Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month Student Highlight
Get to Know: Javier Gonzalez PlazolaOct 10, 2022
Get to Know: Javier Gonzalez Plazola
Q&A by Tori Serna
What made you want to pursue a career in Physical Therapy?
As a 3rd year physical therapy student, I appreciated being able to reflect on this question. As you get closer to the finish line of graduation, it’s easy to lose the vision of why you came into the program. It’s nice to be able to go back and think about what brought me here.
Unfortunately, I watched mi abuelo have an accident that caused him to become quadriplegic overnight. After taking on the role as a caretaker for his recovery, I realized how much I valued the healing power of physical therapy. I cherished the entire continuum of physical therapy from ICU PT to outpatient PT, observing how each setting provided different goals in order to optimize function. After watching his journey through physical therapy and seeing him be able to walk and become independent again, I realized how physical therapy helped shape his meaning of life through the influence of movement. As a first generation Mexican, family is everything to me and it means a lot to me to be able to go through this journey with them watching, considering they inspired me to pursue this profession. In simple terms, I chose Physical Therapy because it is a fascinating career that requires lifelong learning, reflection, and a commitment to improve the lives of people.
How has CU Anschutz Physical Therapy program allowed you to pursue your goals?
Prior to applying to CU Anschutz Physical Therapy program, I was accepted into an expensive program at a school in California. Rather than attending and being required to take out additional loans, I decided to work in an acute health care facility while I took more time to simmer on what I really wanted, including deciding on the program that would be the best for me. CU Anschutz does a lot to support those coming with financial hardships. CU Anschutz Physical Therapy program is also known for their research, and I was impressed with how willing they were to vocalize working to improve aspects of diversity, equity, and inclusion. CU Anschutz PT is always willing to evolve in order to enhance the future generation of physical therapists. These unique attributes have allowed my voice to be heard and my unique set of knowledge to be incorporated into the school curriculum. Because of the sense of community CU Anschutz PT provides, I immediately felt welcomed and accepted, which wasn’t a component of other schools. This alone has helped me become a confident student and future physical therapist, while benefiting others – goals achieved.
What is your “why”?
Growing up in what I consider to be a very non-traditional, rural city of low socioeconomic status, I was heartbroken by not being able to see reflections of myself or family within the people I looked up to. I struggled to find professionals who shared attributes of Mexican culture or Spanish as their first language.
My “why” lies in helping to improve representation for Hispanics who wish to seek a doctoral degree. Representation matters and I would like to be the change I wish I saw when I was younger. I hope to be a mirror image for people to look up to, particularly those aspiring medical professionals coming from a similar background as I had. As representation numbers improve, I hope to see this gap diminish.
September 15 – October 15 is a month to celebrate the independence of Latin countries and honor the Hispanic/Latinx heritage, which has contributed to the advancement of this country. What does this mean for you? In what ways do you feel you have contributed to the advancement of this Physical Therapy program?
Overall, a heritage month is a beautiful time to reflect on how the United States can appreciate all the different minority groups in our society that come together and make this country special. National Hispanic/Latinx American Heritage Month provides an opportunity to appreciate the individual Hispanic contributions to the growth of American society. It also gives me the opportunity to look back in time and recognize the advancements towards equal opportunities for all minority groups, allowing us to reflect on areas of improvement. Some examples include but are not limited to the fact that Hispanic farmers continue to work in troubling conditions, families are often displaced due to income gaps, students take on larger loans, and individuals often suffer worse health outcomes. Now is the time to use this platform to speak up and advocate for what we need to be changed or areas that we feel have stalled. As a member of the Hispanic community, I know we look up to our elders and value family. It’s important that we don’t only show this appreciation during the specific calendar days we are allotted, but rather all the time.
I am fortunate to be a member of the CU Physical Therapy program and acknowledge that they are helping pave a path for advancement. A few of my contributions include recruiting dozens of Hispanic people within the Aurora-Denver community for research to improve health outcomes/demographic representation, partaking in free medical clinics (i.e., DAWN), participating as a member in community outreach, and providing feedback to improve the curriculum to address Hispanic needs. To assist with improving the curriculum, the Physical Therapy program was able to provide me the opportunity to attend CSM 2022 and learn about the profession’s advancements in diversity, equity, and inclusion, and report back information about the interesting sessions I attended in order to implement some change within our CU PT program.
What words of encouragement do you have to share with future students of color pursuing careers in healthcare?
Seek out guidance. As mentioned, when I was younger, I didn’t have many mentors to look up to. It can seem like there is an immense pressure to do everything by yourself. In this age of technology, there are multiple online forums, blogs, and social networks you can tap into as resources. Through experience, I have found the greatest value in reaching out to others and meeting in person, or at least exchanging email addresses: networking. Take a step back and remember that you are a part of a community. Try maintaining a growth mindset and come from curiosity and you will find that there are people willing to help, some more than others.
In Spanish culture, elders are always willing to share their words of wisdom or conesjos. These consejos may help you navigate passing your next class, mastering your next manual therapy skill, or navigating the next chapter in your life.