By Kistler Hunt
Abby Farrell has been accepted and plans to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC)’s Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program this upcoming fall. Farrell is a senior majoring in exercise science and minoring in psychology, who plans to graduate in May. She explains that the Honors College has been pivotal in supporting her towards graduate school and in shaping her decision to attend a doctoral program in physical therapy.
Farrell shared that she is grateful for the “tight-knit community” of the Honors College and how that community has enabled her to make lasting connections with many professors throughout her time at Appalachian. In particular, she highlights Dr. Scott Collier, professor in the Department of Public Health and Exercise Science, and his vital role in helping her making those connections starting in her very first Honors seminar that he taught (HON 1515: Introduction to Research).
Physical therapy first piqued Farrell’s interest when she suffered a running injury in high school. Her rehabilitation from the injury included three months of physical therapy, and that proved very influential. Through this experience, Farrell developed a relationship with her physical therapist, who became her mentor. Farrell shared that, “learning how everything in [her] body was connected and worked together,” inspired her to consider physical therapy as a profession. After working as a Certified Nursing Assistant at Spring Arbor Nursing Home in Apex, North Carolina, she became even more intrigued by this work. While shadowing, she witnessed many fall-prevention programs, which physical therapists designed, and that solidified her decision to pursue physical therapy as a career.
Farrell describes physical therapy as, “the treatment of injuries and pain by utilizing exercises to help condition muscles and restore strength and movement.” Furthermore, she explains that physical therapists use various methods to treat patients’ ailments, including strengthening, stretching, electrical stimulation, ultrasound, and much more. Farrell is most interested in and inspired by the preventive nature of physical therapy, particularly injury prevention and rehabilitation.
Photo above features Farrell, third from right, with members of the BreakThrough Physical Therapy staff in Toy Story-themed attire. Photo submitted.
Farrell remarks that some of her favorite parts of physical therapy are relationship-building and witnessing patients progress throughout their treatment. Since January 2022, Farrell has worked at BreakThrough Physical Therapy, located inside Kidd Brewer Stadium, first as a paid intern and then as a Physical Therapy Technician, a person who assists a physical therapist in rehabilitative exercises. Farrell says,
“Even as a PT technician, I have built strong relationships and connections with patients. I have seen them at their lowest and at their highest throughout their recovery. Being able to support and motivate them throughout their recovery is one of my favorite parts of physical therapy.”
Farrell’s decision to attend UNC was not easy, and the process of becoming a competitive candidate was long. Before applying to PT school, Farrell obtained shadowing hours in various settings, observing the work of physical therapists. She then took the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and the Computer-based Assessment for Sampling Personal Characteristics (CASPer), a situational judgement test in which hypothetical situations are posed, and students are tested on their ethics, professionalism, and more. Additionally, Farrell has been very involved with the Exercise Science Club, and has served as president of the club since her junior year. Farrell received the Dr. Jim Street Award for Outstanding Presidential Leadership in April of 2022 for her work with this club. Her club’s advisor, Dr. Rebecca Kappus, associate professor in the Department of Public Health and Exercise Science, nominated her for the award.
In June of 2022, Farrell began submitting applications, which involved writing essays for each school. Once the applications closed in October of 2022, Farrell waited for interview offers, and then completed interviews with faculty and staff from each program to which she was invited. In the interviews, she was asked about herself, her desire to become a physical therapist, her interest in that particular program, and much more. After that arduous interview process, Farrell was admitted to five DPT programs and left with a tough decision. Ultimately, Farrell selected UNC’s DPT program because, when she interviewed, the faculty exhibited immense kindness and made her feel comfortable—an experience that she did not have anywhere else in the interview process. In addition, Farrell’s mentor, her physical therapist from high school, is a graduate of UNC’s DPT program, and she has great things to say about it.
Farrell will begin the three-year DPT program in August 2023. She explains that at this point she is interested in all aspects of physical therapy, including geriatrics, athletics, women’s pelvic health, orthopedics, and more, so she is “going into PT school open-minded” about her ultimate specialty. She is excited to see where her PT education will take her!
Top photo features Abby Farrell at work at BreakThrough Physical Therapy in Boone. Photo submitted.