University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences
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How My Education Cemented My Passion for Teaching

The university has helped me grow professionally while balancing teaching, learning, and practicing.

By Dr. Nicole Rodriguez, Instructor and Academic Coordinator of Clinical Education, DPT FLEX program, San Marcos campus

My passion for physical therapy began as a high school and then a Nicole-Rodriguez.jpgcollegiate athlete who experienced numerous injuries. One of my physical therapists was so compassionate, patient, and knowledgeable that it opened my eyes to the world of rehabilitation. While earning my bachelor’s in kinesiology, I worked at a skilled nursing facility, which allowed me to care for a geriatric population. During this time I had a realization that I should pair rehab with this population, which led me to the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences. I earned my DPT at the university, which allowed me to meld my interest in working with the geriatric population with my passion for rehabilitation.

Earning my degree also allowed me to explore a new field—teaching. I was a teaching assistant during my last term in the neuroscience lab. After I graduated with honors in 2012, I accepted a role as a physical therapist at Emeritus Senior Living Center and Palomar Medical Center. At the same time, Dr. Kristen Johnson asked me to stay on as a contributing (part-time) faculty member at the university, which helped continue to increase my knowledge and, most rewarding of all, allowed me to begin sharing my passion for physical therapy with students.

I became more involved in other courses in the on campus and Flex program and it kept rolling from there. After four years, I was asked by Dr. Cherie Peters-Brinkerhoff to apply for a full-time position as a core faculty member.

As I did my research, I realized the role would give me new opportunities to expand my skills, since it requires me to oversee our work with the clinical education department. I also spoke to professors, instructors, and lab assistants to learn how they managed their time between the university and the clinic. This led me to realize that pursuing this position would put me right where I belong—a mix of the classroom and the clinic.

In my role as an instructor and an academic coordinator of clinical education, I have the opportunity to teach, guide students during their internships, and serve as a physical therapist at Aspire Home Health. My work in the clinic applies to my work in the classroom—and vice versa, allowing me to constantly learn and grow as a professional. The students keep me motivated to strive for excellence. It’s a great feeling to be there when a lightbulb goes off for them or when they return from internships no longer as students but as clinicians.

The transition from contributing to core faculty was a smooth one. This new role has also reminded me that I’m a lifelong learner and I’m excited to be enrolled in the PhD in Psychology program with a specialization in Educational Psychology at Walden University. The doctoral program constantly reinforces why it’s so important to apply evidence-based practice in the classroom (among many other topics!). 

I highly recommend teaching at the university. If you know a student or alum interested in teaching for the university, urge them to talk to fellow faculty and staff. Ask what their experiences are like. Learn how they manage their time, balance their university duties with their work at the clinic, and how it’s fueled their passion for our professions.

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