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Monique Pineros ’12 on a mission trip in Guatemala

Once Caldwell University alum Monique Pineros ’12 had the chance to shadow physical therapists there was no turning back in her career choice. A student in the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at Quinnipiac University’s School of Health Sciences in North Haven, Connecticut, Pineros has set her sights on helping people rehabilitate through the science of physical therapy.

“I wanted to do something with my hands,” says Pineros, who has been playing piano since she was five years old. She did not simply want to write scripts, but instead hoped to provide a holistic approach to disease and injury.

Pineros is a graduate research assistant in the Diagnostic Imaging Department at Quinnipiac, helping the department chairman by researching information for strategic planning projects and providing Spanish translation for the uninsured at the Community Access Imaging Clinic in New Haven County.  She was the recipient of a 2014 Health Research and Educational Trust health career scholarship from the New Jersey Hospital Association.

In January she was selected to serve on a mission trip to Guatemala with 16 other therapists and students who are studying occupational therapy or physical therapy at Quinnipiac. “Ten days of life-changing experiences” is how she describes the adventure. She provided translation services during evaluations, treatment sessions and follow-up appointments between patients and their families and the therapist and student teams at Centro Pavarotti and the Instituto Neurologico de Gautemala and worked with patients with cancer at the Instituto de Cancerologia y Hospital. She assisted professionals and students in treating children and teens with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, and malnourishment and growth issues, and adults who were untreated stroke victims. Team members implemented an exercise and dance program in the women’s cancer ward. Lacking resources, they became creative in making modified tools like back supports, weights and bolsters from items like empty water bottles, rice, cloth, therabands and more. “We take so much of the basics for granted,” like having bed sheets or walkers, says Pineros. Seeing how grateful the patients were, making them smile and brighten up, gave her joy and made her realize “how lucky we are.”

In May she returned to Guatemala for a week for a capstone project she is working on comparing healthcare system disparities between the US and Guatemala. She is also working with a team to compile essays and interviews from people in the country for a monograph geared at repairing relationships.

The liberal arts foundation Pineros gained at Caldwell University benefits her work in physical therapy. The “link never breaks … Caldwell gave me a solid foundation for this career.”

“The liberal arts made me aware of everyday humanities. I’m using that information in physical therapy,” because the work is “socially driven,” she says. Caldwell was the “best thing that ever happened to me.”  The family environment, excellent advisors, and good and understanding professors helped her at every point in pursuing her bachelor’s degree.

P.T. was not always on her radar. In fact, Pineros wanted to become a physician. From the time she was a student at Mother Seton Regional High School in Clark, New Jersey, every birthday, she’d make a wish to become a doctor. She worked hard as a Biology major at Caldwell and started medical school after graduation, only to learn quickly that this was not where she was supposed to be.  She wants to share those life lessons with other students. “Set a goal. Get as much experience outside that goal as possible; it could give you more options if the main objective does not work out. Be open to change.” And that’s where the liberal arts come in handy. “Give yourself permission to try something new,” she says.

Her new goal has been more rewarding than she could have imagined; Pineros plans to work in the outpatient setting, get her board certification as an orthopedic clinical specialist and start her own practice. Most gratifying of all is being a “bridge” for patients, helping them gain a better quality of life and establishing meaningful relationships with them. Seeing the joy on their faces and the physical and emotional changes is “akin to the butterfly’s metamorphosis,” she says. “The culture of physical therapy is just different.”

— Colette M. Liddy