Road to Becoming a Therapist

With May being the month for graduation, students everywhere are looking on to their next stage in life. We asked our hospital compliance manager, Brenda Kemling, PT, to tell us about her path to physical therapy. It’s not the typical one. Enjoy!


Throughout high school and upon entering college I could name hundreds of careers I didn’t want to pursue. I hadn’t yet had any life-altering moments or mentorships guiding me in the direction of becoming anything, let alone a physical therapist. My sports life was essentially injury-free, so no experience working with a therapist beyond knowing there was one around. My college freshman advisor told me we didn’t really need to talk, but I should just follow the university handbook. “That’s what will get you through to graduation.”

No help there! So how DID I get here?

In pursuit of a Bachelor of Science in Biology, I was highly encouraged by my mother to make a decision on future plans. Biology degree was only a stepping stone. And apparently indecision going into my junior year did not sit well with her. A classmate was researching study-abroad programs in biological sciences and came across The School for Field Studies (SFS). I had never heard of the program, nor had anyone from my university ever participated.

Convincing my family I would return, off to Kenya, East Africa I went to study and become certified in wildlife management in August of 1995. As many study-abroad programs, it was life-changing. Under primitive conditions without electricity or running water, I grew up and found my life’s purpose. Make the world a better place; make a difference; make life better. Graduate school was now my goal. But should I research in a lab all day, become a veterinarian, environmentalist, or humanitarian? More indecision.

Going back to my college advisor seemed a waste of time, so off to Career Services. Back then Career Services did not include an individual meeting. You took personality and career placement tests. Top 10 list included marine biologist, veterinarian, chemist, physical therapist and a few others I quickly dismissed. Not a big fan of water, I preferred people interaction, didn’t want to create pharmaceuticals, but loved science. Coincidentally another classmate mentioned her interest in physical therapy, and maybe I should also consider.

What does one do when they know nothing about a profession? They volunteer. The only physical therapy facility I knew was Madonna Rehabilitation in Lincoln, Nebraska. That experience drew me in to the expansive world of physical therapy and rehabilitation. I researched everything I could find, even subscribing to Physical Therapy Magazine from the APTA.

As they say, the rest is history.

While the road took a few turns and a detour through Kenya, I landed where I belong. Therapists provide a positive difference in the lives of many, making life better for others. I am happy to be included in that group.

Goal accomplished!

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