The Body Mechanic

Late last month, Vincent Edwards flipped a tassel and put on a white lab coat. He was one of 25 graduates of the first doctor of physical therapy class at Henderson’s Touro University. But this isn’t the first time he’s changed uniforms.

Edwards wanted to be an aircraft mechanic from the time he was in high school. In 1983, he enlisted in the Air Force and spent 23 years working on just about every jet in the inventory, retiring in 2006 as a lead production supervisor at Nellis Air Force Base and picking up a bachelor’s degree in professional aeronautics from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University along the way.

“I’m a die-hard aircraft maintainer,” he says. “I love the flightline. But then the career field started taking a dive; the airlines were getting hit pretty hard.”

So he looked elsewhere.

“My father-in-law had a stroke and had physical therapists come to help him. I liked what they were doing, trying to get patients back to where they used to be or want to be.”

So he went back to school. “I had to go back and take everything that ended in ‘ology.’” When he completed his prerequisites in 2009, he applied to the doctor of physical therapy (DPT) program at Touro. “Getting into PT school was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do,” he says. “Touro was generous enough to pick me up.”

Last year, Edwards and five of his classmates decided to establish the first free, student-run physical therapy clinic in the Las Vegas Valley. “We started from scratch, taking it from, ‘Hey, this is an idea’ to actually having patients in the clinic.” Edwards’ Air Force experience has helped—“Being around a diverse group of people gave me patience”—and even though the DPT program is grueling, “the hours here are kind of a cutback from being lead pro super.” In many ways, he isn’t far removed from his first love. “I sometimes see the patients almost like aircraft,” he says. “A leg is a lot like a landing gear.”

As a doctor of physical therapy, Edwards will be able to see patients, prescribe medications and run his own practice. First, he’d like to work for the Veterans Administration. “They’ve been a big part of me going to school,” he says. “I’d like to give back a bit.”

And he has bigger plans. Edwards’ oldest daughter will be the Touro DPT program’s first legacy when she starts in July.

“Eventually I’d like to have my own practice with my daughter,” he says. “Of course that might be a dream of mine, not necessarily a dream of hers. But it might be a good opportunity, get a little family thing started and pass it along.”