Ken Barnett, '16, D.P.T. '20, Transforms Past Pain into Future Prosperity
By Lia Kizilbash Gillet
Dr. Ken Barnett’s past experiences do not define his future, but they undeniably shape it—operating in the background, steering his choices and aspirations.
Growing up, Barnett experienced instability, worry, and uncertainty when his mother was forced to move him and his two siblings to a motel. Now, years later, working as a physical therapist, Barnett is transformed by this experience.
“Seeing and feeling my mom struggle to do what she could to make ends meet is something I never want to experience again,” said Barnett. “I want to be a base of support and stability that my family can turn to in times of need.”
Barnett’s unfortunate hardship cultivated a FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) mindset within him and serves as motivation to accomplish his related financial and retirement goals.
“I grew up in Joliet, Illinois, but have lived throughout the Midwest, including Michigan, Minnesota and Iowa,” said Barnett. “But my career path as a physical therapist has ignited a wanderlust in me, longing for new domestic and international adventures.”
Recently leaving their Chicago-based, permanent full-time positions, Barnett and his partner, John Bialorucki, '19, D.P.T. '22, will begin their new roles as travel physical therapists with AMN Healthcare, fulfilling their yearning for new experiences and places.
Barnett worked with seniors in his prior Chicago-based role, gathering pillars of wisdom from countless chats during physical therapy sessions. What they shared with Barnett also impacted his personal and professional choices. Barnett shared a few of his favorites:
"Life is short; do what you want."
"Travel and see the world while you have the health, time and energy."
"Do the things that are scary; your future self will thank you."
"Money will come back, but time will not, so enjoy yourself."
With his mom as his biggest supporter, Barnett received multiple scholarships and fellowships and excelled in the Honors Program at NIU. Barnett noted he would not have been able to attend NIU without the financial support.
“When I passed my licensing exam, I called my mom immediately,” Barnett recalled. “She was—and always has been—my biggest supporter in everything I’ve done. Sharing the excitement and tears of relief with her meant so much.”
Barnett was also anchored by his professor, Dr. Dawn Brown. She listened to Barnett and understood his challenges and feelings while serving as a mentor and source of support.
Now, in the position to serve as a mentor, Barnett gives back by speaking with current NIU students. He has been on the 2023 Allied Health and Communicative Disorders – Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion alumni panel and was featured in the alumni speaker series “Maximizing Your Success as a Professional.”
When asked for his best advice for students, he said, “It is completely okay to be uncertain and scared as you go through this venture of life, but always give your best effort and show up for yourself.”
Barnett finds fulfillment by showing up for his patients every day.
“As a physical therapist, I get to be a significant component in assisting patients with their recovery, often from something lost or altered due to illness and injury,” said Barnett. “And the health benefits I bring to my patients is a true measurement of prosperity.”