American Physical Therapy Association recognizes four UF faculty members

The American Physical Therapy Association has selected four faculty members in the department of physical therapy for national awards: Meryl Alappattu, Ph.D., D.P.T., P.T., Jason Beneciuk, Ph.D., D.P.T., P.T., M.P.H., Kim Dunleavy, Ph.D., P.T., OCS, FNAP, and Emily Fox, Ph.D., D.P.T., P.T.

Alappattu, Meryl
Dr. Meryl Alappattu

Alappattu is the recipient of the Margaret L. Moore Award for Outstanding New Faculty Member. The award honors a junior faculty member who demonstrates distinct expertise and knowledge through scholarly activities, teaching excellence and commitment to the physical therapy profession.

Alappattu’s research has focused on the mechanisms underpinning female pelvic pain, and the Foundation for Physical Therapy and the National Institutes of Health have funded her work. She has published more than 20 scientific articles on pelvic pain and is a sought after speaker for international meetings of pelvic pain and rehabilitation researchers.

As an instructor, she teaches students in the Doctor of Physical Therapy program about anatomy and function of the abdomen and pelvis, as well as screening for pelvic health conditions, examination, evaluation and interventions. This knowledge is important because conditions like pelvic pain are often underreported and undertreated, likely due to patient and provider embarrassment, wrote nominator William McGehee, Ph.D., P.T., a clinical assistant professor in the UF department of physical therapy and director of physical therapy education.

“Her goal is to train the next generation of physical therapists, regardless of the setting in which they practice, to have the knowledge, professionalism and confidence to view their patients as whole, complex individuals whose health concerns may not always be represented in an intake form or in their medical history,” McGehee said.

The recipient of the 2018 APTA Lucy Blair Service Award, Alappattu is the director of research for the APTA’s Section on Women’s Health. She has served on the board of directors for the Florida Physical Therapy Association in multiple positions, including two terms as vice president, and currently serves as speaker of the Florida Assembly.

Dr. Jason Beneciuk

Beneciuk has been selected for the Chattanooga Research Award. The award recognizes an author or team whose published work in the journal Physical Therapy presents an innovative study or a theoretical model and appropriate discussion of its impact on future clinical practice or physical therapy research. The article by Beneciuk and colleagues, published last spring, detailed the findings of a study that pinpointed patient characteristics associated with long-term musculoskeletal pain.

Beneciuk and his team found that patients who had greater initial pain, a higher number of other health problems, additional symptoms from other body systems and more pain-related psychological distress were more likely to continue to have pain one year after treatment.

“Musculoskeletal pain is very common and one of the leading causes of disability,” said Beneciuk, who is part of the Brooks-PHHP Research Collaboration and is also a clinical research scientist at Brooks Rehabilitation. “Being able to predict who will develop long-standing musculoskeletal pain will allow for better use of nonpharmacological treatment options, such as physical therapy.”

The research team also included Samuel Wu, Ph.D., a professor in the UF department of biostatistics, along with scientists at Duke University and Clarkson University.

Dunleavy, Kim
Dr. Kim Dunleavy

Dunleavy will receive the Societal Impact Award for demonstrating compassion, philanthropy and a commitment to improving societal welfare through physical therapy. She has been involved in the organization Health Volunteers Overseas for 25 years, including serving in several leadership positions. As a member of Health Volunteers Overseas, Dunleavy has conducted needs assessments; trained international physical therapists; served as a technical adviser for USAID grants to improve rehabilitation services in countries affected by war; and led workshops to help other U.S. physical therapists be effective global health volunteers. Her efforts have touched patients and providers in Cambodia, Haiti, Rwanda, South Africa and Vietnam.

“Kim has made sustainable impacts in these countries by educating their physical therapists to optimize their abilities and leaving behind resources to sustain their growth,” wrote nominator Joel Bialosky, Ph.D., P.T., a clinical associate professor in the department.

Closer to home, Dunleavy serves on the UF Health Interprofessional Education committee and coordinates multiple interprofessional activities for health professions students. She also oversees the Gaitor Challenge, a program in which DPT students meet weekly with residents at a local park to motivate participants to lead active and healthy lifestyles. She attends the student-run PT equal access clinic consistently to assist students and works with them outside of clinic time to help them continually improve the clinic experience, and link with other equal access clinics. Her current research as part of the South Eastern Coastal Center for Agricultural Safety focuses on finding ways to minimize low back pain in clamworkers in Cedar Key.

“Kim works tirelessly to provide leadership and volunteer opportunities for our students to serve and improve the welfare of the community of Gainesville,” Bialosky wrote.

Dr. Emily Fox

Fox is the recipient of the Eugene Michels New Investigator Award, which recognizes physical therapists who have engaged in independent or collaborative research efforts within 10 years of completing their most recent physical therapy professional degree.

Fox, also a member of the Brooks-PHHP Research Collaboration and a clinical research scientist at Brooks Rehabilitation, was recently awarded a $2.4 million grant from the Department of Defense to study the effects of acute intermittent hypoxia and respiratory strength training on breathing function in people with chronic spinal cord injury.

“Through her early career trajectory, Emily has distinguished herself through her funding record, her success in disseminating her findings, her multidisciplinary collaborative teams, the immediate clinical relevance of her work, and her success in mentoring graduate students to continue to add to the knowledge base of rehabilitation science,” wrote Bialosky, who nominated Fox for the award.

Fox is one of the only investigators in the world exploring if and how electrical stimulation of the diaphragm, or pacing, can promote improvements in voluntary respiratory function after spinal cord injury, said David Fuller, Ph.D., a professor in the department of physical therapy and director of the Ph.D. program in rehabilitation science.

“This is a very important contribution, and importantly, Dr. Fox is positioned for sustained research excellence in this area,” Fuller said. “Her data are incredibly unique and will enable the success of future grant applications.”

Alappattu, Beneciuk, Dunleavy and Fox will be recognized at the APTA Next Conference and Exposition in Chicago in June.