Hometown: Virginia Beach
TCC degree: Associate of Applied Science in Physical Therapist Assistant, 1986. Free was part of the second class of graduates from the program.
Occupation: Physical therapy assistant at Atlantic Orthopaedic Specialists, Free graduated from TCC in May 1986, passed the Virginia Physical Therapy Assistant Exam and was hired that July. She started with the same orthopaedic group 30 years ago.
“You watch patients go from being in a wheelchair to walking again. You watch someone who can’t move their arm to going back to their sport. I do a lot of industrial physical therapy. I do job-specific training with bricklayers and construction workers. I do the therapy that gets them back to work.”
Why TCC? “I was a dancer, and I realized I needed a real job. TCC was close and affordable. I knew I wanted to be in the medical field, and I knew I wanted to work with patients. I found physical therapy here. I definitely think TCC and the clinicals I had prepared me for what kind of patient population I wanted to focus on.”
At TCC: “I loved my professors and classes. My classmates stand out, one of whom I work with today. I enjoyed the labs and the clinicals. I was at Obici and Portsmouth Rehab and Children’s Hospital. I knew by working in those hospital settings that I didn’t want to concentrate in that area.”
Giving back: Last fall, Virginia Beach City Council appointed Free to the TCC College Board comprised of business, industry and education leaders from across Hampton Roads. She serves on the Finance and Facilities Committee.
Free also coordinates observation hours for current TCC physical therapist assistant student applicants with her employer.
“This is a great steppingstone for people to start, even if it’s just in a certificate program. Whatever direction you want, it’s a great start to get people focused on what they want to do. A lot of times you don’t know, and that was me when I came to TCC.”
Advice for a potential physical therapist assistant student: “You definitely have to work hard. As long as you’re ambitious and have the drive, it’s rewarding and fulfilling watching somebody improve.”