Second-year Division of Physical Therapy student Ryan Brooks ‘15, ’17, found a passion for movement at a young age.

Second-year Division of Physical Therapy student Ryan Brooks.
Second-year Division of Physical Therapy student Ryan Brooks.

“I grew up playing sports,” Brooks said. “I played everything from basketball to baseball to golf, so I’ve always been really active and loved exercise.”

As an undergraduate in the Department of Exercise and Sport Science at UNC-Chapel Hill, Brooks focused on his love for movement and sports. After graduating in 2015, Brooks returned to pursue his master’s degree in exercise and sport science, a field that continued to fuel his love of physical therapy. He said enjoying his classes and shadowing physical therapists was all it took to convince him of the career.

“I loved reading about it, and I enjoyed my homework, so I decided to go the PT route,” Brooke said. “I haven’t regretted it since.”

The Shelby, North Carolina native, wants more than just his third degree from UNC-CH. He wants to make a difference and improve patient practices.

“It’s a doctoring profession, and we can really contribute to the field. We’re not just here passively learning. We’re here learning to form our own ideas and help contribute to the greater knowledge.”

With any profession, classroom learning is crucial, but at UNC-CH, Brooks said the difference is how much time students get to spend working in the field and fine-tuning their skills.

“I love learning in the classroom, but the hands-on portion is where it all comes together, he said. “You can make your own mistakes there in the clinic and learn so much from it. So, it’s a learning experience that’s invaluable.”

Brooks said much of that hand-on experience comes from small class sizes and strong relationships with instructors. He said individual attention makes all the difference.

Before starting in the Doctor of Physical Therapy program, Brooks worked to bolster his skillset as he spent time researching alongside his graduate advisor, an exercise oncologist. Brooks said it was an eye-opening experience to learn more about the disease process, but growing his communication skills is what he’s most proud of.

“I really learned how to talk to patients […], I learned how to navigate those conversations and just how to brighten someone’s day and be a ray of light to them.”

Implementing those skills is how he plans to improve his patients’ quality of life — through exercising.

“We as physical therapists prescribe exercise, and I think it’s important for longevity. The more you move throughout your life […] the healthier you’ll be in the long run.”

Following his graduation in August 2021, Brooks said he is pursuing a variety of options, including an orthopedic residency programs, sports residency programs, or pursuing a PhD. Brooks credited his family for pushing him toward his goals.

“My family has been nothing but supportive of me for chasing my dreams,” Brooks said.

“A big motivator in my life has been my two younger brothers and them being able to go to college. […] Being able to pave a pathway for them and show them that it is possible really is a motivator.”

Blake Morgan