Robert Palisano, a professor in the College of Nursing and Health Professions’ Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Sciences Department, will officially be named a Catherine Worthingham Fellow of the American Physical Therapy Association at the APTA’s June national conference in Baltimore. The fellowship is the highest honor given by the APTA, according to a May 23 CNHP press release.
The APTA originally informed Palisano that he had received the award in April. Palisano said he was surprised, excited and a little overwhelmed to find out he had been named a fellow. He said one reason for his surprise was that he did not know he had been nominated for the honor.
Palisano added that he was excited to win the award in part because it recognizes not one specific accomplishment, “but something you’ve done over a long period of time.”
Palisano’s career has focused on clinical research and education in pediatric physical therapy, according to the press release. He has worked at Drexel for 16 years and also has an appointment as a research investigator at CanChild Centre for Childhood Disability Research at McMaster University in Canada.
Palisano’s pediatric physical therapy work has included an internationally accepted classification system that he and colleagues at McMaster developed for children with cerebral palsy. The system classifies children with cerebral palsy based on their functional ability.
“Up until that time, there was no reliable and valid method to classify [these children],” Palisano said. He added that previous classification attempts often used medical terms that most families could not relate to a child’s daily life.
Palisano said the system he helped develop has been accepted because it enables families and professionals to better communicate decisions on how to manage children. In addition, the system has allowed for the development of motor development curves that help show how children with cerebral palsy develop over time.
“As a consequence, decisions can be made regarding support and services that are really evidence-based,” Palisano said.
Palisano said he first became interested in physical therapy after entering college, and that he became interested in pediatrics partly through working as an undergraduate volunteer at a school for children with cerebral palsy. Also while at college, Palisano worked as a counselor at a summer camp for children who were socially disadvantaged or had physical disabilities.
Palisano said that interacting with children through these programs was enjoyable, and that “it was challenging in that I always felt there was something for me to learn” from the children and their families. He added that he has learned a great deal from children and families throughout his career, and that this lifelong learning “really allows for the kind of professional growth I’ve been fortunate to have had going from a staff worker to a university professor.”
Currently, Palisano’s direct interactions with children and families are mainly through research projects. He added that he still enjoys interacting with children and families involved with his research or who have taken advocacy roles.
Clinical work still has an effect on Palisano’s research, he added, saying, “I’ve always felt my research has grown out of what are some of the gaps in knowledge in clinical practice.” Palisano added that he understands his research must be meaningful to children, their families and physical therapists.
Palisano’s current research deals with how to effectively enable young people with physical disabilities to participate in community and recreational activities like being a member of a sports team or other type of organization, and serving as a volunteer. Palisano is performing this research through Drexel.
Palisano said no singular accomplishment has stood out most during his career, and he is thankful for the many opportunities that have allowed him “to grow professionally and personally.” He said the most rewarding part of his work is the “opportunity to interact with children, families and talented professors on a regular basis.” Palisano added that research teams he has been a part of have accomplished a great deal “that you could never do by yourself.” He also thanked his family for their support of his career, and the travel and long days that have come with it.
In addition to his work with professors at Drexel and McMaster, Palisano has worked with Drexel doctoral students on some of his work at the University. He has also advised Drexel students working toward their clinical doctor of physical therapy degree. Palisano said he also enjoys working with younger physical therapists.
There are currently 135 Catherine Worthingham Fellows, including Palisano, according to the press release. The fellowship is “primarily a recognition of years of contribution,” Palisano said, though the fellows do also meet to discuss issues related to physical therapy, according to the press release.
According to Palisano, he was nominated for the fellowship by the Section on Pediatrics – a part of the APTA. Susan Smith, associate dean for research and health professions graduate education and chair of the Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Sciences Department, wrote a letter of support regarding the fellowship for Palisano.