FPTR Alum Sees a Way Forward for Physical Therapy Amid COVID 19

The current health pandemic has had many immediate health repercussions, and while there is still much to be learned about how COVID 19 affects health and mobility, FPTR-funded researcher Bernadette Gillick, PT, MSPT, PhD, believes it has also created new possibilities for physical therapy research. In this interview, Gillick discusses her research and offers thoughts for those beginning their research careers.

Bernadette Gillick, PT, MSPT, PhD, is among many physical therapists looking to address the implications of COVID 19 on physical therapy and patient care. In a recent article, Gillick and coauthors address how the current COVID 19 pandemic has disrupted noninvasive brain stimulation (NIBS) research and biomedical treatment. The importance of NIBS in addressing neurological and mental health conditions remains vital. In the article, Gillick and team develop and discuss a framework for balancing the importance of NIBS with safety considerations.

Gillick is Associate Professor, McKnight Land Grant Professor, Division of Physical Therapy at the University of Minnesota. She is also Director and Principal Investigator of the Gillick Pediatric Neuromodulation Lab. Gillick is a past recipient of FPTR funding — the 2014 Magistro Family Foundation Research Grant and the 2010 & 2019 Promotion of Doctoral Studies II Scholarships.

How has this health crisis impacted your work and research?

Considering the many challenges COVID 19 has presented us, there are also opportunities.  My research surrounds pediatric populations with perinatal stroke and resultant cerebral palsy. We incorporate neuroimaging, neuromodulation and neurorehabilitation. During the immediate response to the Stay-At-Home mandate, our research came to a halt.  Thereafter, we rebounded and initiated online research including “New Frontiers in Teleneuromodulation” and sending out a Survey to understand the “Impact of COVID 19 on Access to Rehabilitation for Families of Children with Special Needs”.

Our laboratory was also able to present in converted online/virtual conferences, including the University of Minnesota Computational Modeling Conference, the Minnesota APTA meeting, and the NYC Neuromodulation Workshop. My role has also expanded in representing the United States as a member of the Global Professional Education Committee within the International Alliance of the Academies of Childhood Disability (IAACD).  I am now the Chair of the IAACD Task Force investigating the Global Impact of COVID 19 on Families and Children with Disabilities.  The Task Force is comprised of Academy members worldwide, including the American, Australasian, Chinese, East African, European, Indian, Latin American, Mexican, and South African Academies. It has been a powerful journey to realize the many ways, similar and dissimilar, everyone around the world is experiencing the impact of COVID 19. It is through this lens that I am reminded that together we are truly stronger.

What does the future of physical therapy and physical therapy research look like?

COVID 19 has had immediate repercussions on health through the impact on cardiopulmonary function.  What we are not fully able yet to understand is the myriad manners in which it may also affect other systems and may create new indications for our physical therapy interventions across the lifespan.

The future of physical therapy will be unlike any other time in our profession, and we cannot go back to the ways in which things once were done. For example, the world of telehealth has expanded in ways once thought decades into the future. Our ability to diagnose, assess, and treat has and will change to respond not only to the times of physical distancing, but also into the recovery period in which we may interact differently, may modify our ‘hands-on’ approaches, and may create hybrid approaches to healthcare never before seen as effective. We will likely also broaden our scope of practice to further our outreach to rural communities, communities without access, and will team with disciplines across the world in ways untold, all for the benefit of our patients whom we serve. What remains vital is our ethos, our sense of being and purpose, and to be creative and open to the manners in which we will not only lead the way through these challenging times but beyond.

How has FPTR funding helped throughout your career?

To be honest, I cannot see a time when my funding has not supported me. Although I am not currently funded, my trainees are funded or have applied for FPTR funding.  FPTR funding supported me through my PhD, and without it, I honestly don’t know if I would have been able to finish my degree, at least not to the extent and success I encountered. So, I would say that even the COVID-related paper just published and those to come were in part funded by FPTR.

What advice do you have to those that are considering entering the profession and pursuing research?

The new graduates and current DPT students in our profession are now questioning the future in unparalleled ways. They are attempting to secure jobs and trying to understand what the landscape of our profession will look like as we continue to respond to and recover from the impact of COVID 19.

I have been in awe of their actions. They have not only shown resilience but have also exhibited unprecedented creativity and perseverance in their approaches. They are willing not only to ask the hard questions, but also to discover the answers. They have an innate desire to be a part of the solution and realize that they are the future of our profession. I think that those of us who have been “out in the trenches” for a while are also realizing the full potential of our next generation, and the next generation is invigorated by that new level of respect and support.  If they are our future, then the future of physical therapy is brighter than ever before.



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