DMU D.P.T. student awarded IPTA scholarship

Alex Harms says it took him “a long time to find physical therapy”; as an undergraduate, he expected to pursue a career in mental health clinical work. Now, however, the second-year student in DMU’s doctor of physical therapy (D.P.T.) program has found his calling. This spring, the Iowa Physical Therapy Association (IPTA) awarded him its $500 Olive C. Farr Scholarship, given to student members of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) who are enrolled in an accredited physical therapy program in Iowa. The scholarship recognizes recipients’ demonstrated scholarship, potential for professional contributions and leadership qualities.

“I have a passion for working with patients, but I am also called to improve our profession by working with physical therapy students,” he wrote in a letter to the IPTA scholarship committee. “After graduating, I hope to give back to the profession by serving as a clinical instructor, to help facilitate professional development of peers and provide training and instruction to other novice physical therapists.”

Alex has demonstrated his love of education. He earned a bachelor of arts degree in philosophy and a bachelor of science degree in psychology from the University of Iowa in 2009, worked for several years and then earned a bachelor of arts degree in biology at Simpson College with the goal of becoming a physical therapist. He planned to use his Olive C. Farr Scholarship to support his pursuits of extracurricular certifications in Parkinson’s disease treatment and motivational interviewing.

“I was very intentional about my approach to physical therapy,” he says. “I wanted to enter a helping profession with a high degree of professional autonomy, but with the ability to maintain work/life balance,” he says. “I am driven by a love of learning, and I love the problem-solving that comes with clinical work. Pairing that with the relationships and improvements in people’s lives a P.T. can elicit made physical therapy a great fit.”

At DMU, Alex helped provide fitness and health screenings to athletes competing in Special Olympics and was a student volunteer during the APTA combined sections meeting in February. He’s served as a stress management group facilitator for the DMU Student Counseling Center, providing support to first-year D.P.T. students. As a research assistant in the University’s Mentored Student Research Program, he’s worked to develop “gamified” teaching materials to enhance physical therapy students’ learning.

Off campus, Alex is head coach and director of foil for the Des Moines Fencing Club, roles that include training athletes and mentoring other coaches.

With his third and final year of the D.P.T. program ahead of him, Alex is exploring his clinical options.

“I am interested in neurology and neurorehabilitation because of its high complexity and diverse clinical presentation. I feel patients who benefit from neuro P.T. attain a level of quality of life and support that makes the work that much more meaningful,” he says. “I am also attracted to pediatrics. I am contemplating further education after DMU to possibly move into a clinical/faculty/academic role as my career moves forward.”

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