After 15 years in retail, I was inspired to become a pediatric physical therapist assistant (PTA) after meeting and watching some amazing PTAs work with my son who was born with a congenital heart defect. I knew at that moment I wanted to work in some capacity with children and do what I could to help them in any way possible.
Why I Chose Hodges
The ability to obtain my degree in two years at Hodges University versus some of the other schools really made it easy for me to pursue my passion while not placing more stress on my family. The reality of becoming a pediatric PTA in such a short period of time kept me motivated while attending class full-time and balancing coursework with family time.
Hodges University is designed to serve as a place where students, no matter the age, can pursue their career aspirations. For Lawrence Force, spending 15 years working in retail was proving difficult and uninspiring, but when he made the decision to become a pediatric physical therapist assistant (PTA), Hodges served as a catalyst for his future.
“The ability to obtain my degree in two years at Hodges versus some of the other schools really made it easy for me to pursue my passion while not placing more stress on my family,” he explained. Married with two children, Lawrence who is 11 and Logan who is 9, Force was inspired to become a pediatric PTA after watching numerous physical therapists (PTs), PTAs, occupational therapists (OTs) and speech-language pathologists (SLPs) work with his son, Logan, who was born with a congenital heart defect. After Logan underwent open heart surgery at 9 days old, Force and his family practically lived at the Ronald McDonald House in Tampa.
“It was at this time that I had the opportunity to meet and watch some amazing therapists, PTs, PTAs, OTs and SLPs, work with my son and the other young children at All Children’s Hospital in Tampa. I knew at this moment that I wanted to work in some capacity with children and do what I could to help them in any way possible,” he said.
With the support of his family, Force left retail behind and enrolled at Hodges. After completing his prerequisites, he applied and was accepted into the PTA program in January 2016. Known for its rigorous schedule of Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., students in Hodges’ PTA program are discouraged from working, and while Force attempted to work on the weekends, it was short lived.
As if sacrificing an additional income to attend school wasn’t difficult enough, Force had to learn how to balance coursework and family time, often studying late at night and early in the morning. However, the reality of becoming a pediatric PTA in such a short period of time kept him motivated.
It has also helped to know he had professors who were eager to see their students succeed. Learning from individuals such as Professor Jeanne Csuy, Dr. Sharon Dickmann and Dr. Cynthia Vaccarino, Force says, “I can say that I am where I am today because of these wonderful ladies.”
From learning about neurological and musculoskeletal disorders, modalities, orthopedic and therapeutic exercise, to receiving hands-on training in the classroom as well as within their internships at local clinics, students receive the necessary knowledge and skills to work under the supervision of a licensed physical therapist. However, when Force expressed his interest in working in pediatrics, Vaccarino knew it wouldn’t be an easy task.
When asked by a student in the PTA class of 2018 why pediatrics is viewed with such caution, Force went on to explain the physical toll it can take on the PTA, in addition to the notion that it is not just the child the PTA is working with but also the parent of the child. “Because so many of the therapies need to be continued at home, you must train the parents how to do it because the child, depending on their age, isn’t going to remember to do it when they get home,” he explained.
“Being a pediatric PTA is very challenging, but the rewards are so great. It sounds cliché, but I love what I do, and I don’t think of it as my job. I get to work with some of the best kids, amazing families, caregivers and other therapists. I get to help these children reach their maximal potential and improve their quality of life, and what can be more rewarding than that,” he said.
After graduating from the program in December 2016, Force joined SPOT Therapy Associates in Fort Myers, which is a pediatric outpatient clinic serving children with special needs who need physical therapy as well as occupational and speech therapy. Working with children as young as 2 months old, Force relies on the techniques learned during the PTA program and during his clinical internships to determine the best treatment plan for a patient.
“From the handling techniques I use to facilitate certain muscle groups to help a young child learn to roll over or hold his/her head up, to the knowledge of orthotics that a young child may benefit from to give them the structural support they require to help them walk. It is with this knowledge I learned from the professors at Hodges that I am able to apply it in a skilled way to help these great kids,” he said.
Apart from his work at SPOT, Force also spends his time volunteering with the Special Olympics of Florida and at FunFitness, which is a fitness screening event meant to assess a variety of athletic abilities, such as flexibility, strength, aerobic fitness and balance, in order to identify areas of needed improvement, educate participants, families and coaches, and emphasize how working with a physical therapist can benefit them and their fitness needs.
Being able to say he is now “on the other side” of the degree program, Force goes to work each day eager and ready to help another child overcome the challenges he/she faces, and it is all because of the experience, encouragement and mentorship he received as a student in Hodges’ PTA program.
“I am very grateful and humbled to have been a part of the Hodges family and cannot thank them enough for helping mold me into what I am today. At Hodges, you are not just another student, you are a part of the family. If you have a dream, Hodges will help you reach it. If you put in the hard work and are determined to reach your full potential, Hodges is here to help guide you along your journey.”