Inspired by his late father, Matthew Español aims to use his doctor of physical therapy degree to provide compassionate care to his patients.
BY ANDREW FAUGHT
MATTHEW ESPAÑOL WAS WORKING AT A San Francisco chemistry lab in 2016 when his father was diagnosed with colon cancer. The experience gave the son unexpected perspectives.
“I was spending a lot of time taking care of him, and I realized that I really liked patient care, and I liked helping people,” Español recalls. “I thought, OK, where can I pivot and do this as a career?”
Physical therapy, he discovered, would give Español more one-on-one time with patients than if he became a physician. Knowing little about the field, he conducted an online search for top-ranked doctor of physical therapy programs. USC’s program became his clear choice. One factor cinched Español’s reason to enroll.
“The didactic material and our hands-on skills are very strong compared to what I’ve seen from other programs, but what really sets USC apart is their emphasis on empathy,” he says. “That was great for me, because it was something my mom and dad instilled in me when I was young.”
Español’s father died in 2017, but the son is hoping to honor his dad’s legacy by returning to the Bay Area to start a physical therapy practice. There, he plans to, in part, provide pro bono and discounted services to the poor and uninsured. His USC training will loom large.
“While many USC PTs are great in terms of treatment, they really do have strong EQ as well — that emotional sense to read people and convey things in a way that will get the best outcomes for their patient,” Español says. “USC fostered that culture in us, and it’s unique.
“As my dad’s health started to decline, he just continued to hammer points home: No matter what I did in life, it’s important to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and think about their situation and where they’re coming from.”
Español, who earned an undergraduate physics degree at the University of San Francisco, will join an orthopedic physical therapy residency in the Bay Area after graduation. At USC, Español, a Filipino-American, was a board member for the Physical Therapy Multicultural Leadership Alliance, a group that promoted social activities among underrepresented students, while also performing volunteer work in the community.
Additionally, he was a member of the USC Interdisciplinary Community Outreach Team (formerly known as the Student Run Clinic), which provides free physical therapy services in the surrounding community. Español volunteered at three events, gaining valuable experience in a clinical skills setting.
He welcomed the opportunity to get away from the daily grind of classroom learning, and to apply his knowledge personally. After all, it’s the personal touch that fuels his passion.
“As a physical therapist, you really get to spend a long period of time with someone, sometimes months, sometimes a whole year to help that person recover,” Español says. “To be able to help someone from a low point and bring them back to where they want to be, that’s the internal joy I found when I was helping my dad.”
There are other lessons that he’s gleaned from his time at USC.
“The work is going to be difficult, but we didn’t get into this program because it’s going to be easy,” Español says. “At the end of the day, it’s important to trust your skills, remember why you’re here, and continue to grow.”