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Navy nurse follows dream to become a PT

by Mary Helen Yarborough
Public Relations
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 with them.”
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 perioperative nurse.
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 wrote. 

Friday, May 16, 2008
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