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By uscbknpt

The Dream Chaser

Philip Garcia portrait

Phillip Garcia overcomes the odds and self-doubt to fulfill a personal mission.


AS A TEEN, PHILLIP GARCIA DPT ’24 observed the positive impact of physical therapy firsthand.

After his Aunt Mayra was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, he watched a strong, powerful woman become humbled by a disease that batters the central nervous system and an individual’s sense of self. She struggled to walk and perform simple, everyday tasks like opening a jar. Her vulnerability alarmed him.

But with the help of a physical therapist, Garcia’s beloved aunt regained her mobility and quality of life. She resumed walking and dancing and when she wrapped her nephew in her arms at one encounter, euphoria overran Garcia’s body.

“My goal then became to do what I could to give someone else that same feeling,” Garcia says.

So, at 15, Garcia decided he would become a physical therapist — the long odds before him be damned. 

The son of teenage parents, Garcia grew up in East Los Angeles, a hardscrabble neighborhood riddled with gang violence. Many around him peddled drugs, not exercise. They held guns, not degrees. But Garcia was determined to be different in the best possible way, drawing inspiration from parents who selflessly traded their own childhoods and deferred their dreams so that Garcia and his siblings could chase theirs.

After earning his kinesiology degree from the University of La Verne in three and a half years, Garcia applied to USC’s doctor of physical therapy program.

“USC was the only school I applied to because it was the only one I wanted to attend,” he says.


“A Gear I Never Knew I Had in Me”


Things seemed on track until Garcia learned he had failed three of his opening semester’s four midterms. He called Beth Fisher, professor of clinical physical therapy, for support and perspective. He confessed he felt like an impostor and questioned his ability to survive the rigorous DPT program. 

Amid the chaos, Fisher delivered clarity and urged calm. She assured Garcia he belonged at USC and called the midterms a temporary bump, not a permanent condition.

“You’re here for a reason,” she reminded Garcia.

Fisher’s peptalk injected Garcia with confidence and sparked a fresh outlook. He stopped comparing himself to others and rejected any self doubt. He found mentorship from Fisher and other faculty members, such as Chris Powers and Daniel Kirages, as well as motivation in various clinicians and patients he encountered. He thrust his nose into textbooks and charged through moments of physical and mental exhaustion.

“I discovered a gear I never knew I had in me,” says Garcia, who passed every other DPT exam after his early struggles. “I became far more confident as a student and a person.” 

With DPT graduation nearing and his board exams on the horizon this summer, Garcia sits on the cusp of an achievement he’s pursued for a decade: a career as a physical therapist. He plans to help jumpstart a new concierge PT business and has hopes the entrepreneurial endeavor will blossom into something bigger. 

“I want to continue to help people and maybe give that euphoric feeling I once felt to someone else,” he says. “For me, that’s the ultimate goal.”