Columbia Alumna Candice Meng

DPT Alumna with her children.
DPT Alumna Candice Meng with her children.

How/ why did you come to Columbia?

I picked Columbia for four reasons:

1. I was most impressed with their clinical education. I prioritized the number of weeks the clinical education program was when deciding where to go (I was choosing between UCSF/SFSU, USC, and Columbia). I also loved that there were four different clinical education experiences I could have and I could choose where I wanted to go. Other programs I was considering did not have as many weeks, variability, and choice of where to do the experiences.

2. I knew a graduate from the Columbia University Physical Therapy program and was very impressed by his commitment, knowledge, and expertise.

3. Living in San Francisco for as long as I did up until that point, I was ready to be closer to where I was born and raised (just outside Hartford, CT). Columbia University gave me that opportunity.

4. Compared to other programs that I was considering, Columbia's program was the most inexpensive and I was getting a great deal on a top notch education.

What event in your life triggered your decision to pursue becoming a Physical Therapist?

My undergraduate degree is a BA in Marketing. From 1996 to 2001, I was working in marketing and advertising, but quite frankly was completely underwhelmed, bored, and over corporate America. After 9/11/2001, I was laid off from my advertising job, a job I hated by the way. Because I was laid off, I was able to collect unemployment for 6 months which was enough to cover my living expenses at the time. I used that time to re-examine my career choice and decided to look into healthcare. I met a physical therapist who specialized in hippotherapy. He offered me an opportunity to volunteer at the hippotherapy clinic he was running. I immediately fell in love with it and started volunteering in other settings including pediatrics through the Dept of Education, acute care, and eventually got a job as a P.T. aide in outpatient ortho. And that was it. I was committed to pursuing physical therapy. Because my undergraduate degree was in marketing, I did not have the prerequisites required to apply for PT school, so I enrolled in a post baccalaureate program at San Francisco State University. Within 2.5 years, I had finished all my prerequisite classes and was applying to graduate school.

How do you think your Columbia education prepared you for the work you’re doing?

Columbia prepared me in two ways. First, Columbia expertly prepared me with a strong foundation in anatomy, kinesiology, neurology, and clinical reasoning/thinking skills.  Since graduation in 2007, I have been working at the Spinal Cord Injury and Disorders Center (SCI/D) at the VA Hospital in Palo Alto, CA on the inpatient acute rehab unit. I love my job and the patient population I work with. If it weren't for the hours I spent learning about International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF), and how to apply that to patients, I would not be where I am today! The Columbia University Programs in PT allowed me to set up a new clinical education experience with the Palo Alto VA Hospital. I had the opportunity to affiliate at, SCI/D, and applied for a full time position as soon as I graduated. If it wasn't for the name recognition and flexibility that Columbia University offers in setting up clinical experiences, I never would've been offered the job I have had for almost 15 years. I have no plans of leaving this position and plan on retiring after 30 years of government service!

How was your experience after you graduated from the program?

My experience was great! I am doing a job I love where I did one of my clinical experiences, and working with the veteran population. I find my job incredibly rewarding.

Have you pursued an advanced degree, residency/ fellowship, continuing education?

I have not pursued any other advanced degrees (beyond my DPT), residencies, or fellowships. Though I would love to start a neurology residency at the Palo Alto VA Hospital! 

In addition to SCI/D, I am also doing pelvic rehab with women veterans. This takes up 20% of my time. SCI/D takes up 80% of my time.

What advice do you have for future students of our DPT program?

Take advantage of all the opportunities Columbia University has to offer. Try to vary your clinical experiences, it's a rare opportunity compared to other PT programs. Don't expect to know everything upon graduation, but have confidence in the fact that the PT program at Columbia has prepared you to approach any question or obstacle that presents itself. 

Please speak a little about yourself, what your hobbies are, anything that you would like us to know.

My hobbies include cooking, hiking, camping, and snowboarding.  I still try to go snowboarding with a few of my good friends from the CU PT program! It was something we started while in PT school and continue to do to this day. For my 50th birthday (in 2024), I hope to fulfill a bucket list item - rafting down the Colorado River with my family. I have been living in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1996 (minus 3 years living in New York for PT school), and I love living in California. I always take time to explore new restaurants and experiences throughout the Bay Area and the state! There is so much to do, it's mind boggling. From amazing backcountry camping trips in the Sierra Nevada mountains, to wine tasting in Sonoma, to surfing in Santa Cruz, to eating amazing fish tacos in San Diego, to snowboarding at one of over 15 ski resorts in Lake Tahoe, to finding my inner child at Disneyland, just to name a few! Please let me know if you are ever in the Bay Area. I would love to show you around!