Dec 03 2020

Ward, Sam

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Professional Goal Statement

Photo of Sam Ward and his daughterAs a physical therapist after graduation I am drawn to work in outpatient or inpatient rehabilitation settings focused on treating patients with neurological, neuromuscular, or otherwise complex diagnoses. Over the past three years, I have routinely sought out opportunities to expand my knowledge with these in mind. As one of the two Neuro STEP UP scholars for my graduating class, I have had the ability to hone my skillset as a future physical therapist working with patients with multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease. In a culmination of the DPT program, I worked with my fellow STEP UP scholar, Bri Colello, to investigate barriers to care for people with MS, ALS, and Parkinson’s disease.

I believe that a strong knowledge base combined with a patient-centered approach to care is the best approach to physical therapy. Every patient deserves to be treated with empathy and patient-centered care is the best way to improve the health and well-being of the community.

Past Experience & Career Plan


  • Graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill • B.A., Journalism & Mass Communication (Photojournalism) • Minors: Creative Writing; Entrepreneurship.


  • Full time employment as videographer and photographer in New York (2011-2013) and Montana (2013-2016).


  • Completed pre-requisite coursework in order to apply to NC DPT programs.


  • Enrolled in UNC-CH DPT program.


  • Physical Therapy Clinic Manager • Student Health Action Coalition (SHAC) Clinic • Carrboro, NC.
  • Acceptance into Neuro STEP UP scholarship program.


  • Pass NPTE prior to graduation and obtain licensure from NC Board of PT Examiners.
  • Graduate from UNC-Chapel Hill DPT program.
  • Begin work as licensed physical therapist in the Triangle area.
  • Continue involvement with Neuro STEP UP scholarship program.
  • Begin post-graduate education to become fluent in Spanish in the medical setting.


  • Pursue continuing education specific to field of employment (inpatient, acute, outpatient, neurological treatment, etc).
  • Become Credential Clinical Instructor in order to better serve as student mentor.
  • Sit for Multiple Sclerosis Certified Specialist (MSCS) exam.
  • Pass Spanish medical interpreter exam to demonstrate ability to practice without third-party interpreter present.

2024 & beyond

  • Pursue advanced training (e.g. Neurologic Certified Specialist, Geriatric Clinical Specialist, spinal cord injury, wheelchair seating & mobility).
  • Expand mentorship and pursue teaching opportunities through clinical education, Neuro STEP UP program, and/or local DPT programs.

Clinical Experiences

Clinical Affiliation 4

  • Duke Regional Hospital • Inpatient Rehabilitation • Durham, NC • 12 weeks • May 3 – July 23, 2021

Clinical Affiliation 3

  • UNC Center for Rehabilitation Care • Outpatient Neurological • Chapel Hill, NC • 9 weeks • March 1 – April 30, 2021

Independent Clinical Education

  • Outpatient orthopedic with Dr. Michael Gross, PT, PhD, FAPTA • Fall 2020 (60 hours)

Clinical Affiliation 2

  • UNC Hospital • Acute Care • Chapel Hill, NC • 2 weeks • March 2 – March 16, 2020 • Abbreviated due to COVID-19

Clinical Affiliation 1

  • UNC Healthcare Morehead Memorial Hospital • Outpatient Orthopedic • Eden, NC • 8 weeks • June 24 – August 16, 2019

Elective Courses & Experiences

  • Interdisciplinary Service-learning course and trip to Tyrrell County, NC • Spring 2019
  • Teacher-scholar for MSK II course • Summer/Fall 2020
  • Independent Clinical Education with Dr. Michael Gross, PT, PhD, FAPTA • Fall 2020
  • Advanced Spanish for Health Care • Fall 2020



  • Empathetic patient communication.
  • Seeking out and responding proactively to constructive feedback.
  • Evaluation and assessment of patients with neurological and neuromuscular diagnoses.
  • Ethical and accountable professional behavior.
  • Active pursuit of evidence-based knowledge.

Areas for Professional Development

  • Conversational and medical Spanish proficiency.
  • Differential diagnosis in direct access practice settings.
  • Taking an active role in PT-related advocacy work.
  • Continual self-assessment to become more aware personal biases.

Professional Objectives

  • Pass NPTE Exam • July 2021
  • Graduate for UNC-CH DPT program • July 2021
  • Gain employment as licensed PT • August 2021
  • Become certified as MSCS • 2022-23
  • Achieve Spanish fluency in medical setting • 2022-23
  • Obtain advanced practice certification • 2024

Specific Strategies

  • Follow through with established NPTE study plan.
  • Maintain membership and good standing within APTA.
  • Seek out opportunities within specific interest groups related to professional practice.
  • Continue involvement with Neuro STEP UP program post graduation.
  • Attend professional conferences to enrich professional relationships and network.
  • Attend continuing education courses to expand advanced knowledge.

Reflection on Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion

The past year has been full of and fraught with injustices, both public and private. Events outside of the medical field have captured the nation’s attention in profound ways, yet imperfections within health care systems are no less needed than elsewhere. My own style of learning tends to be individual, reading books and the news, listening to podcasts and the radio, seeking out public speakers (in person or online). In my first and second year of the program, when still on campus, I participated in UNC Allied Health Sciences’ Community Conversations, which provided a safe space for discussions on a wide range of topics. Throughout the pandemic I have reinvested not only to staying informed, but to taking actions to be a physical therapist committed to the principles of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion.

Recently, I finished reading Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist and, while he proposes many crucial points, I found one quote to be especially meaningful and pertinent as it relates to physical therapy. “To be antiracist,” he writes, “is to let me be me, be myself, be my imperfect self.” This, to me, embodies my own belief in the power of patient-centered care. In essence, we, as physical therapists or any other health care provider, must meet our patients where they are and no matter who they are. It also is imperative that we continually update and renew and reaffirm our own commitment to providing evidence-based, empathetic, sound, and equitable care to all our patients, while regarding the role their background plays in achieving optimum health.

Academic Work & Product Examples

Capstone Project – Understanding Barriers to Rehabilitative Care in Neurodegenerative Diagnostic Groups.

Critically Appraised Topic – Aquatic Therapy Water Temperature for People with Multiple Sclerosis.

Sam Ward – Critically Appraised Topic

Reflective Statement

When I came into the UNC-CH DPT program I had only an introductory awareness of the options available to physical therapists in providing care to patients and clients. I thought, primarily, that physical therapists would apply the healing power of their hands onto a patient, after which point the patient would do a few exercises and then get better. It has been a humbling experience to spend the past three years not only expanding my concept of physical therapy beyond orthopedics and acute care, but also learning about the inherent importance of patient-centered care founded on a strong therapeutic alliance.

Now, on the cusp of entering the workforce, I have a humbling awareness of the many things still to learn about physical therapy. My experience at Carolina has taught me not to take these known unknowns for granted, but to use them as a jumping off point to new knowledge and greater expertise. I am incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to earn my degree at UNC-CH and hope to remain a productive member of the Carolina family for years to come.

3 responses so far

3 Responses to “Ward, Sam”

  1.   Lisa Johnstonon 02 Jun 2021 at 3:06 pm

    Sam: Great job on your portfolio. Nice to see your work. You should be proud of the work you have accomplished including all the work in MS/Neuro STEP UP. Contrats on it all and good luck to you! Lisa


  2.   McMikeon 03 Jun 2021 at 1:03 pm

    Thank you for your thoughtfully presented portfolio. I’ve enjoyed working alongside you in class and SHAC in addition to the many conversations we’ve had. Congratulations on a job well done, looking forward to following your path as you launch your PT career!


  3.   Jessica Cassidyon 07 Jun 2021 at 1:47 pm

    Sam- I really enjoyed reading about your journey to get into the field of physical therapy. You should feel incredibly proud of your portfolio including the work you completed as part of the MS/Neuro STEP UP program. Best of luck in all that you accomplish. Also, adorable picture of you and Daphne– what a year! -Jessica


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