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My UCA Story: Gaining Strength, Building Rapport

Gary Merriweather stands in front of the Integrated Health Sciences BuildingName: Gary Merriweather

Hometown: Little Rock, Arkansas

Area of Study: Physical Therapy, doctoral student

What UCA organizations have you joined?

  • Minorities Mentoring in Health Care

 

Why did you choose the University of Central Arkansas?

I came to UCA because the physical therapy program is top in the nation. I immediately liked the campus as an undergrad, and thought going to physical therapy school would be a good transition.

What drew you to physical therapy?

I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the elderly population. There’s a demand for more health care workers to be involved in it, especially for physical therapy that is more hands-on. I get more time with patients. I get to actually be there and help them and see that progress. 

Physical therapy wasn’t always the plan, but in the back of my mind, I always wanted to be in the health care field. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, so I spent some time shadowing different options. During that time, physical therapy was tucked away in the back of my mind. I decided that was what I wanted to commit my life.

What’s the best class you’ve had?

Three classes: adult neurological rehabilitation, physical rehabilitation, and musculoskeletal physical therapy. A lot pertains to what I want to do with my career and help the elderly population. I’ve learned about the different diagnoses, such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s. 

What are essential qualities to have to be a physical therapist?

Being personable and approachable is the most feedback I’ve gotten from patients. The more positive you are the better your patients will react. They can ask me things that they wouldn’t usually ask somebody who’s not approachable. That trust segues into conversations like, ‘I’m having this issue. What can I do about it?’ You can catch problems in therapy before it gets worse. Physical therapy sessions include techniques and interventions that don’t necessarily feel good, but it helps a patient to have a professional with a smile on their face and say, ‘I know this hurts, but we have to work.’

What PT issues do you want to address with older people?

Top of the list is balance and postural issues. Much of the elderly community deals with a loss of balance, leading to an increased risk of falls. I’ve learned a lot in my neuro class on how to address their postural imbalance impairment and strengthen their muscupostlature to help them move around the house or walk throughout the community. 

I’ve been certified for a program called LSVT BIG. It is physical therapy designed specifically for people with Parkinson’s disease. They tend to struggle with a slow, shuffling gait, and their movements aren’t as big as they used to be. They tend to keep their body close and packed together. This certification taught me how to help patients expand their movements beyond a slow, compact motion and move their bodies more.

What are your favorite places to visit on campus?

I spend a lot of time in the HPER Center, whether it’s playing basketball, working out, or just participating in any of the things they have going on there. 

What advice would you give to new students or someone thinking about attending UCA?

The biggest advice that I tend to give people is to spend more time deciding what you want to do and value your education. Before I transferred to UCA, I had to figure things out. I had to take my time. That allowed me to shadow physical therapists to see what they do, what their day was like, and how they treat patients. I think being able to do that drove home the idea of doing this for the rest of my life. This is a great career, and I wouldn’t change anything about it.