Leslie Sierra-Arévalo is a second-year physical therapy student in the Division of Physical Therapy who motivates others through her outreach volunteer work. 

Sierra-Arévalo volunteers at the Student Health Action Coalition (SHAC), Urban Ministries of Durham, and St. Thomas More clinics. “I think it was something that I grew up with,” Sierra-Arévalo said, “Giving back to other communities and underserved communities just became a part of who I was.”’

Sierra-Arévalo knew at an early age she would go into the medical field because of her mother who holds a PhD in nursing research. Sierra-Arévalo recalled visiting medical clinics with her mother and shadowing nursing students.

Leslie Sierra-Arévalo
Leslie Sierra-Arévalo

As a Colombian-American woman who grew up in Texas, Sierra-Arévalo speaks Spanish and is able to serve patients to improve their quality of life across cultural and linguistic barriers. She has volunteered for seven summers in Peru where she provided health care services and reopened a health clinic in a rural village. “It is a huge relief to have someone who understands them,” Sierra-Arévalo said.

Working closely with the Latinx community emphasized to Sierra-Arévalo how important developing relationships with patients can be. As an interpreter, she is able to be a bridge between health care providers and patients. Sierra-Arévalo intends to make them feel comfortable, safe, and understood. “I want to get to know them outside of a condition and just help them in a variety of aspects in their life,” Sierra-Arévalo explained.

Sierra-Arévalo said the Doctor of Physical Therapy program has provided her with many outreach opportunities as a student. She loves the hands-on experience and the strong foundation provided by the program. “My mentor in the outpatient clinic pushed my comfort limits,” Sierra-Arévalo said. “She helped me grow as a student and prepared me for the next two years.”

Sierra-Arévalo is a recipient of the Charlotte Money Beatty Memorial Scholarship. She said the scholarship has helped relieve the financial burden of graduate school and has given her less to worry about after graduation.

The division is one of seven housed in the Department of Allied Health Sciences in the UNC School of Medicine. Ranked #15 by U.S. News and World Report, the physical therapy program is among the best in the country.