Student Profile: Cesar Toral

The Irene Gilbert Scholarship was established by alumnus Michael P. Go, Class of 1974, in honor of Dr. Irene Gilbert, former Physical Therapy Program Director. Dr. Gilbert’s leadership instilled in faculty and students a strong sense of ethics and responsibility to patients, colleagues and the community – values that Michael embodied throughout his long career. The scholarship supports students with passion for a career in physical therapy, a record of success in initial coursework, and an exceptional commitment to ethics and professionalism. The academic year 2021-22 awardee is Cesar Toral.

Q: Why did you decide to become a physical therapist?

A: My passion for physical therapy began in my first year of high school. I was introduced to the profession as a patient of physical therapy after having an operation to correct Pectus Excavatum. This time of my life was difficult, both physically and mentally. However, with the help of physical therapy, I got back on my feet and gained resilience. Since that experience, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in physical therapy. My passion in physical therapy comes from seeing individuals bounce back from setbacks and take charge of their health.          

Q: What challenges have you had to overcome to get to this point?

A: There have been many challenges I had to overcome along the way, such as taking challenging courses and applying to DPT programs during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the main challenge that is unique to my story must be the surgery I underwent in my high school years. Deciding to have the surgery was a difficult decision because it meant starting my freshman year of high school from home and sacrificing my opportunity to play soccer. The experience came with many physical, mental and social challenges, which after overcoming made me the person I am today.

Q: What have been your impressions of the DPT program so far? 

A: The UCSF/SFSU DPT program has been a great graduate program to be a part of. I have enjoyed the blend of courses in orthopedics, acute care, neuro, as well as in research. In each course, the program has focused on teaching us concepts that are supported in the literature and having experts in each subject present the material. The program has focused our practice of patient care using the ICF framework, which has improved my ability to practice providing patient-centered care. Most of all, I am grateful for my wonderful classmates and the staff who have helped me tremendously. I look forward to continue gaining knowledge and taking advantage of experiences included in the program’s curriculum.          

Q: Why did you choose UCSF? What does UCSF represent to you?

A: I chose to continue my education at UCSF because this is where my journey with physical therapy began. I received the operation and rehabilitation that changed my life here at UCSF. It has felt like my journey is coming full circle. Additionally, coming from a Hispanic background, I knew I would feel comfortable at UCSF with its rich diversity of cultures. UCSF is a renowned hospital and university known for its professional leaders in health care, innovative research and academics, public service and patient care. I feel very fortunate and a sense of responsibility as a student at UCSF to uphold a professional and inclusive conduct.

Q: A lot of people, including Irene Gilbert, have had to fight to build up the PT program at UCSF.  Could you tell me what it means to you to be part of that legacy?

A: I feel honored to be part of the legacy started by Irene Gilbert and others throughout the history of the PT program at UCSF. Learning the history of the PT program and all those who contributed to building the program to what it is today was very humbling to learn. The program has come a long way, starting as a one-year program with limited campus space for staff and students to becoming a top three-year doctoral program in the country at multiple campuses between UCSF and SFSU. I feel a sense of responsibility to stay connected to UCSF and the DPT program throughout my professional career to continue improving the program for the next generation of students.

Q: What role do you think PTs should play in terms of advocacy and social justice work?

A: PTs play a unique and significant role in advocacy and social justice work. PTs are part of an interdisciplinary team and should make an effort to collaborate and communicate with other health care providers to approach a patient’s care holistically. In some settings, PTs may be the first line of treatment for patients and have the opportunity to provide the care or resources patients need. PTs should advocate for their patients’ individual needs, especially when it comes to appropriate assistive devices, appropriate discharge settings, transportation services and equitable access to care. In various settings, PTs work closely with case managers and social workers and can provide patients with appropriate resources to aid with patients’ personal and environmental barriers to health. Instead of feeling the need to start from scratch, PTs can involve themselves in established organizations in their surrounding area that work towards improving diversity, equity, and inclusion, improving patients’ access to care and minimizing health disparities.

Q: What areas of PT are you particularly interested in? Do you have an idea of what you would like to do upon graduating?

A: Upon graduating from the DPT program, I hope to begin my professional practice at an outpatient orthopedic setting where I can gain experience working with various patient populations. I have always enjoyed sports and I have athletic training experience, so I plan to work towards becoming a Sports Clinical Specialist and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. Eventually, I hope to train and provide pre- and post-rehabilitative care to the athletic population. In my undergraduate years, I gained experience training patients with neurodegenerative disorders at an adaptive fitness clinic, and I have previously worked with the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Association, so I hope to continue being involved with these patient populations whether it be clinically or through volunteer work.

Q: How does it feel to be selected for this scholarship? 

A: I am very grateful to have received the Irene Gilbert scholarship. Receiving the scholarship provided me with a whole new sense of motivation by feeling supported and like all my hard work has been worthwhile. I owe this accomplishment to all those who have supported me along the way. I would not be where I stand today if it wasn’t for the work of Irene Gilbert, contributions from Michael Go and others, the UCSF/SFSU DPT program staff, my classmates and my family. The scholarship has given me the desire to one day be able to return the favor and aid students with their education goals.