How Vanessa Brooks became 1st Black woman to be dual certified as athletic trainer and physical therapist in NBA

Dollita Okine March 26, 2024
When Vanessa Brooks joined the NBA in 2019, she became the first Black woman to hold dual certifications as a physical therapist and athletic trainer. Photo Credit:Instagram, Vanessa Brooks

When Vanessa Brooks joined the NBA in 2019, she became the first Black woman to hold dual certifications as a physical therapist and athletic trainer.

The trailblazer told Essence that “I knew my goal was to work in the NBA,” and despite her determination, her mentors were less than enthused anytime she disclosed her plans.

“My mentors were coming from the right place. They just told me the truth, ‘there’s no one there that’s before you. Are you sure you don’t mean the NCAA or WNBA?’ There’s nothing’s wrong with those entities, but I said I actually wanted do that one first,” Brooks recounted.

Indeed, Black women are not fully represented in athletic training. This research says that “between 2003 and 2016, the average total membership of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) was 34,635 members…[and] Black women have accounted for only 2%-4% of the total female membership. These data are similar to the demographics of sister allied health professions.”

Nevertheless, Brooks made a breakthrough, and she pointed out, “We’ve had more and more coming into the league” after she started. “It’s like a sisterhood that’s started to grow, which has been amazing.”

Brooks’ mother is from Jamaica while her father is from England. Growing up in Miramar, Florida, Brooks said she always liked basketball.

“Unfortunately basketball did not like me,” she told The Oklahoman, adding that she tore her ACL, MCL and meniscus while playing AAU ball before her senior year of high school.

“That’s when I found out a lot more about physical therapy,” Brooks said.

Before Brooks joined the Oklahoma City Thunder as a physical therapist and athletic trainer, the NBATA indicates that she worked as the head athletic trainer and physical therapist for the Oklahoma City Blue, the Thunder’s Gatorade League (G League) affiliate.

While earning her PT Sports Fellowship, Brooks worked in Wake Forest University’s Division I Athletics. She earned her certification as a Board-Certified Clinical Specialist in Sports Physical Therapy in 2019.

She also spent some years in Duke’s Sports Medicine Clinic, provided part-time outreach to nearby high schools and a semi-professional football team, and completed her PT Sports Residency.

The pioneer completed her training as an EMT while working in the Ortho-Trauma unit at Grady Hospital and as a Head Athletic Trainer for an Atlanta Public School. She started an Athletic Trainers’ Union with AFSCME during her two-year tenure with Atlanta Public Schools.

Brooks also co-founded a preventative injury sports medicine program that bridged local Durham AAU basketball teams with Duke Sports Medicine. 

Brooks encountered her first exposure to sports medicine in equestrian, women’s basketball, volleyball, and football while pursuing her Bachelor of Science in Athletic Training at The University of Georgia.

She completed her doctorate in physical therapy at Emory University in Atlanta, where she obtained further certifications in strength and conditioning and dry needling. 

She was honored for her community service and professional excellence as she was given the Francis A. Curtiss and the Emory University Division of Physical Therapy Award. On top of that, Brooks was awarded the Dr. Butch Mulherin, Soule, and Marion Hubert honors for her outstanding work ethic, support of female athletes, and dedication to the area of athletic training.

Brooks said that her dream job is “worth it,” despite being demanding and requiring her to be on the go frequently.

The achiever urges others, “Please do not let anyone tell you that you can’t do something.”

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: March 26, 2024


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