me to feel at home.
When do you expect to graduate? What then?
I plan to graduate in May 2021. After graduation, I am hoping to take the National Physical Therapy Exam in July to become a licensed physical therapist. Once licensed, I am planning to work as a pediatric physical therapist and hopefully in a couple of years I will be able to open my own pediatric clinic that includes PT, occupational therapy and speech-language pathology.
Has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your studies or research?
COVID-19 has definitely affected my studies for sure this past year. My last semester of didactic work went all online, which caused us to be online for one of our labs. Fortunately, we were able to figure it out and make it work with help from our incredible faculty. Also, my first clinical affiliation that was supposed to be in Texas was cancelled due to COVID, but again, luckily I was able to find a new clinical affiliation in Massachusetts that was willing to take me last minute. Even though things have been rocky, everything has worked out in the end, and our faculty have worked relentlessly to be sure that we all have clinical rotations and are meeting the requirements to graduate.
Is there anything else you would like us to know about you?
I am a HUGE roller coaster and theme park fan. My entire life I was so afraid of heights and refused to ride any roller coasters or big rides until two years ago when I went to Disney World for the first time since I was young. I told my parents if we went that I would force myself onto the rides, and after that trip I became obsessed with learning all about theme parks around the world and roller coasters. An interesting and unique hobby for sure, but I am a firm believer that you can overcome any fear if you learn enough about it and realize it isn’t that scary at all! Plus, I am super competitive, so riding roller coasters and trying to travel to as many theme parks as possible is sort of like a competition with myself.