Alumna Runs Physical Therapy Clinic in Afghanistan

May 21, 2015

Samantha Letizio

Sammi Letizio '10 '12DPT works as a Physical Therapist in the United States Navy. She told us about being deployed in Afghanistan.

What did you study at Simmons? What's your job now?

I graduated with my BS in Health Science/PT from Simmons in 2010 and my Doctorate in Physical Therapy in 2012. 

My current job is Physical Therapist, United States Navy and my title is: Samantha Letizio, PT, DPT – LT, MSC, USN. I was deployed to Afghanistan in support of SOCOM (Special Operations Command).

How did you know the Navy was a good fit for you?

I joined the Navy for a lot of reasons. I always felt a pull toward service, but what actually drove me to join was my older brother, Adam. He is a Naval Aviator who sustained a minor injury during a training operation. After working on him and watching him go back to his job, I decided to research the possibility of a career in the Navy. The benefits of service are huge, but more importantly, there is a great sense of doing something that’s bigger than yourself.

I knew the Navy was a good fit for me when I started consistently noticing that I loved my job, even on days with 15 hours of work. There are days that I have to stay at work for 24 hours, and I still feel lucky to do what I do. When I got an offer to deploy I jumped on it, excited for the chance to do my job in an operational setting. I really knew that this was the right job for me.

What's a typical day like in the Navy?

A typical day at home consists of a very early workout, usually with patients, administrative time to catch up with my sailors as well as civilian contractors and government service employees, and several hours of direct patient care. While deployed, there are many more hours in the day to fill. We usually eat lunch and dinner together as a staff, and are in the office from 0800 until 2230 (10:30 at night). I see patients sporadically throughout the day, and spend the rest of the time researching, writing patient notes and emailing. We also do little things to keep our morale high -- for instance, we had a short but fun “birthday party” for the colonel I work with which included music, eating cupcakes sent from home and drinking sparkling cider to celebrate. Little events like this help break up the monotony and pass the time more quickly.

How did you start running a Physical Therapy Clinic at Camp Integrity?

After being assigned to a small camp in Kabul, Afghanistan, I arrived not knowing what my setup would be initially. There had been sporadic physical therapy visits, but no long-term practice in place. I advertised what my services were to include and briefed several members of my leadership. I created a workspace in our gym and had a screen and table built and set up to create a reasonably private environment for my patients. I then opened a schedule and the patients came flowing in. With such a small camp size, it was very interesting to go to the laundry room, the chow hall and the gym outside of my patient care hours. It seemed I couldn't go anywhere without “checking in” with my patients!

What was your favorite part of the Physical Therapy Clinic?

Watching my patients go from injured to fully functional. Working with the population that I worked with was particularly interesting -- I was with elite military members who were not used to being functionally limited. They place enormous value on their ability to perform, and see themselves differently when they cannot do so effectively. My office was located in our gym, so to see somebody go from barely being able to lift his arm overhead to being able to perform pull-ups with weight added is really inspiring.

What lessons did you learn from Simmons Athletics? How do you use them in your work in the Navy?

I played softball at Simmons from 2006 until 2011 after receiving a medical red-shirt during my senior year. I really grew up within the program, transforming from a nervous first-year, unsure of my own abilities, to a senior captain holding school and division records. I learned that hard work and performance is always valued, and that those who walk the walk instead of just talking the talk always go further. It’s been crucial in this competitive and results-based environment that I value productivity and objective improvement. I also learned valuable lessons about leadership and teamwork. My coach, Annie (Hennigan) Forsythe was a very positive constant in my life from the time I first stepped foot on campus, and she helped shape me into the leader and person that I am today.

What was your favorite class you took at Simmons? Why?

Gross Human Anatomy. If I could come back and take it again, I would. In fact, I was a Teaching Assistant for 2 years after I took it the first time, so I’ve already gotten to take it 3 times! It’s no coincidence that that class was taught by a professor who was a former Simmons Athlete, Alia Sullivan.

How has it been transitioning into life in the Navy?

Life in the Navy has been quite a transition for me. First of all, I am stationed with primarily men. I often joke about how my years at Simmons did not help prepare me to function in a primarily male environment! The biggest struggle is creating trusting relationships with my patients in a rank and position-based world. Other than that and a few other extra duties and responsibilities, I’m still just a physical therapist who wears a funny outfit to work every day.

How did Simmons help prepare you for your career?

I joke that an all-female environment didn’t prepare me for the Navy, but in truth I see the value of my Simmons education almost daily. I find that I have an abundance of confidence in myself and my knowledge as a provider. I’m not ever afraid to share my opinion, even when it’s not well-supported or popular. I do not waste time competing with the other women around me, but instead collaborate with them to demonstrate our skill in the workplace. I believe that all of these attributes come from developing my work habits and self-confidence in an environment catered towards women.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I hope to still be working with soldiers, sailors and marines in 10 years. I also see myself in a leadership role, likely running a clinic. I hope to be a bit closer to New England, as I’m currently stationed 3,400 miles away from New Hampshire, where I call home.

What advice would you give to the current Simmons undergraduate students?

Try to appreciate how special this moment in your life is. Your time will be done sooner than you think, but the important relationships you develop and lessons you learn are invaluable. I spent a lot of time while I was in college daydreaming about the big, co-ed college experience I wasn’t having, but didn’t think about how lucky I was to receive the spectacular education I did nearly often enough. Beyond receiving a degree and being able to do what I consider to be the most fantastic, rewarding job in the world, I made friendships that will last a lifetime and have grown into a self-assured and independent woman for my time spent there.

What's your Simmons moment?

I do not have one particular “Simmons Moment,” but all of my greatest memories come from my years playing softball. These were the experiences that tied me to my school and that left the greatest impact on me.

Photos from a USO visit with Channing Tatum.