Hi Friends! This is a very special blog post as I interview my good friend, Donna. I met Donna in May 2017 when we both started physical therapy school in Orlando. Over the past (almost) three years, she became much more than a classmate and I am now honored to call her a friend. She recently started a YouTube Channel called HLF with Dr. Donna, so I thought this was the perfect time to feature her on the blog. So, go ahead, grab yourself a hot cup of tea, have a seat, and take some time to get to know Donna, AND then make sure you head over to her YouTube Channel. Let’s get started.
Tell me a little about yourself, Donna.
Thanks so much for the opportunity to be featured on your blog, Asho!! Such an honor! Well, I currently live in the suburbs of Chicago with my family, after having finished my time studying for a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree in Florida. But originally, I’m from Armenia. I came to the United States when I was 5 ½ years old. I went to kindergarten In Armenia and started first grade when I came to the United States. So, I basically grew up here, but I still have a lot of the culture and traditions from Armenia that were engrained in the home. That’s part of why I am able to speak four languages! I learned English and Spanish in the United States, and Armenian and Russian are my background. Armenia used to be under the Soviet Union so I actually went to a Russian kindergarten back home!
Why did you decide to go to Physical Therapy School?
I honestly found out that I wanted to pursue PT in my 3rdyear of college! After high school, I wanted to be a neurosurgeon….LOL LIKE CALM DOWN DONNA. Then I switched to finance, then to health and nutrition, and then finally to PT! I had originally applied to Physical Therapy Assistant school, but I only had an associate degree at the time and didn’t get accepted to the PTA program. As a physical therapist tech, the physical therapists I worked with encouraged me to get my bachelor’s degree and apply for the physical therapy program. I honestly love the idea of being able to meet people where they are with their pain and situation in life. I think with physical pain, often times, if not all the time, comes emotional pain as well. So, I essentially wanted to pursue this degree in order to meet people where they’re at in their life and give them hope and encouragement along the way. I also hope to use the degree I was honored to acquire, to use my skills and training and get them better physically as well!
How did you end up in Orlando, Florida?
I had heard that getting in to PT school was very difficult and competitive. I was planning on applying once I graduated with my bachelor’s and taking a year off to gain experience and pump up my resume. But then I had a conversation with a friend who encouraged me to apply the year before graduating, in hopes to start PT school right after graduating and not waiting that extra year. I thought he was insane and it was already the summer of 2016, applications were already in full force for PT programs. I told him I wasn’t planning on it and didn’t know if I’d make it in time with all the required materials, but he said to just give it a shot, that I’d have nothing to lose. So, I took his advice to heart and started applying! To me, it was a test-run of what the following year would look like, so I didn’t even apply in my home state of Illinois because I didn’t think I would actually get accepted anywhere, let alone Illinois where there were only a handful of schools offering the DPT degree! To my astonishment, several schools got back to me and called me in for interview, and I got accepted to three schools. I was in shock! But the reason I chose Florida was because of how the interview went, how the staff approached education, and how the school was faith-based.
Was it hard moving to a city where you did not know anyone?
I guess it was. Honestly, I feel like my faith really played a huge role in this transition. I truly had such peace from God even when flying down for the interview, when going through the interview process, when saying goodbye to my friends and family, when settling in to my new apartment, and when going about the day to day activities of classes and friends and church, that I knew in my heart that this was exactly where I needed to be. It was this supernatural peace that I knew God was calling me to be there for the next few years. It was my faith that got me up every day and gave me the courage and strength to study, to interact with my classmates, to go try new things, and much more.
I know that you made a lot of friends while you were in Orlando. Some people have a difficult time making new friends. How did you create all the amazing friendships in such a short amount of time?
I would give my faith in Jesus the credit for any and every good thing that others see in me. With the understanding that all people are made in the image of God, with the understanding that I was sent by God to Florida for a reason and purpose, I had it in my heart to be intentional with the people that surrounded me. I think that goes for everything as minute as smiling at someone and saying hello, to sending an encouraging text message to someone, even if you just met, to sacrificing time and energy to spend with others and form those intimate relationships. I guess I’d have to say that it’s essentially about knowing that nothing and no one you meet is by coincidence, so harboring the effort to invest in a friendship or relationship can really go a long way!
Tell me a little bit about how your faith journey began.
Oh boy! Well, for some background information, I grew up in a traditional, church. We were CEOs – Christmas Easter Only Christians. Sure, we’d go to church on Sunday here and there, but not consistently, although we were involved with the Armenian school and Armenian dance group at the church. So, church was more of a social gathering. I think it was in 2013 or early 2014, I really began questioning my faith and my existence and my belief in this “higher power.” I started going to the Armenian church every weekend, where I would hear ancient hymns and the sermon which was in a dialect slightly difficult to understand, but having gone to Armenian school, I understood a lot of it. Anyways, I was really questioning the faith and talking to priests and watching documentaries about the energy in the universe, about the law of attraction, about being the God of my own life. But, it wasn’t until the summer of 2014 that I talked to the cousin of my friend in Las Vegas, who talked to me about Jesus and presented the gospel! It wasn’t automatic though and I hesitated to take on the faith because of weariness and doubt. That friend told me I needed to start attending a Bible believing church, and I didn’t know of any and didn’t know how to search for one. But one day, I saw a girl from high school posting pictures of her “church group” and “youth group” and Bible verses and would just talk so highly of God. I honestly don’t remember this girl too well and don’t recall us interacting much, but something in me was so full of hunger and desire to know who “God” was, that I messaged her and asked her if I can stop by and check it out! And since then, this church remains my home church! I now have understanding of who Jesus was, His death on the cross and what that means for the pardoning of my sins, what it meant to believe in a triune God, and the goodness of God and His love and so much more. And it was the most amazing community to share it with because it was a bunch of young adults on fire for Jesus!
How did your faith help you get through the very challenging times of physical therapy school?
Oh man did I pray! I would pray at night until God would give me His peace about an exam, about how to study, about how long to study, you name it. Nothing is too big or too small for God. I had to constantly be seeking Him. And that also means through His Word. It’s hard to be in a relationship with someone if you don’t talk to them often or know much about their character – and so it is with our relationship with God. I had to constantly remind myself that it is He that started this good work and He who would be faithful to complete it (Philippians 1:6). A lot of it was surrendering. Surrendering to knowing that I don’t know everything. Surrendering to knowing that I would fail at times. Surrendering to knowing that He has called me to be here and so I wanted to give all I had in me to fulfill His purpose in my life. And I think knowing ultimately that PT school wasn’t the end all be all of life – sure God has blessed me with the opportunity to study and work in a field where I can bless people, but at the end of the day, my relationship with Him and knowing that I am in His will for my life triumphs the desire to get the highest grade or study the most, not that either of those are bad things. So, I think that by seeking God through His Word, through prayer, and through actual actions, there was a dependence on Him that would give me strength to push forward in any situation in life.
Tell me about your YouTube channel, HLF with Dr. Donna.
Oh my, well I still can’t believe this is a reality! I would’ve never imagined myself doing anything like this! I know nothing about filming, editing, YouTube, or any of that stuff! I had literally been off of social media for 2 years! It was actually at the end of July 2019 that I felt God press it on my heart, that I was to make a YouTube channel. So me, not knowing ANYTHING about this, I trusted that it was put on my heart from Him for a reason, and I started doing some research. I had just gotten back from a trip to Colorado and I was going to be traveling to Costa Rica the following week for 10 days, then back to Florida, then after a day in Florida, to Chicago, then after 2 weeks in Chicago, back to Florida. SO! With all that in mind, I was just trying to figure out HOW and WHEN this would all happen! I just kept praying and trusting that if God put it on my heart, He would provide the way to go about doing it! I started doing a lot of research on filming, equipment, editing software, how YouTube works, and also thinking about what kind of videos I’d want to make, how I’d do it, where I’d do it, who I’d do it with, and much more. I recorded my first “Intro” video in September 2019, but it didn’t air until December! I thought I would be ready to start sooner than I actually was. I launched the first video on December 1stand have been posting a new video every Sunday! Make sure you subscribe!
Why did you decide to start a YouTube channel? And what has been the process been like to create it?
So to connect this question with the previous question, I was really led to make videos on health, life, and faith, as it states in the name: “HLF (health, life, and faith) With Dr. Donna.” I was always so interested in every aspect of health and nutrition and working out and how the body works, so I thought I’d use the doctorate degree as a platform to reach out to the community with videos on health, some of which have included exercises for low back pain, intermittent fasting, and sleep. The life aspect focuses on different aspects of life, family, love, you name it! Some of those videos include organization tips and a message to my younger self. And then the last aspect, the faith aspect, is to talk about my faith in Jesus and the truth that is in God’s Word. Some of the faith videos that have been posted at this point include the question of if we’re good enough for God, childlike faith, and how to read the Bible! If any of those topics interest you, please don’t forget to subscribe, it really helps support the channel!
How has it been since you started it?
It has honestly been a lot of fun! A lot of work, but fun nevertheless! I take a lot of time to properly research and prepare the content so that it’s quality content for the viewers. Then filming takes a bit of time until I do a take that I think will make the final cut. Lastly, the editing takes quite some time because I’m still getting used to editing! Aside from creating the content, I’ve gotten the opportunity to work with a few friends who are also social media influencers, including Ashley, and another one which will be coming soon, and more potential collaborations that will come in the future! It’s really fun getting together with friends who are like-minded and essentially spending time with them that we ourselves enjoy and anticipate the audience will enjoy also!
What does wellness mean to you? And what is one thing you do on a regular basis that contributes to your overall wellness?
To me, wellness means striving to balance the different dimensions of health: physical, emotional, intellectual, financial, spiritual, and occupational to the best of our abilities. That doesn’t mean they’re all balanced and perfect, but I think it was the World Health Organization that defined wellness as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” So, this means that wellness doesn’t solely indicate avoiding getting sick, but striving to attain satisfaction and achievement and comfort in different areas of life. And this is an ongoing process. If anyone thinks they have reached complete wellness, I’d be skeptical because it really is never ending! There is so much we can do with our lives, within the different dimensions of health and wellness, that can grow us and shape us to always be learning and achieving new goals.
One thing I do on a regular basis to contribute to my overall wellness is prayer. Spending time with God in prayer and meditating on His Word and His promises brings a supernatural peace and comfort that cannot compare to anything else in this world. And it has actually been shown in the literature that prayer has a dramatic effect on mental health and health in general: decreased anxiety, decreased depression, decreased suicidal thoughts, increased peace, increased mindfulness, and increased quality of life.
What is one recommendation you would make to someone just starting on his/her wellness journey?
Sorry I can’t think of just one, so here are two. Give yourself grace and do it all in moderation. It’s important to take it one day at a time. Sure, we can plan for the future or look back at the past, but I think being mindful in what you’re doing and realizing that no one is perfect and there is no perfect path is key. Give yourself grace to know that not every day will be perfect, but you can find something perfect in every day! With that, I also want to mention that moderation is key. With giving yourself grace, you can forgive yourself for stumbling or falling astray from the path you want to be on, but try to just remember that moderation is key with all sorts of healthy living and lifestyle journeys. Eat healthy MOST days of the week, exercise SOME days of the week and it’s okay if you eat unhealthily one day or skip a day at the gym, but give yourself grace to know that it’s a lifestyle and there is much room for growth and development along the way!
I hope you all enjoyed getting to know Donna. She is even better in person!!! Be sure to check her out on YouTube at HLF with Dr. Donna.