UNMC Physical Therapy Student says Studying at UNK was a ‘No Brainer’

By Ed Rider

Two continents. Three countries. Five states.

Luis Reyes Mendieta’s road to the physical therapy program at the University of Nebraska College of Medicine in Kearney, Nebraska, has been anything but a direct path. Born in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, Reyes Mendieta moved to Tennessee with his family when he was 6 years old so his father could train as an aircraft mechanic. They moved again to Nairobi, Kenya, to work as missionaries for 10 years before relocating to Alaska.

After a year at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, Reyes Mendieta transferred to Kansas State University where he earned his bachelor’s degree in kinesiology. After graduation, he moved to Alaska, but came to believe that returning back to the “lower 48” would enhance his opportunities to be accepted into PT school. Reyes Mendieta moved to Wichita, Kansas, where he accepted a position at an inpatient physical therapy hospital.

With several physical therapy schools to choose from, the UNMC College of Allied Health Professions (CAHP) was Reyes-Mendieta’s first choice.

So how did Reyes Mendieta end up working toward his Doctor in Physical Therapy (DPT) degree in a town that he initially described as “the middle of nowhere?”

“I was very interested in UNMC. I really liked the program and was very impressed with the faculty,” Reyes Mendieta said. “Once I visited Kearney — I noted that they were a tight-knit group with smaller class sizes — it was a no brainer. Kearney was definitely the place to be.”

CAHP is located in the new Health Science Education Complex on the campus of the University of Nebraska at Kearney. It includes state-of-the-art classrooms, clinical teaching laboratories, clinical simulation facilities and a gross anatomy laboratory. Most importantly for Reyes Mendieta, CAHP offers a DPT degree.

He also saw Kearney as a great fit for his wife Carmen, daughter Flora, 2, and son Pascal, 4 months. “It’s an amazing place to raise a family,” Reyes Mendieta said. “It’s been a good experience. Kearney is a really neat town; it has everything you’d really need. It’s got a Target, so that makes my wife happy.”

Inspired by his role model, Reyes Mendieta said he wanted to pursue physical therapy from a very young age. He has been committed to service to others throughout his life and foresees his career as an extension of that service.

“My dad was always my biggest role model. But instead of fixing planes, I wanted to help fix people,” Reyes Mendieta said. “Having lived in Kenya, I saw the need to increase access to health care. Wherever I practice after graduation, I hope I can bring that to the people in need of quality care.”

Another factor that lured Reyes Mendieta to the physical therapy field was the ability to provide care without having to rely on pharmacological interventions.

“As a DPT, I won’t be dependent on being able to prescribe medications or provide other medical/surgical interventions,” Reyes Mendieta said. “All the tools I need are the information and knowledge provided through my doctoral-level education. With my education. I hope to make an impact, not just in the U.S., but also around the world.”

He is thankful for the financial support that he has received along the way. Reyes Mendieta has received academic financial support from the Charles O’Malley Trust, the Adams Fund, the Erwin W. Neuharth Scholarship and the Ray and Amy Frohn Fund.

“It’s been a good transition and a great experience,” Reyes Mendieta said. “We’ve really enjoyed rural Nebraska.”