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Navy nurse follows dream to become a
Moving every two or three years as a Navy brat gave Christi Zohlen,
DPT, the flexibility to overcome new challenges.
Being the perpetual “new kid on the block,” Zohlen had to exercise a
certain degree of humility while she achieved beyond most other’s
ambitions. “I was never the type to say, ‘look at me,'” said Zohlen,
who became among the College of Health Professions’ first graduating
class of physical therapy doctors May 16.
The career 38-year-old Navy nurse practitioner, who first wanted to
become a veterinarian, will now join the nation’s elite recruits to the
U.S. Navy’s fleet of physical therapist (PT) practitioners as a
lieutenant to treat the war-wounded from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
“What inspires me to work with these soldiers is that the majority of
these guys are so motivated,” Zohlen said. “They will come out of
anesthesia and want to go back to their units. It’s inspiring to work
A member of the water polo team for the University of Maryland, where
she earned her degree in animal science, Zohlen was drawn to the
military, in part, through a passion for travel. Both of her brothers
had entered the military, and “I saw the adventures they were on and I
wanted to do the same,” she recalled. “So I walked into a Navy
recruiter’s office and said I wanted to join and see the world. They
told me I could be a Navy nurse with just 14 more months of school at
Johns Hopkins in an accelerated BSN program for folks who already had a
BS in another field. So I did that and became an registered nurse,
joined the Navy and had a great first tour in Portsmouth, Va., working
mostly in pediatrics hematology/oncology. As any nurse can attest, the
hours can be very hard on the system and personal life.
After Portsmouth, she opted to return to school to become a nurse
practitioner for “a more sane schedule and more autonomy.”
While in graduate school at the University of Florida, she drilled in
the reserves in Jacksonville. Then she returned to active duty working
three years as a pediatric nurse practitioner in Pensacola.
“During my time as a PNP, I always found myself drawn to orthopedics as
my favorite area in medicine,” she said. “And I continued my passion
for sports by delving into triathlons and half marathons.”
After Sept. 11, 2001, Zohlen was inspired to become more operational in
the Navy, so she applied for a transfer to become an operating room
(OR) nurse, which led her to San Diego where she spent three years as a
Working in the OR at a major military medical center, she helped treat
Marines, “some of whom had been medevac’d out of Iraq sometimes just
less than 72 hours before we were seeing them,” she said. “It was
during this time, working with the veterans returning from Afghanistan
and Iraq, that I decided I really wanted to be a part of the
rehabilitation process, and not just the surgical part.”
Through pursuing her interests in orthopedics and sports, she developed
an interest in rehab medicine, physical therapy, specifically. A week
after she completed her service in San Diego, she found herself in a PT
classroom at MUSC in Charleston.
“It was crazy. I picked MUSC, because a Navy nurse friend of mine
stationed at Beaufort/Parris Island had taken some nursing coursework
here and highly recommended the university,” said Zohlen. She also
recalls reading in The Catalyst about other CHP graduates who committed
their skills to active military service.
And while at MUSC, she continued to serve as a reservist in the local
Navy medical unit, but she explained, “My dream to return to work with
injured Marines and sailors in a rehab setting never wavered.
“The road has been a curvy one, but I made it. In July I will return to
San Diego to work as a Navy physical therapist treating Marines and
sailors,” she said.
Zohlen will return to San Diego and, in the future, could find herself
aboard one of the ships caring for wounded Marines. “I’d go wherever
they send me,” she said. In a letter of recommendation, Holly Wise,
Ph.D., physical therapist, described how appropriately the prestigious
appointment would fit Zohlen.
“Christi’s active participation in [numerous campus, community and
charitable] activities exemplifies the values of altruism, compassion/
caring, professional duty, and social responsibility,” Wise
Friday, May 16, 2008
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