A love of exercise and desire to help people led Nilma Santiago, PT, DPT, to the physical therapy profession and to teaching in ATSU’s Postprofessional Doctor of Physical Therapy program since 2010.

“People really appreciate the education that PTs can provide them, because we spend so much time with them.” — Dr. Santiago

Dr. Santiago earned her Master of Science in physical therapy from the University of Puerto Rico, Medical Sciences Campus in 2005. At the time, Dean Ann Lee Burch was the director of that university’s PT program, and even worked with Dr. Santiago on a research study while in Puerto Rico. Later, in search of doctoral programs, she saw that ATSU had a transitional DPT program that would accept most of her previous master’s level credits as well as her research experience. This made the program very straightforward to complete, and after graduating from ATSU’s DPT program in 2010, she and Dr. Burch were reunited in Arizona – at which point, she offered her a chance to teach at the University.

Dr. Santiago takes pride in being able to make a difference in patients’ lives and strives to express this passion for the PT profession to her students.

“What differentiates PTs from other healthcare professions is that we truly get to know them. You not only help them physically with their ailments, but also really listen to them and they can tell that you care for them. There are no words to describe how satisfying it is to help somebody physically.” — Dr. Santiago

Reflecting on her time teaching as well as in the physical therapy profession, Dr. Santiago has some words of wisdom for future and current PTs. Primarily, she advises them to not forget why they joined the profession, as many students go directly from graduating to working in a large organization and lose sight of the patient focus in such roles.

“Regardless of what’s happening in our healthcare system, we need to remember why we do what we do. We have a degree that is as valuable as any other doctoral degree. If you want a career that enables you to have close relationships with your patients, to make a difference in a lot of lives, to teach people, to spend time with people, to help people — physical therapy is the right professional path for you.” — Dr. Santiago

Courses taught by Dr. Nilma Santiago:

In addition to her teaching commitments with ATSU, Dr. Santiago opened her private practice PT clinic in 2019. She is part of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) as well as the private practice session for the APTA’s Academy of Clinical Electrophysiology and Wound Management. She also served on the advisory board of Evergreen Certifications for wound care.

When she’s not busy with teaching and her PT practice, Dr. Santiago enjoys staying active through fitness classes. She is particularly passionate about pilates, instructing others in its use and conducting research on the effect of pilates on patients receiving physical therapy. She also loves to cook and indulge in reading narratives about underdogs who succeed. Such stories inspire her to one day advocate for changes in healthcare policy which impact PT scope of care.