When I first watched physical therapists working with patients, I thought it was nothing short of miraculous. Like many drawn to physical therapy, I too wanted to be part of a profession that makes a difference to peoples’ lives.

Beginning with my Foundation-supported PhD studies in an animal model of spinal cord injury (SCI), the past 3 decades of my research career have been dedicated to better understanding this condition. SCI can be devastating for both the patient and their families, and requires complex rehabilitation. However, we’re in a different era of treatment than we were when I first began my career. Researchers have discovered so much new knowledge about how the nervous system learns, and about how to apply this knowledge to helping people with SCI improve walking function and hand use. We are learning more about both the benefits of physical therapy and the role of rehabilitation in care.

Like me, many physical therapist researchers who study neurologic conditions began their work with the support of the Foundation. I was able to cite the Foundation scholarship when applying for my first National Institutes of Health funding award. In the most basic terms, Foundation funding helps emerging investigators with the practical costs of launching their careers. And just as importantly, it instills confidence – both for the researchers themselves and the institutions and agencies that will continue to invest in their work. These are the seeds that will grow for years to follow.

Today, the Foundation awards more than $1 million each year, woven through clinical areas and patient conditions. Basic science, technology, education, clinical practice research, policy research – all are critical to sustain the growth and advancements in the profession. Every day we are amassing new knowledge. Every day we are able to better help people through what we’ve learned and make that difference that inspired us to join this field. It’s truly remarkable, and I look forward to what today’s Foundation investments will yield tomorrow.

Dr. Field-Fote is Director, Spinal Cord Injury Research at Shepherd Center and Professor, Emory University School of Medicine, Division of Physical Therapy. She currently serves chair-elect of the National Institutes of Health Advisory Board on Medical Rehabilitation Research, and as editor-in-chief of the Journal of Neurologic Physical Therapy. Her 9-year term as Foundation Trustee concludes this year.


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