Dr. Riley ’04DPT Receives CHS Alumni Achievement Award

By Rikki Rosenthal '21

Arcadia University alumna Brooke Riley
Dr. Brooke Riley ’04DPT has used her Doctor of Physical Therapy degree to advance the healthcare options available to the Jamaican people. Her exemplary international work is what earned her the College of Health Sciences Alumni Achievement Award this spring. 

Dr. Riley first visited Jamaica during a six-week internship with Assistant Professor of Physical Therapy Dr. Karen Sawyer, who ran a pro bono physical therapy clinic in rural Jamaica at the time. During her internship, she had the invaluable experience of becoming immersed in a new culture, while getting the hands-on experience of being a physical therapist. 

After she returned from her Spring internship with Dr. Sawyer, Dr. Riley decided her work there was not done, and returned in October 2004 to St. Elizabeth Parish. At the time, there was only one other physical therapist practicing in this area for a population of 150,000 people. The average person was unlikely to afford the services they needed. Without the help of Dr. Sawyer, Dr. Riley would not have been able to find such success in her practice. 

“Receiving this award is such a huge honor,” said Dr. Riley. “I love what I do, it’s such a privilege to get this kind of opportunity, and with the support we have gotten from our university partners, especially Arcadia, who has been our longest and strongest advocate, has been so rewarding.”

In 2007, Dr. Riley established Friends of the Redeemer United, also known as FOR U Rehab, a nonprofit mission uniting healthcare initiatives with community development to improve the quality of life for the underserved in rural Jamaica. Today, 16 years later, Dr. Riley continues to help the people of Jamaica with FOR U. 

“Arcadia has been a huge supporter of us since the beginning,” said Dr. Riley “Over the last 16 years we have had 200 students and 25 alumni and instructors come through our program.” 

Dr. Brooke Riley and Dr. Karen Sawyer assist a patient in Jamaica

Originally from Mississippi, Dr. Riley came to Arcadia after hearing about the opportunity to serve internationally in underserved communities, something other programs weren’t offering at the time. Dr. Riley received her bachelor degree in Exercise Science from the University of Mississippi. She knew that Arcadia was the place where her dreams could come true. 

Even after graduating, Dr. Riley continues to work with students from across the U.S., as well as Arcadia students. Each year, FOR U Rehab has quarterly clinics for those who have suffered from spinal injuries, brain injuries and strokes, where eight Arcadia students get the hands-on experience of working in physical therapy. 

Dr. Riley expressed her connection with current students as one of the most important parts of the job. 

“Getting to expose them to international service and see that they’re making an impact on these people’s lives is something that is priceless,” said Dr. Riley. “By helping change the lives of others, they change their own lives in the process, there’s nothing like it.” 

While Dr. Riley works with patients from pediatrics to orthopedics, her passion lies within stroke rehabilitation. 

“Stroke is the leading cause of death and disability in Jamaica right now, so that’s really where my heart is,” said Dr. Riley. “There’s a lot of misconceptions about life after stroke in Jamaica, and while people are beginning to shift their mindset, seeing that having a stroke doesn’t mean your life is over, and I’m a part of that shift, is the best feeling.”

Even though the pandemic has put a pause on Dr. Riley’s work in Jamaica, she’s excited about getting back to help people who need it most. She encourages current PT students to work hard, but also reflect on the work they are doing. 

“One of the biggest lessons I have learned is how much I learn from my patients everyday,” said Dr. Riley. “Coming out of school, there’s this pressure to prove yourself and your knowledge, and at that point the focus is on you. But getting to see the impact you are having on these people everyday is such a great feeling. The longer you are in practice, the more you realize how much you can learn from the people around you.”

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