McKenna Sprinkle got the news and did a facepalm: Her dad was in urgent care again after another surfing accident. Wasn't he too old for this?
Although tempted to roll her eyes, Sprinkle had to admit the rehabilitation exercises intrigued her.
"I'm amazed at the little ways we can fix our bodies," she said.
Most high schoolers don't take anatomy and physiology or shadow physical therapists. Sprinkle did both. Those experiences combined with having an accident-prone dad pushed her to pursue the perfect career and training ground: San Jacinto College's physical therapist assistant program.
Mover and baker
For a season, Sprinkle wasn't sure when she'd pursue her dream field. In 2017, she dropped out of one physical therapist assistant program after marrying her husband, who soon transferred to Hawaii with the Coast Guard.
"At that time, he was in training and moving around a lot, so it was better for me to put my career on the back burner," she said.
The desire persisted, though. When they transferred to Houston for his new post at Ellington Field, Sprinkle found the South Campus program. In fall 2021, she started with a year of physical therapy technician work already under her belt.
Program instructor Dr. Kendall Gill and director Dr. Susan Hinson both appreciate her grasp of physical therapy and the lingo, but it is Sprinkle herself who impresses them most. Not only does she exude confidence and ask thought-provoking questions, but she also cares about her classmates from explaining complicated theories to baking toffee cookies to share before exams.
As the student class president, she also helped raise more than $3,000 for study materials, conference fees, and licensing exam expenses. And, yes, she does all this while maintaining a 4.0.
"McKenna's leadership skills are some of the greatest I have seen in the program," Gill said.
Sprinkle also praises her instructors, whose open-door policy means she can find a compassionate ear during a family crisis or get help with tough concepts. This doesn't mean they answer every question, though.
"If it's in the book, you'd better know it," she said, laughing.
From June 22-23, Sprinkle had the rare opportunity to visit Washington, D.C., to advocate for physical therapy. The Texas Physical Therapy Association chose her from dozens of student candidates statewide.
"I knew the search party would choose her," Gill said. "She researched the project and purpose behind it before her interview and spoke eloquently about the importance of advocacy in the physical therapy field."
First, Sprinkle met with the American Physical Therapy Association's political action committee to understand legislation that would help physical therapists better care for patients. Then she spoke with Rep. Troy Nehls and Sen. Ted Cruz's legislative aides.
While at Capitol Hill, she networked with many physical therapy professionals and decided to apply for APTA's student board of directors.
"It was encouraging to be part of a community like APTA," she said. "It opened my eyes to the fact that as students we need to volunteer and get involved in organizations that are advocating for us."
Finish line ahead
With her husband gearing up for another move soon, Sprinkle will stay put this time until she finishes her program. Then she will apply for a compact physical therapist assistant license, which would let her work in many other states.
Eventually, Sprinkle plans to pursue higher physical therapy degrees. She leans toward pediatrics, excited about the critical thinking and creativity involved in motivating kids.
"You have to entertain them while activating the right muscles," she said.
At home, Sprinkle uses her training to help her husband manage his job's physical demands. Will her dad consult with her after his next stunt?
"My dad says he is glad to have a PTA in the family so he can keep surfing into his old age," Sprinkle said.
Learn more about the physical therapist assistant program.