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Planning, perseverance help physical therapy student beat odds

By Crystal Baity
ECU News Services

Molly Pleasants has found joy and purpose in becoming a physical therapist. Photo by Cliff Hollis, ECU News Services.
GREENVILLE, N.C.   (May 2, 2012)   —   Molly Pleasants’ path to becoming a physical therapist included working in the business offices of a large car dealership and weight loss franchise, in benefits at an academic medical center, and a series of jobs with a temporary agency.

But a visit with an ailing aunt seven years ago introduced her to the possibility of a career in health care. She will graduate Friday with a doctorate in physical therapy from East Carolina University.

“For a long time I didn’t know about the profession,” she said. In 2005, her aunt had knee replacement surgery and went to a rehabilitation center in Columbia, S.C. After meeting the physical therapist working with her aunt, she decided to look into it. “From that one visit, it started the process and thought toward this,” she said. She will take the national board examination this summer, and in September will begin work at Vidant Medical Center in Greenville.

With an undergraduate degree in communications from Queens College, she began taking pre-requisites for ECU’s physical therapy program at Central Piedmont Community College near her home in Charlotte in 2007. Just a year earlier, she gave birth to her second child, Stephen, who is now 5. She also has a daughter, Grace, who is 13. Pleasants worked as a tutor while completing enough credits to earn an associate’s degree.

She only considered North Carolina universities with a physical therapy program.

“It felt like East Carolina was where I needed to be,” she said. “It was always my first choice.” She didn’t even apply to a second school. Her grandparents are from Rowland in southeastern North Carolina, and she had spent many summers at their home. She also was awarded two scholarships at ECU.

Remembering to plan

Being a single mother became even more hectic after she started the program and moved in 2009 to Greenville from Charlotte, where her parents live and helped with child care, and whom she could count on day or night.

While Pleasants finished her final year of physical therapy classwork, research and clinical rotations, her daughter has spent the 2011-1012 school year with her grandparents to attend Randolph Middle School, an international baccalaureate magnet school in Charlotte. Pleasant’s son has been with her and is a kindergartner at Lakeforest Elementary in Greenville. 

“Typically we’re in class all day, every day, so on (a typical day) I get home, I get him, do dinner, cleanup and get ready for his bedtime,” she said. “By that time, it’s 8:30 or 9 o’clock, and I have to study. That’s been the most difficult part: time management. You really have to plan.”

She goes grocery shopping on a certain day. She launders and prepares her son’s school uniforms a week in advance. “I run on time, I don’t run early, so when something happens, it’s kind of a mini-emergency,” she said. “Things always seem to happen at the worst possible moment. I’ll have a test the next day, and he gets stomach flu.”

And there are the typical sibling fights, just when she is in the middle of preparing a presentation.

Considering the purpose

“It’s been a struggle,” Pleasants said. “Mentally, at times, it has taken its toll and made me question if I was doing the right thing. I have to keep in the back of my mind this will be over, and I’ll be a better mother and I can give them the attention they need, and I’ll have financial stability to provide for them, better than I’ve had in the past. So that’s what keeps me going. There is a higher purpose to this.” 

Although pressed to fit in extracurricular activities, she competed in a sprint triathlon in September and a half-marathon in November. She ran in the Run, Walk and Roll 5K, and has volunteered at the on-campus massage clinics that physical therapy students offer throughout the year.

“Somehow it has all worked out,” she said. “I have a friend in my class who has just been available when I’ve needed her. In a pinch, she will volunteer to assist me, and I really appreciate that.”

Her fellow physical therapy students have been supportive and tried to arrange group or team meetings around her schedule. Faculty members also have worked with her on the rare occasion when she has been late or had to miss class for her children.

Beating the odds

“Molly is an exceptional person and student. Despite difficult circumstances she has persevered and performed at a very high level academically and clinically throughout our curriculum,” said Dr. Walter Jenkins, chair of physical therapy in the College of Allied Health Sciences. “She is always positive and has been a wonderful representative of our program for the past three years.  Molly is a great example of how a determined person can overcome the odds and be successful.  I have great respect for her.”

Her doctoral research centered on neuropathic pain and changes in proteins after spinal cord injury. She presented at the state physical therapy conference, and at ECU’s neuroscience symposium and research and creative week. 

Pleasants talks by phone with her aunt, who now lives in Texas and has been cared for by other physical therapists after more surgeries. “She is walking around, and she credits a lot of it to physical therapy,” Pleasants said.


Contact: Crystal Baity | 252-744-3764