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In pursuit of a DPT degree

September 23, 2016 In Lakeland University Blog
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Sami Jo Williams was scrolling through emails on her phone after a recent Lakeland University golf meet when “my jaw just dropped.”

“My mom immediately started crying, and my grandpa, who was there watching me play, picked me up and twirled me around,” Williams recalls with a big smile. “We were all so happy.”

The special email informed Williams that she’s been accepted into Concordia-Wisconsin’s physical therapy school, where she will spend the next three years earning a doctor of physical therapy (DPT) degree.

“It just shows how valuable the Lakeland experience is,” says Williams, a senior from Sussex, Wis., who is majoring in exercise science and minoring in psychology. “The opportunities to excel here, and the personal treatment you receive from everyone, are incredible. There’s no way you get that at the bigger schools.”

The competition for acceptance into physical therapy professional programs is intense. Bill Ebben, Lakeland’s associate professor of exercise science, estimates that only about 10 percent of students with bachelor’s degrees are accepted into PT professional programs.

A portrait of achievement and dedication, Williams is a four-year, two-sport LU athlete in golf and softball, as well as an accomplished student, an exercise science and psychology tutor and an on-campus athletic trainer assistant. A time management maven, she’s never without her color-coded calendar.

Ebben, who holds a doctorate (from Marquette) and two master’s degrees (UW-Madison and Northern Michigan), has a passion for guiding students into professional school. Over the course of his career, he has helped about 400 students get into DPT programs.

“From the moment students walk onto campus, we will work with them on a career development plan and help them understand all the things it takes to reach their goal,” Ebben says. “We can help them optimize their chance of being accepted into a DPT program. In terms of courses, we offer 100 percent of the prerequisites for acceptance into a DPT program.”

Lakeland fosters a strong environment of personal and pre-professional growth, something Williams has taken full advantage of. In the summer of 2015, she observed a shoulder replacement, two shoulder rotator cuff surgeries, a meniscus repair and a broken tibia repair at the Wheaton Franciscan Midwest Orthopedic Specialty Hospital in Franklin, Wis.

And this past summer, Williams and two 2016 Lakeland grads traveled to New Orleans to present high-level research at the National Strength and Conditioning Association Conference and Exhibition. The trio previously shared oral presentations on their work at the Wisconsin Strength and Conditioning Conference in Waukesha and Lakeland’s inaugural symposium on undergraduate research and scholarship in April.

“Professor Ebben has been a big help, and there’s no doubt that my research experience has given me that extra edge,” Williams says.

She has wanted to be a physical therapist for a long time. A lifelong athlete, Williams has suffered a broken ankle, broken foot, bulging disc and scoliosis. She’s no stranger to PT. But most of all, she relishes the idea of helping other people recover.

“I love seeing people go from no weight bearing at all to playing their favorite sport again,” she says. “I love the thought of elderly people doing what they’ve always enjoyed again. I have such an interest in that.”

Teammates and friends have always turned to Williams for advice after bumps, bruises and other injuries. She’s been careful not to offer advice she’s not yet qualified to give, but is always willing to help.

During her freshman year, Williams’ roommate sliced a finger open with scissors. She ran to Williams, yelling, “Dr. Sami, Dr. Sami, what do I do?”

“We laughed about that later,” Williams recalls with a grin.

In just a few years, “Dr. Sami” will be, well, “Dr. Sami.” For real.

“I have enjoyed every minute of my time at Lakeland,” she says. “I had the opportunity to do two sports and be a student. I wouldn’t have considered any school that discouraged that. I just love it here.”

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