From MUSC pediatric patient to doctor of physical therapy, graduate wants to make a difference

May 16, 2024
Young woman wearing a pink t-shirt and jeans sits cross legged in front of a fountain.
During her time at MUSC, physical therapy graduate Hannah Deese volunteered at the MUSC CARES Therapy Clinic, the Shots With a Spin wheelchair basketball tournament and served as president of her class. Photo by Sarah Pack

At just 2 years old, Hannah Deese was admitted to MUSC for lifesaving surgery to repair two holes in her heart that had not self-repaired as doctors had hoped. This experience, and her consequential familiarity with different aspects of the medical field, set her dreams in motion. “I knew I wanted to be in people’s lives to help them get back to how they were previously living their lives before injury, before surgery,” said Deese. 

Today, Deese is the president of her graduating class in the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program at MUSC.

“It’s incredibly rewarding to see these tiny children that we operated on go on to live full, productive lives,” said Fred Crawford, M.D., former chairman of the Department of Surgery, who performed Deese’s surgery decades ago.

One of Deese’s most memorable moments as a student was studying in the seventh-floor atrium of University Hospital and realizing that, prior to renovations, it had been the play area in the former Children’s Hospital wing. It was a full-circle experience, realizing that the space she once recovered in was now among her favorite places to study. Photos of her as a child still hang on the walls. 

“I’ve seen several of my former patients go on to become health care providers, and I’m proud of each one of them, Hannah included,” said Crawford. “I offer Hannah my congratulations. I know she will do great things!”

Woman wearing pink t-shirt holds up two photos of herself as a little girl. 
Deese shows photos of her 2-year old self as a pediatric heart patient at MUSC Children’s Hospital. Her experience set into motion her path in health care and dedication to serve others.

According to her professors, as much as MUSC has left an impact on Deese, she’s also left a meaningful impact both here and in the communities she’s served. 

Although Deese doesn’t consider herself the type of person who seeks out leadership roles, she admits that she falls into that role often. 

“Hannah is always there for her classmates,” said Sara Kraft, DPT, professor and director of the Division of Physical Therapy. “She advocates for them and is a cheerleader trying to lift them up when they need it.”

In addition to being president of her class, Deese participates in several volunteer programs, including the CARES Therapy clinic, a pro bono student-run clinic that provides rehabilitation services to underinsured and uninsured patients in the Charleston community. 

One of her favorite programs to volunteer for has been Shots With a Spin, a wheelchair basketball tournament put on by third-year DPT students in support of Adaptive Expeditions. It’s an opportunity for students to have fun, raise money for a nonprofit and gain insight into what some of their patients might be experiencing. 

“Hannah has a service heart; she’s always willing to help where needed,” said Kraft. “She is always engaged, with a smile on her face, trying to have a positive impact on the communities she serves.”

Now that she’s graduating, Deese is looking forward to starting a career that she says has been a long time coming, where she can continue to learn, shape her skillset and make a difference. 

She plans to put her best-received piece of advice into practice: Do the basics well. 

 “The basics are what’s going to help our patients feel better,” she said. “A lot of what physical therapy is, in general, is detective work to find the biggest deficit. I think our program has done a great job of making sure we know them well.”

She’s particularly looking forward to treating more sports-specific patients after taking several sports electives taught by Stephanie McGowan, DSc, PT, assistant professor in the Division of Physical Therapy. Deese hopes to emulate McGowan’s style as she treats patients in the future. “She’s very passionate about what she does, fun to work with and energized,” said Deese. 

And according to McGowan, Deese already does. “She’s so approachable, and that made patients we worked with very comfortable,” said McGowan. “Hannah approaches everything with positive energy and a can-do attitude, which is going to serve her well as a PT.”

In one of her most recent clinical rotations, Deese had an experience with a young patient, a high school athlete, reinforcing her belief that she was on the right path. 

The student came in with a significant amount of pain in her hamstring. After an evaluation, Deese gave her a plan to incorporate into her daily routine to help to treat the injury. The next day, the student waved her down and said she felt immense relief and was even mad at herself for not seeking treatment sooner. 

“As a DPT student, you don’t always feel like you know what you’re doing, but that experience was very rewarding,” said Deese. “It makes you feel really good to know that what you’re doing is making a difference in people’s lives.” 

Beyond the patients she will eventually serve, Deese hopes to create a lasting impact in her profession by mentoring future physical therapists and students. She credits her mentors, both professors and the PTs she has met on her clinical rotations, with helping her to become the PT she wants to be. She hopes to pay it forward someday.

“Hannah is just awesome,” said McGowan. “She will be a great leader, motivator and eventual mentor to others in the field.”

To future DPT students, her advice is “Come! Go!” While she acknowledges that graduate school can feel daunting, due to the amount of studying, it’s been an invaluable experience for her.

“Yes, you do have to study a lot, but it’s about things that are extremely pertinent to what you want to do for the rest of your life. And our professors do a great job of making it as fun as possible,” said Deese.

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