Nathan Smales has found his mission in helping others.
The Binghamton native graduated from Elim Bible College in 2015, and decided to look overseas for opportunities to aid the most vulnerable. From 2017 to 2018, he served as the main care provider for 16 abandoned boys with developmental disabilities in the south Indian city of Hyderabad, many of them with cerebral palsy or autism.
While there, he watched a physical therapist work with the boys and improve their quality of life. It inspired him to return to college himself and become a physical therapist assistant.
During his clinical rotation, he found a new population he wants to serve: the elderly, and particularly those with dementia. He spent his five weeks of clinicals in Geneva, spending half of his time in acute care and the other half in as nursing home – and staying with his brother in the Rochester area when he wasn’t providing patient care.
“I really like working with individuals with dementia. I think it’s so important to take care of them, honor them and respect them,” he said.
Some may never leave the nursing home, he recognizes, but physical therapy still provides benefits, just as it did in the boys’ home in India.
“You help them keep their mobility and ability to walk, and bring a bit of joy and laughter into their lives,” he said. “You treat the body, mind and spirit.”
A beacon of hope
Nathan picked SUNY Broome due to its proximity to his family. Having a strong support system contributes strongly to academic success, especially in a highly rigorous program like Physical Therapist Assisting.
“I also work part-time for Achieve, so I was able to do that and come here, and not be super stressed out. The course work was super intensive, so it’s nice to have a support system,” he said.
He found faculty and staff to be highly accessible, and eager to help whenever the situation required.
“I have loved it so much. Coming in, I didn’t know what to expect, but the faculty has been amazing. The hands-on lab time has been so critical to my experience,” he said.
He described PTA Professor Juliana Klepfer as a “beacon of hope” and a particular inspiration. Klepfer nominated him for this year’s Vanguard Award, which celebrates students in fields considered non-traditional by gender; Nate is a finalist, along with Communications and Media Arts major Allison Baumgart.
In May 2020, Nathan Smales will graduate – and then seek work in an area nursing home to continue providing care to vulnerable populations. But he has some unfinished business in India, too: He plans to go back to Hyderabad and adopt one of the boys he fostered. It gives him an added incentive to find his future in the Southern Tier.
“I would like to adopt, so having family around is wisdom,” he said.