Student Spotlight: Katie Batchelor

Published: June 15th, 2015

Category: Front Page Slider, Student Spotlight

Picture3I’m not sure how many five-year-olds decide they want to be a physical therapist when they grow up, but I was one of them. When I was that age my mom had a tumor removed from her spinal cord’s central canal. I watched her learn how to walk again; she had been told she would never walk again. I watched her struggle through this process with the help of a physical therapist, and thought to myself that the person helping her was a hero.  Neuroplasticity is an amazing phenomenon that we are only beginning to understand. Spinal cord injury is the population I hope to treat as a physical therapist.

My family is my number one in life. My parents run a horse rescue farm called Beauty’s Haven, and I go home and help them whenever I have free time. I also spend my time participating in the Health Science Students Organization and Undergraduate Physical Therapy Association. Through these organizations I have participated in multiple activities to help people with physical disabilities. I have spent almost every semester since freshmen year volunteering in several physical therapy clinics and settings: Nature Coast Rehabilitation, a general outpatient clinic; Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine Institute; the pediatric, neurological, and cardiac floors of Shands Hospital; Shands Rehab Hospital, a comprehensive rehabilitation setting; and Fit for Life, a general outpatient clinic. Volunteering at Fit for Life resulted in an opportunity for me to become an Exercise Specialist there, something I never saw coming! At Fit for Life I demonstrate and guide patients through personalized exercise programs.

I love research! When I first became a research assistant I was not sure if I would even like it. Dr. Vaillancourt of the Department of Applied Physiology and Kinesiology gave me a chance to be a part of his longitudinal Parkinson’s disease imaging study supported by the National Institutes of Health. I enter patient data including: MRI information, neurological exams, motor and cognitive testing into the lab database. The study includes data from multiple diagnoses: Parkinson’s disease, Atypical Parkinsonism, Multiple System Atrophy, Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, Corticobasal Degeneration, and Essential Tremor. Dr. Vaillancourt later gave me the opportunity to learn how to isolate patient blood plasma and serum samples. I have also learned a great deal about how to work with other lab and team members.

Through data entry I am able to look at an amazing range of quantifiable neurologic differences among the above listed conditions; this is where my interest in research took off! I have spent my entire life thinking “all I want to do is become a physical therapist,” but now the idea of pursuing a Ph.D. has emerged. A Ph.D. in Rehabilitation Sciences would enable me to specialize in spinal cord injury research after earning my Doctorate in Physical Therapy!

My experience in Dr. Vaillancourt’s lab was the impetus for me to apply to the BHS Honors Research Program. After being accepted into the program, I began my search for a mentor with a passion in neuroscience. Dr. Carolynn Patten (Departments of Physical Therapy, APK, and Neurology) caught my attention immediately. She has made huge strides in understanding the causes of movement dysfunction following stroke and has applied this knowledge to post-stroke rehabilitation. I am so excited to spend the next year in her lab! With Dr. Patten’s help, I recently applied for, and was accepted into, the University Scholars Program. The next year will involve assessing acute neurophysiological adaptations in response to a novel paradigm – unilateral stepping – to understand inter-limb coupling post-stroke. We analyze biomechanics of stepping concurrently with modulation of spinal level excitably throughout the gait cycle. This work is conducted as part of Dr. Patten’s recently funded NIH and VA Rehabilitation R&D grants.

Looking back, three years ago I did not expect to be where I am now. One of the most important life lessons I have learned is that if you put yourself out there, put 110% effort into everything you do, opportunities will arise! Go Gators!