Alina Shirley, DPT ’23, gives Commencement address on the resilience she and her classmates developed during their MGH Institute education.

For Alina Shirley, working at the intersection of mental, emotional, and physical health is her focus. It is something that began during college, when she learned that a close friend from high school had taken their own life. A biology major with minors in both Psychology and Health, Science, Society, and Policy at Brandeis University, she decided to pursue a physical therapy degree after finishing her undergraduate degree in 2019.

“When I was deciding which healthcare profession most aligned with what I wanted to do, I was really drawn to the rehab professions because of the amount of human connection that's formed,” said the Somers, Connecticut native who is the first person in her family to earn a doctoral degree. “As a physical therapist, it puts you in a really unique position to form a deeper relationship with your patients and understand where they're coming from. And at the core of physical therapy, it's really about getting people back to where they want to be in order to fulfill what looks to them to be their best lives.”

She was drawn to the IHP because of the PT program’s module-based curriculum, the quality of the faculty, and the fact it’s a stand-alone graduate school, which she described as “a community of existing and future healthcare professionals where everyone was as excited and as dedicated about the future of their profession as I was.”

After beginning the three-year DPT program in 2020 following a year off from college, Shirley jumped into several extracurricular activities, including helping the local community through student mental health initiatives that helped improve communication lines with students and faculty during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic when the campus remained closed. Shirley was a student member on the school’s Wellness Council and was also president of the student Physical Therapy Club.

In her Commencement address to graduating students in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences and School of Healthcare Leadership on May 11, Shirley spoke of the resilience that not only was needed during the pandemic but is required going forward.

“The future of healthcare will benefit from providers who are creative enough, adaptable enough, empathetic enough, resilient enough to stand their ground on what they believe in, on what our research shows us, to change the way we deliver care for the better,” she said. “Throughout this experience at the IHP, we have gained the kind of curiosity that can only come from understanding there is always more out there to learn. It is that curiosity, that desire to chase the best of ourselves and our world, that never-ending hunger despite the knowledge that we will never be fully satisfied, that makes our future and the future of the communities we impact so promising.”

As a singer, guitarist, poet, and writer, Shirley wants to approach mental health by bridging the space between science and the arts to help improve peoples’ lives. Currently employed at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Charlestown, she anticipates working with patients who have neurological injuries and disorders in inpatient settings.

“Being able to have that unique intersection of mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health, it's all right there,” she said. “And if you look hard enough, you can really craft a patient’s rehab experience around all of those qualities for a well-rounded recovery.”

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