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Doctor of Physical Therapy

Jessica Mendoza

Jessica MendozaPediatric Physical Therapist

Valley Medical Center

By the time she was in high school, Jessica Mendoza knew that physical therapy was her calling. “I loved the idea of being in a profession that helps people rehabilitate and get back to their full potential,” said the University of Washington Doctor of Physical Therapy graduate, who now works as a pediatric physical therapist at Valley Medical Center.

Jessica says the DPT program prepared her to work with the broad range of patients she sees on a daily basis, from infants with developmental delays to high school athletes recovering from injuries.

Can you tell us a bit about your current job?

I work with kids from birth to age 19 with a variety of neuromuscular and orthopedic issues. It's really interesting because my job can look totally different from day to day. I can go from seeing a baby with a developmental delay to a 7-year-old child with cerebral palsy to a 16-year-old athlete. I really have to think on my feet about each patient and what they need.

Our patients usually get hour-long sessions. That can include anything from exercises to structured play to assessment, depending on what that patient needs, how old they are and what their diagnosis is.

How did the UW Doctor of Physical Therapy program prepare you to work with such a range of conditions?

My third year had three distinct 10-week internships, one in outpatient orthopedics, one in rehab, which encompasses pediatrics, and one in an acute care setting. They were all helpful for what I'm doing today.

The pediatrics one was the most directly applicable. But the orthopedics one really helps me when I'm working with young athletes who come to the clinic with injuries. For the children who have complex medical conditions, including cardiac or pulmonary issues, I have knowledge from my acute care internship to draw on. Every piece of it helps inform me as a physical therapist and makes me a better therapist.

Were any classes especially valuable for the work you’re doing today?

In the particular clinic I work in, we get people from all walks of life, all socioeconomic statuses, all different experiences and cultures. The UW program put a high emphasis on cultural competence and building relationships with your patients. It was woven throughout a lot of classes, but we also had a seminar devoted to the idea of cultural competence, with role playing and practice in that. Cultural competence can be the hardest part to teach, and because of the diversity of the caseload that I work with, I feel that seminar was really helpful.

You recently went on an outreach project as a clinical instructor with the UW DPT program. What was that experience like?

I was invited to go to Peru with the Global Rehabilitation Organization at Washington, or GROW, team. GROW is a student-founded group at the UW that does global outreach with physical therapy and rehabilitation.

We served in Cusco, a city that’s in the rural highlands near Machu Picchu. Life is often very difficult for children with disabilities there, often because of a lack of resources and understanding about disability. We had the opportunity to work with teachers and a physical therapist at the only private school geared specifically toward children with disabilities in Cusco, helping with exercises, positioning and transfers. We also did home visits to give families ideas on how to help the kids at home.

I think the trip helped the students in their development as physical therapists. They have a better understanding of what therapy looks like around the world and the resources we have that not everybody does. The experience teaches you to be creative and more sensitive to where people are coming from. I think it will help make them better clinicians, and I think it helped me be a better clinician, too.

What do you find most rewarding about being a physical therapist?

You get a chance to really see change. Like any career, there are things that can be frustrating, but you get a chance to work one-on-one alongside people and see that change and growth. It's a powerful and rewarding experience. I think it's such a great career, and every day that I get a chance to do it just reinforces for me why I chose it in the first place.