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Outstanding physical therapy teacher draws on her life experiences

Marisa PerdomoPhoto by Jon Nalick

Marisa Perdomo, a graduate teaching assistant in the Department of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy, has always viewed physical therapists such as herself as not just therapists, but teachers as well, offering life-changing lessons for patients.

As it turns out, Perdomo’s students and peers think she’s more than a therapist, too—which is why she is being honored with the Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award at USC’s 23nd annual Academic Honors Convocation on March 11.

A student in the post-professional doctoral program for physical therapy, with a master’s degree in biokinesiology and physical therapy from USC, Perdomo, 43, said that a lifelong interest in medicine and a painful experience as a hospital patient drew her to physical therapy.

“I remember when I was younger reading an article in Newsweek about a college football player injured in a game and hearing about his rehabilitation. I was thinking, ‘Here’s a profession that helps people regain function,’ and I knew that was what I wanted to do,” she said.

In her teens, she experienced a painful recovery from lymphoma treatment, exacerbated by nurses who hefted her from bed without apparent concern for her comfort or how it might affect her healing.

“I thought, ‘There has to be a better way than this. There has to be someone who can teach you how to move in bed without pain,’” she said.

Now a nationally recognized lecturer in oncology-based physical therapy, Perdomo brings to the classroom not only her experiences working as an orthopedic manual therapist and developing a community-based support group for lymphedema patients, but the unique perspective she has as a survivor of three bouts of cancer.

Perdomo’s students describe her as an extremely knowledgeable and attentive instructor, as well as an important source of encouragement and guidance.

Perdomo said that what she loves best about teaching “is taking a topic that students know nothing about and then finding something that excites them about it—something that sparks an interest or passion or touches a heart string. There’s nothing like seeing a student get excited about comprehending new material or mastering a new skill or technique.

“The other great thing about being a teacher is that you also have to be a professional student yourself. You have to constantly learn and challenge yourself to be able to teach anything.”

Describing her teaching philosophy, Perdomo said that she strives to “create a supportive atmosphere where students feel challenged during the learning process, but remain confident in their ability to integrate and apply the new concepts.”

Outstanding physical therapy teacher draws on her life experiences

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