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Doctor of Physical Therapy

Brandon Nguyen

Brandon NguyenPediatric Therapist

Edmonds School District

Brandon Nguyen was in high school when he first thought about a career in physical therapy, but he was less interested in taking the typical life-sciences undergraduate journey to get there. He instead majored in mechanical engineering as a UW undergrad, where a professor introduced him to the concept of the human body as the ultimate machine.

When Brandon decided to enroll in the UW Doctor of Physical Therapy program, “my worlds really collided academically,” he said.

Brandon’s academic interests further converged with HuskyADAPT, a multidisciplinary UW community that supports the development of accessible design and play technology, and his current job as a pediatric therapist with Edmonds School District.

Where do you work, and what do you do?  

I’m a pediatric therapist, and I work in special education in the Edmonds School District, where I support children with disabilities in K–12. It’s a little bit different than the medical model. In the school model, I’m a capacity-builder either by supporting children directly or by coaching educators so that children have the best opportunity to access their environment and education. We do a lot of collaborative teaching of social, emotional, adaptive and fine- and gross-motor skills. With all these different skills, we can create an integrative classroom experience and help facilitate learning.

How did you first get interested in physical therapy?

I went to high school in Everett, and as part of my community service project I started volunteering for Providence Hospital in Everett. I worked at Camp Prov, their summer camp for children with disabilities, and that’s where I got my first exposure to physical therapy.

When you initially think of physical therapy, most people imagine an athlete or older adult recovering from an injury at a clinic. At Camp Prov, the physical therapist came out to the park to support the children. What seemed like “just playing” was the therapist working on therapy goals for the child. It was also exciting to see the collaboration between the physical therapist, occupational therapist, speech pathologist, behaviorist, educator and parents to help make camp fun and educational.

How did you go from interested in to applying to PT schools? And why the UW?

A lot of people who go the physical therapy route do something in the life sciences — biology, kinesiology — but those majors never appealed to me. I wanted a major that taught me different skills and ways of thinking that I could apply to my career, but one that was also not a huge stretch from health care.

Since I’d always been good with math and more technical skills, my parents suggested that I try engineering as an undergrad. I ended up pursuing mechanical engineering at UW and met Dr. Kat Steele, who says “the human body is the ultimate machine.” That statement totally changed my perspective and got me thinking about the possibilities of applying engineering to physical therapy practice. It’s a collaboration that I believe is paramount in moving both professions forward.

Dr. Steele is my mentor, and she’s one of the reasons I wanted to come back to UW as a DPT student.

How would you describe your experience in the program?

I appreciated the diverse group of people in my cohort. You work with people from different backgrounds — some on a second career, some older, some younger — with different life experiences than I had. It was really exciting to bounce ideas off people with various points of view. That was also true of the professors and instructors. The program also brings in different people from the community who have built their own businesses or worked in other areas you might not have even considered.

What do you enjoy most about being a physical therapist?

I love seeing the growth in the kids and parents I work with. One of my coolest experiences was during my first year working as a PT with the school district, and I reconnected with one of the kids and families I’d originally met as a volunteer in the summer camp. I first met this kid when he was two, and he was 12 now. I remembered all the things they experienced and had to learn on a day-to-day basis with support from their pediatric therapists. And now fast-forward 10 years, and you can see their confidence. It’s such a great connection — in this little way, you’ve grown up with them.  

What would you say to someone considering the UW DPT program?

It’s a program that has it all. If you look at the curriculum, it’s a comprehensive education. And then you have this diverse faculty and staff who are so supportive and knowledgeable. You also have so many opportunities to network and connect professionally — there are associations to get involved with and conferences you can attend and present at. And to top it off, you have a diverse cohort through which you can develop and build those relationships. Your classmates become lifelong friends, colleagues and people you can bounce ideas off. It’s an amazing community.