Inspiration often comes in the most unlikely of places. Jairo Abreu (B.S.’06, D.P.T. ’08) remembers one of his patients, who was Latina, was impressed by the fact that he was a young Latino doctor caring for her. “I remember her bringing her child, who was six or seven, in one day,” remembers Abreu. “When I wasn’t in the room, I overheard her saying to the child, ‘That can be you in the future.’” Moments like this, says Abreu, who serves as supervisor for outpatient rehabilitation at NYU Langone Rusk Rehabilitation in New York City, continue to inspire him, particularly within the community he’s serving.
The Brooklyn campus of Rusk serves underserved patients, including a large Latino community. Abreu says he finds patients feel an immediate connection to him once they start working together. “There’s a lot of patients who relate to me or see me in them,” says the Brooklyn native. “Maybe they’re just celebrating my success as opposed to someone who couldn’t relate.”
Remembering how he used to play sports and receive physical therapy, Abreu quickly switched his undergrad major from computer engineering to the dual degree B.S., life sciences/D.P.T., physical therapy. “I remember having been impressed by that profession,” says Abreu, who invested in a car in order to study physical therapy at New York Tech’s Long Island campus.
“When I got to Long Island, it was a very different world,” he says. “Here I’m this kid from Brooklyn, from the Dominican Republic, and I was living in Brooklyn all my life at that point. Then I go to Long Island, where it was completely different. I was commuting every day while working part-time. Balancing all of that was challenging, but it made graduation even sweeter.”
Upon graduating in 2008, Abreu worked full time as a physical therapist with the Family Health Centers at NYU Langone, while progressively also working part time at Calvary Hospital, and at NYU Langone, with a focus on home-based physical therapy before being promoted in 2015 to assistant supervisor. He became supervisor in 2018 and is now responsible for the day-to-day operation of the facility, including clinical management.
The key to Abreu’s success, and in any situation as far as he’s concerned, is a strong support system—in and out of school.
“I was very lucky to have supportive professors in my doctoral studies for the physical therapy degree and a supportive staff during my undergraduate studies, especially in the HEOP program (Higher Education Opportunity Program),” says Abreu. “If it weren’t for that, it would have made the journey more difficult. Maybe I wouldn’t have completed it.”
He adds, “It was a long journey, but if you just focus on the end goal and put one foot in front of the other, time passes, and before you know it, you’ve graduated.”