Student Spotlight: Alexis Lacewell, SPT

Duke Doctor of Physical Therapy Student, Alexis Lacewell, Served as a Keynote Speaker for the 3rd Annual Summer Discovery Program in June of 2019.

“Why is physical therapy the profession for you?” That is the question I have asked countless numbers of clinicians and classmates as we all have a connection to physical therapy that developed out of a personal encounter or experience. This question consistently gives rise to beautiful stories that embody the profession in its service, heart for people, their function, and their overall quality of life. 

For me, the desire to pursue physical therapy stems from a having the character of a developer and a passion of journeying alongside of people during the most vulnerable moments of their lives.

As I near the conclusion of my first year in Duke’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program, reflecting has brought another question to the forefront of my mind, “How has physical therapy become the profession for you?” Although a seemingly simple change of words, this question entered my mind after my experience at the first Summer Discovery Program in 2017; and, there is one word that illustrates what that experience meant to me – affirmation.

I walked into Summer Discovery Program panting because I was almost late due to not having never truly encountered traffic in my life, especially not between the hours of 6:00am and 8:00am, and living in Durham now, traffic is still the one thing I have yet to get used to. But, I also walked into the program believing that Duke was a unattainable for someone like me because my story did not seem to match the university’s prestige as a household name.

Someone who is a black woman, someone who is from a small, rural town in southeastern North Carolina, someone who was raised by a single mother on a limited income, someone who is a first generation college student, someone who has witnessed generational battles with alcoholism and domestic violence, someone who has seen and, often times, been subject to the many injustices by the systems our society has created. I do not share these things searching for mercy because they are a part of my story and have essentially built my character, but at the time, those life circumstances obstructed my view from the possibilities before me within physical therapy and how to access those possibilities.

Summer Discovery Program affirmed my passion to pursue physical therapy, shifted what I viewed as flaws and limitations into fuel, and, last but certainly not least, revealed to me how to become a physical therapist. The how is us, everyone in this room: SDP participants, faculty, staff, clinicians, and current students; from different walks of life, with varying stories and passions, and in different life stages bringing our full authentic selves to our work and practice. The how comes from relationships built through mentoring and networking not only tonight, but throughout this entire week and the remainder of our lives because of the wisdom and support that is fostered through them. The how is finding the people who and the places that allow you to express and apply your core values and goals.

I am not forgetting that the how also includes a rigorous undergraduate career, the daunting GRE, numerous revisions of admission essay questions, and a continuous hustle and bustle once admitted into a program and years into a career; however, I shared with many participants earlier this week, the people you encounter and the stories you hear are what you will remember most on this journey. I could name an extensive list of people who have contributed to my ability to be speaking here today, whether great or small; several of whom sat in this room two years ago or are still here tonight. My mentors, family, friends, and even patients support me with their encouraging wisdom and words, but more importantly, they do so by asking me thought provoking questions, challenging my perspectives of failure and success, requiring me to think and process critically, and providing feedback necessary for my growth. The how is obviously not simple or easy but it is fostered through relationship, which is central to physical therapy practice. And, every experience I have over the next couple of years in this program and the first several years of being a practicing clinician will still be providing the answers to the question, “How is physical therapy becoming the career for me?”

So, students take comfort in knowing that there are people who sat where you are filled with similar thoughts and emotions, but who pursued their dreams into reality. And, clinicians know that your aspirations to inspire through networking and mentorship are priceless; I, for one, cannot wait to have my journey come full circle and be sitting in one of these seats as a clinician eager to sit across from future change agents in our profession who may need to see their reflection in someone who does what they desire to do and who may need help deconstructing any restricting beliefs of inability, belonging, or imposter syndrome. Although I have to be reminded often, I do belong in space. We all do.

As James Baldwin once said, “I am what time, circumstance, history, have made of me, certainly, but I am also, much more than that. So are we all.”

Thank you. 

Alexis Lacewell