Skip to Content

Coronavirus: Get complete details about the university's response to COVID-19.

Arnold School of Public Health

I Am Public Health: Jessica Kuchta

October 1, 2019 | Erin Bluvas, bluvase@sc.edu

Jessica Kuchta and her husband moved more than 700 miles to kick off the start of a significant career change. It’s been a little under 10 years since the New Jersey native graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Seton Hall University – a decade that she spent working with individuals grappling with substance abuse and mental health issues. As much as she loved psychology, the increasing visibility of the physical therapy field made her realized it was an even better fit.

“The idea of helping people gain control over their bodies again is truly amazing,” says Kuchta, who confirmed her interest in the field by serving as a physical therapy aide before applying to programs to officially make the career switch. “Physical therapists try to get to the root of the problem, instead of just masking it with other types of treatment. To be part of a profession that has the ability to do this is exciting and motivates me to be the best student I can be now, so I can then be the best therapist when I graduate.”

The Arnold School’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program (housed in the Department of Exercise Science) rose to the top of her list after she made a campus visit and met program director Stacy Fritz and several other faculty members. She was impressed with the program, which is ranked in the top 16 percent of the 239 physical therapy programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy.   

To be part of a profession that has the ability to do this is exciting and motivates me to be the best student I can be now, so I can then be the best therapist when I graduate.

-Jessica Kuchta, Doctor of Physical Therapy student

“I was able to tell right away that I was going to fit in with the faculty and the program, and if accepted to the University of South Carolina, I would definitely choose to go here,” Kuchta says. “The curriculum of the DPT program at USC has many components that I felt worked best for my style of learning.”

Some of those features including the boutique-style learning environment that features small class sizes with individualized instruction and the opportunity to engage in clinical rotations throughout the three year program rather than waiting until the final year to engage in practical experiences like many other programs. Kuchta snagged one of just 30 spots in the in the 2018 -2021 class, which received more than 530 applications. 

With a strong research background from her time as an undergraduate student, Kuchta was also thrilled by the program’s research component – which requires students to design and conduct a research project prior to graduation. While her previous experiences were in the field of neuropsychology, she’s already learning the ropes of the physical therapy research world by contributing to associate professor Sheri Silfies’ study on the connection between persistent back pain and changes in communication between sensory and motor regions in the brain. Along with two other classmates, the team is investigating whether there are differences in trunk muscle force control between individuals who develop temporary low back pain during a two-hour prolonged standing  task compared to those who do not develop pain. 

There is nothing better than working in a profession that you love and are truly passionate about.

-Jessica Kuchta, Doctor of Physical Therapy student

“Low back pain is the most frequent diagnosis among patients seeking physical therapy, and yet it is difficult to always find a specific anatomical reason for it,” Kuchta says. “It is an area of research that continues to be studied, and one of my favorite areas of research thus far.”

With more than half of her program remaining, Kuchta will keep her options open as she learns more about the various aspects of physical therapy. One thing is certain: she knows she’s in the right place.

“It is never too late to change your current situation and follow your dreams,” Kuchta says. “Being in a doctorate degree is anything but easy, but I can tell you that it will all be worth it. There is nothing better than working in a profession that you love and are truly passionate about.” 


Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.

©