Sal of All Trades: Meet Dr. Salome Brooks, New DPT Director

Dr. Salome “Sal” Brooks is part clinician, part manager, part educator—and now full-time founding director of the new Doctor of Physical Therapy program.

With over 40 years of experience in the field, “I’ve touched base with almost everything within physical therapy,” Brooks explains. “I’ve program-led, hired, fired, dealt with graduate assistants, taught students, managed programs, managed clinics, taught full-time, worked on teams for CAPTE [Commission on Accreditation for Physical Therapy Education] accreditation—the whole bag. That’s what is going to allow me to do what I’m doing now, to start this program.”

The only faith-based clinical doctorate program in New England, the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at Gordon will connect doctoral students with well-established on-site facilities that include a for-profit privately owned physical therapy practice, a 55+ research-based wellness center and state-of-the-art biomechanics and anatomy labs. Initial plans for the Doctor of Physical Therapy program were announced last year, but first must go through approval processes with the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education, the New England Commission of Higher Education, and CAPTE.

“Gordon has the opportunity to bring to the table, to the community, physical therapists who are servant leaders,” says Brooks. “People who say, ‘I’m going to be the best, evidence-based clinician I can possibly be, and I am going to serve this person as if I’m serving the Lord.’” 

Brooks earned her B.S. in Physical Therapy from Quinnipiac College, M.B.A. with a concentration in healthcare administration from Sacred Heart University, M.A. in Motor Control from Columbia University and Doctor of Education from Southern Connecticut State University. “My first job was at the prestigious Burke Rehabilitation Center in White Plains, New York,” she says, “and I did most of my clinicals when I was a student in Manhattan and Southern Fairfield County. So, I take pride in saying I cut my teeth on physical therapy in New York.”

After years of both treating patients and working at the management level in various rehabilitation and skilled nursing settings in New York and Connecticut, Brooks began dipping her toes into the world of academia. In the late ’90s, she began teaching neurological content tutorials at Sacred Heart University (CT), which opened doors to oversee fieldwork as the academic coordinator/director of clinical education, then teach on the faculty, and finally serve as coordinator of the Professional Practice/Practice Management program and program director of the Geriatric Health and Wellness program.

During her 13-year tenure at Sacred Heart, the physical therapy program transitioned from a master’s to a doctoral program (now the required entry-level degree for practicing physical therapists). Brooks was part of the team overseeing the development, certification and accreditation. In 2012, Brooks became an associate professor at Springfield College (MA) and co-coordinator of the pro-bono outpatient neurological clinic. All along, she’s been publishing and presenting on topics like the definition of minority student in physical therapy, the health humanities role of improvisation and acting in physical therapy education, and DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) recognition and strategies of teaching for academic and clinical educators.

Just last year, “I had been praying for more of a presence of God in my work,” Brooks explains. “Even if it was just Christ in the center of my existing work.” Soon after, she was contacted by the Doctor of Physical Therapy Committee at Gordon about the open director position, a role she began August 1, 2021. 

In a way, it’s a full-circle moment from when she was a small girl growing up in England. A U.K. native, born in Park Royal North London, Brooks scored within the top 10 percent of the nation on a test called the 11-plus, which is administered in the U.K. and Northern Ireland to determine placement in either a general high school (secondary) or a university prep high school (grammar).

The education board and local universities took note. One university administrator explained to Brooks, at the age of 10 and a half, that “your scores indicate that you have a proficiency for reading, sequence and humanities. I suggest that you seek ‘reading’ the law and you serve the people,” she recalls. A few years later when her family relocated to the United States, she took an entrance exam as a foreign student, which suggested she become a business manager, business executive or physical therapist. 

Brooks took the advice from the latter test—but retained the service mandate from the first. As a physical therapist, manager and educator, her mantra is: “I’m going to serve this person so that they get better and so get better at serving.”