ACC Graduate and Associate Spotlight: Paul Alvarez
Less than two years after graduating with American Career College's first physical therapist assistant cohort, Paul Alvarez is back in school — but this time as an instructor.
Alvarez worked for more than a year at Beverly Hospital as a physical therapist assistant but recently returned to the ACC-Orange County campus he attended to help teach the next generation of PTAs.
"I had the benefit of working directly with patients who, maybe even as little as a few days prior, were totally fine. Life was happening and they didn't have another thought in the world and then, all of a sudden, they have a stroke or a heart attack or something that really impairs them and obviously they're now bed bound and in the hospital," he said. "It sounds almost strange that I taught them how to walk but essentially that's what it takes sometimes — re-learning a skill that most of us take for granted on a daily basis."
Initially, Alvarez said he wanted to be a physical therapist, but eventually ended up becoming a high school teacher and head baseball coach.
"I did that for a few years but it didn't pan out because there weren't any jobs at the time," he said, "so I decided I wanted to go back to school for a career that I can be in for the rest of my life."
Alvarez said he was attracted to ACC's physical therapist assistant program because he could go to school full-time while still working. As he progressed through the PTA program, Alvarez said he slowly phased out his side jobs to focus solely on his education.
As a new instructor, Alvarez said he hopes to inspire students to remember the big picture and see all the potential opportunities a new career can provide them.
"As little as two years ago, I was sitting there in the same classroom, finishing up a program and now I'm an instructor, so there's a lot of possibilities once you finish up," Alvarez said.
What advantage do you have as an instructor by being an ACC graduate?
I can help current students bridge that gap between being a student and also having other responsibilities outside of the classroom. In traditional programs, it's on-campus, five days a week, a set amount of hours and there is no opportunity to do other things. Having sat in those same seats as our students, I feel I can address some of those challenges as an instructor now and maybe help minimize some of those difficulties the students may face.
What inspired you to get through the program?
It was my family. Having a young daughter was a really good motivator for me to just see the bigger picture and to continue through the struggles. There were many roadblocks and challenges and bumps along the way, but having that bigger picture in mind, seeing that there was an endpoint and that ACC can help me achieve that, was a motivating factor.
What was your biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge was just maintaining my family during school. My family, luckily, was gracious enough to make adjustments and accommodations for me. My wife helped tremendously, picking up some of the extra duties for our daughter and keeping her away from daddy while he studied. My parents were integral in that as well — either dropping off my daughter or helping me manage my study time so that I could be successful and then ultimately make our family better.
What's the best part of being a PTA?
There's a lot of flexibility and a lot of demand. The demand for PTA is great and so at any moment, if I felt like maybe the facility that I was at wasn't right for me — or if I wanted to venture out and try something different — I had that option. I have flexibility and job security, along with the pay is pretty good too. That's just a cherry on top.
What advice do you have for new students?
Have perseverance and stick with it. When certain things don't go your way, when there are challenges and roadblocks, some people may throw up their hands and say 'Well, why am I continuing to do this?' But just from being a student to now being an instructor, I didn't imagine that it could happen that quickly.
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