Personal experiences inspire first-gen grad to pursue career in physical therapy

  • Cayleigh Beshears recently completed the Doctor of Physical Therapy program, becoming the first person in her family to graduate from college.
  • Personal and family life events, like a broken back and a rare neurological disorder, fueled her passion for physical therapy.
  • Since graduating, Cayleigh has received a certification to work with patients who have Parkinson's disease and plans to travel the country for the next year, helping as many people as she can.

Cayleigh Beshears, a recent graduate of Wichita State's Doctor of Physical Therapy program, has let her circumstances guide her, but never define her.

In high school, Cayleigh played basketball and was on track to receive scholarships from Division II schools. Before she graduated, however, she broke her back in an accident, ending her basketball career.

Cayleigh didn’t enjoy the academic part of school, but she decided to shift her competitiveness from sports to her homework and grades.

“I thought, ‘If I’m not going to play sports in college, I should probably start studying and doing better,’” she said.

Her work ethic led her to WSU, where she received a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Sciences and Disorders, and became the first person in her family to go to college.

While neither of her parents nor her two older sisters attended a university, Cayleigh didn't consider her journey to be a big deal until her father brought it up.

“Then I decided I might as well go big or go home, because if I’m going to do it, I want to make it worth it," she said.

Then I decided I might as well go big or go home, because if I’m going to do it, I want to make it worth it.
Cayleigh Beshears,
doctor of physical therapy

Cayleigh had a strong interest in physical therapy because of her time in athletics, but did not pursue it when she got to college because she was unsure of her ability to be successful with it. Instead, she opted for what she believed to be an easier program. After getting her undergraduate degree, though, she made up her mind to continue her education and enrolled in WSU’s graduate physical therapy program.

“Physical therapy is something I have always been interested in,” she said. “And breaking my back pumped me up for it even more.”

With her particular connection to the field, Cayleigh took her classes seriously and focused on physical therapy for athletes. Her focus changed, however, when another personal experience presented itself.

“My goals for being a physical therapist kind of shifted from focusing on athletes to the neuro population, like strokes, brain injuries and neurological disorders, because my mom has a rare disease that affects her nerves and lower extremities,” she said.

Cayleigh has discovered that she enjoys working with neuro patients, especially those with Parkinson’s disease. She recently received her LSVT Big certification, which is part of a program that helps those with the disease increase and control their movements, so they can move more functionally and safely as it progresses.

With this certification, Cayleigh plans to travel and help Parkinson’s patients throughout the country.

“I like change, so I like to see things end and look forward to something else starting, which is what travel physical therapy is,” she said.

She does not want to be away from her mom too long, because her disease is progressive, but for the next year she will work three-month shifts at various clinics. At the end of the year she will re-evaluate her situation and decide what she would like to do next.

Cayleigh is excited for the next chapter of her life with her work and thinks she has found the perfect path.

“I like to work with my hands. I need to do something physical that has a direct impact on people’s lives,” she said.

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