When Paige O’Neal graduated from Currituck High School in 2011, she already knew where she was going to pursue her college education and what she was going to study.
Her dad, Paul O’Neal serves on College of The Albemarle’s (COA) Board of Trustees and is currently the group’s chairman. So she well knew her hometown community college would provide her with a great start on her education.
In May 2014, O’Neal earned her Associate in Arts from COA before transferring to Martin Community College in Williamston, NC, where she earned an Associate in Science for physical therapist assistants. She graduated with the degree in May 2016 and since November 2016, she’s been working as a physical therapy assistant at the Outer Banks Hospital in Nags Head.
She loves her newfound vocation and looking back on her academic path, she credits the solid foundation she received at COA with enabling her continue her education and finally realize her professional dream.
“Going to COA helped me transfer into the program because I had all my prerequisites out of the way and I had my degree,” O’Neal said. “Seeing that I had a degree already helped them to see that I was going to focus on what I was going for.”
These days, O’Neal falls back on what she learned in COA’s anatomy and biology classes. As she helps her patients regain movement in their hips, arms and legs, she quietly recites the names of the muscles and the bones, which she learned in her advanced science courses at COA.
O’Neal learned to be a quick study at COA because in her Anatomy II class, her instructor would teach her class the names of bones in the skull and muscles throughout the body, and would then quiz them on names during the next class. Fortunately, O’Neal said, it all came easily to her, a fact she realized when she took a sports medicine class in high school.
“Anatomy has always come easy to me,” she said. “It’s always been something that clicked for me.”
And working as a physical therapy assistant is something she loves to do. Helping her older patients regain mobility after hip and knee replacements, or assist with the rehabilitation of stroke patients during their hour-long appointments. Typically, the physical therapist assesses the patients during their first visit and gives them a diagnosis. After that, O’Neal usually is the one to take these patients through their paces, showing them exercises to strengthen their muscles. She remembers the first patient, an older woman recovering from a knee replacement, whom she assisted for the duration of her rehabilitation.
“Eventually, she had no more pain and she was walking a lot better and that was really cool to see,” O’Neal said. “I like to help people and I like interacting with them. I have a heart for people and want to help them get better.”