This Doctor Wants to Heal Bodies and Emotions
Medicine is a special calling, a profession that can require years of rigorous training. For many, the desire to relieve pain and help people is what drives them. But for Jason Berlongieri, a Governors State University graduate student, it was more than that—it was personal.
He was just a young child when his father, a mechanic, was injured; the car he was working underneath, suspended by chains, fell at one end. “He was in a lunge position when it landed on him,” Berlongieri said. Vertebrae in his neck were shattered, the worst of multiple injuries. While his father survived, the incident ended his career and left him battling a lifetime of pain, a struggle Berlongieri saw firsthand as he grew up.
His father and mother will be among those in the audience when Berlongieri, 30, receives his Doctorate of Physical Therapy at Governors State University on May 19. “My drive comes from living with him and knowing what it’s like to have that constant struggle,” he said. “I just want to see if I can make a change in anyone’s life for the better.”
Berlongieri’s journey has been practical from the beginning, but it has not been easy. To get funding for college, he joined the U. S. Army after graduating from Beecher High School. An infantryman in the 82nd Airborne Division, he earned the rank of sergeant in just two and a half years and served two tours of duty in Afghanistan. “We were on the front line going on select missions—the stuff you see in the movies,” he said. “I was very lucky not to have any serious injuries.”
At the end of four-and-a-half years, he was encouraged to apply to officer training school. But Berlongieri’s sights were set firmly on his goal. He enrolled at Chicago State University and he earned a BS in pre-physical therapy in just three years, graduating with a 4.0 GPA. “I thought the pre-PT program would give me the best shot at getting into PT school, since it’s so competitive,” he said.
The university's award-winning Veterans Resource Center helped Berlongieri coordinate military benefits to pay tuition and fees. The center, as well as GSU's affordable tuition and small class sizes were a draw for Berlongieri. “That’s where I learn the best,” he said. “It’s especially great to have time with the professors. Both of the orthopedic professors, Dr. David Diers and Dr. Dale Schuit, are the best I’ve ever learned from. Every time I was in an orthopedic rotation during my internship, I utilized things they taught me.”
In fact, research he completed during his internship at GSU has been published in the Journal of Student Physical Therapy Research, making him a published author.
With his doctorate in hand, Berlongieri is ready for even more specialized training. He is one of just two fellowship recipients to begin a one-year residency program in neurological physical therapy at Nova Southeastern University in Florida. After an intense year of coursework and clinical experience, he will take one last exam to become a neurological certified specialist.
“After I get my NCS, I’ll jump on any PT job working with patients who have had a stroke or a spinal cord injury. I just have a drive to do it. There are lots of good prognoses for both.”