Samuel Payzant has seen firsthand how physical therapy can change lives.
His wife suffered a brain injury as a teenager, and has undergone physical therapy for the last 20 years. Once in a wheelchair with impaired speech and vision, she has since recovered her speech, walks with a cane and made more of a recovery than the doctors initially thought possible.
“Being a part of her recovery showed me how important it is to include the human need for wholeness and integrating goals, lifestyle and motivations into recovery,” said Payzant, who is graduating from the Physical Therapist Assistant program in May.
The Elmira-area resident recently won the Vanguard Award, which is administered by the New York State Nontraditional Employment & Training (NET) Program. The award goes to outstanding students in fields that are considered non-traditional for their gender. This isn’t his first non-traditional career, however. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Mansfield University, with the intention of entering the field.
Unfortunately, he ended up looking for a job at precisely the same time many school districts were laying off teachers in the wake of the recession. While Payzant worked as a substitute teacher for years and then as a student debt collector, he wasn’t able to secure a full-time job in the field. It was time for a career change.
His wife’s physical therapist and his aunt, who works as a sports PT, both recommended the program. Additionally, his sister Hannah Meyn, a SUNY Broome Nursing graduate and a nurse at UHS Wilson Hospital, also recommended looking into SUNY Broome.
The program is demanding, but helps students develop the skills and knowledge they need. Students also work together as a class, developing the teamwork mindset they will need in the field.
“The resources and the support are there to do well if you want to,” Payzant said.
Helping fellow students
At SUNY Broome, Payzant shared his talents as a biology tutor for the Learning Assistance Department and as a Supplemental Instruction (SI) leader for BIO 090/131.
“A few students told they passed because of the help I provided them in SI. I was happy to be a part of the success of all the students I worked with,” he said.
He also participated in the new peer mentoring community internship with Dr. John Pierog, helping develop the program for future students. The first five weeks of the course prepare mentors to help incoming freshmen with writing, navigating the campus and taking advantage of campus resources, Payzant explained. Then mentors are assigned to students, helping them succeed in their first semester.
Payzant also became one of the PTA class officers during his time at SUNY Broome. He received the Judith C Peckham and Steven L Amell scholarships from the Broome Community College Foundation and plans to pay it forward, establishing a scholarship in honor of his sister Hannah, who passed away last October.
Creating a caring environment
Samuel can be considered a non-traditional student in two ways: by gender and by age. His classes are typically about two-thirds female and one-third male, he said. As someone who earned a prior degree in elementary education, he is accustomed to being in the minority, gender-wise.
“I’m more of a soft-spoken, quiet person, which puts me in that kind of field where there is a more caring, nurturing environment,” he explained.
In his 30s, he’s also a little older than the traditional college student and he acknowledges the challenge in balancing coursework with the needs of a household. Despite the bumps in the road, the journey will help him achieve his end goal: to have a positive impact on the life of others.
While working through the PTA program, he also became a certified personal trainer (CPT) and corrective exercise specialist (CES) through online classes with the National Academy of Sports Medicine. After graduating, he hopes to work as a Physical Therapist Assistant in a hospital or outpatient setting, supplemented by a side career as a corrective exercise specialist, working with people who want assistance in returning to function. Many insurance companies only pay for 20 physical therapy visits per year, and work with a CES – while out of pocket – is an affordable option for those who are over the annual limit.
“Working hard to provide care and service to others is the essential foundation of a career in healthcare and offers me the greatest opportunity to have a positive impact on the world,” he said.