Nathan Thomas traded his blue police uniform for a set of black physical therapy assistant scrubs and he hasn’t regretted the decision for a minute.
Thomas, with nearly 15 years of experience on the Springfield Police force and a U.S. Navy veteran, graduated from OTC last week with a physical therapy assistant’s degree.
He recently was named the state’s winner of the Breaking Traditions Award, which goes to outstanding students who are enrolled in non-traditional programs for their gender.
At 38 years old, Thomas knew he wanted to be a physical therapy assistant at some point in his life and decided now was the time.
“Law enforcement is not a once-size-fits-all job. When I was in investigations as a detective, we had a multi-disciplined team that included ing a therapist and their work piqued my interest,” he said.
“I liked what I saw when I saw therapists working with kids. I was going to do it when I retired, but I still had 12 years to go so I decided to do it now. I haven’t looked back.”
Thomas said there is a lot of conflict to contend with in law enforcement and after serving nearly 20 years in law enforcement and the Navy, he was ready for a change.
“It made walking away from law enforcement a lot easier,” he said.
He said he became a police officer to help people and, as he got older, he wanted a new career but one that still had a service focus.
In his biography, submitted for the Breaking Traditions competition, Thomas said: “I have a servant’s heart. Every occupation I have ever had has involved service to others.”
And the physical therapy assistant’s position allows him to continue to follow that personal philosophy.
“With this career, I felt like I could be hands on with people in a good way,” he said.
Thomas was so committed to earning his degree that he began taking classes while still on the police force. He went to school during the day and worked his police shifts at night.
“It was a struggle but if you really want it, you’ll find a way,” he said.
Steve Koehler is coordinator of media relations at Ozarks Technical Community College.