Cheryl Caldwell - 2020 Alumni Achievement Award RecipientCU Physical Therapy Mar 25, 2021
Get to know more about Cheryl Caldwell, PT, MHS, DPT, CHT, the 2020 Alumni Achievement Recipient. Caldwell is an alumna of the Class of 1976 and is an Associate Professor at Washington University in Saint Louis, Missouri. She was nominated by Suzy Cornbleet, Class of 1975, noting that she has proven to be an engaging, well-respected and effective educator, clinical education advisor, expert clinician, leader and representative of the Hand Section and physical therapy profession.
What inspired you to pursue physical therapy?
I had a good friend in high school and a cousin that were both amputees, yet both very active physically. I wanted to help people improve their functional abilities. My father counseled me that physical therapists help people with their functional abilities, so I decided to apply to the Physical Therapy Program at CU. I think physical therapy has been a great career match for me!
What was your student experience at CU?
I have positive memories of my time as a student at CU, both on the campus in Boulder and in the Program in Physical Therapy in Denver. I was a serious student that worked hard academically. I have good memories of anatomy lab and Jim Clinkingbeard. We had fun playing tricks on the instructors in the anatomy lab! I also remember Eleanor Westcott, and Byron Bork as part of our faculty. They were all great and very personable! I have seen Byron multiple times over the years at CSM. I believe our class size was 32 students! All my class notes were hand written and I didn’t learn to type on a computer until quite a few years later!
What led to your interest in pursuing a career in academia?
The short answer is that I value personal and professional growth and over the course of my career, have taken advantage of opportunities that have come my way that I thought were interesting and would help me grow. I worked my first eight years at Lutheran Medical Center in Wheat Ridge, CO. While there, I sought new challenges every few years. After moving to St. Louis, I had a couple of good PT job options, but decided to choose the job in academia at Washington University (WU) because I thought that would challenge me the most.
My first position at WU was as a full time clinician. However, the clinic was managed by the Director of Academic Program in PT and most clinicians were involved in some way in teaching or research. My area of expertise was in the upper extremity so I took advantage of opportunities to teach occasional lectures in my content area in the PT program. As more teaching opportunities presented themselves, I kept accepting them. My job evolved from 100% clinical care to 50% clinical and 50% teaching and eventually to full time faculty which still included some clinical care until the past few years.
Although I am no longer a primary clinician, I do still provide mentoring for our clinician in the WU PT clinic. Additionally, I virtually mentor our Movement System fellows that are in various parts of the country. In the first few years that I worked at WU, I worked closely with residents and physicians in the Upper Extremity Orthopaedic Clinic. I took the first Certified Hand Therapist specialization exam when it was offered in 1991 along with several of my co-workers. Keeping up with the current research and participating in studies is the culture of both the clinic and the Program in PT. I feel like being an expert clinician was important for my teaching and teaching made me a better clinician. Participating in research also strengthened my skills as a clinician and teacher.
Can you talk about your current role?
I think what led me to my current role is being immersed in a dynamic, ever evolving academic setting with endless opportunities for growth! A great benefit of this role is the gratification that comes from watching a new PT student evolve over the course of their time in the Program until they graduate as my peer! It’s nice to know I played a role in their development. Teaching and clinical care have been my primary areas of focus at WU PT but as mentioned above, I have also participated in research. I love the variety of opportunities in my job!
Along the way, I have had many great mentors that have played pivotal roles in my professional growth. My current role on the faculty includes teaching, mentoring clinicians in our clinic, mentoring fellows, serving on the clinical education team, curriculum committee, and various other committees. I have been fortunate to be part of a group of faculty that have developed movement related diagnostic categories that we teach in our curriculum and around the world. I love the people I work with, the culture of growth and being part of a Program that strives to be on “the leading edge.”
How has the PT field changed/evolved since you first entered the profession?
The PT profession has changed a lot since I graduated from CU in 1976. The profession has grown in mission and scope requiring higher degrees. As the profession and the WU Program in PT evolved, I returned to the classroom twice while working full time, once to earn my MHS in 1989, and a second time for my transitional DPT in 2002. Our PT graduates today are skilled in critically reading the literature, screening for conditions that that require referral to other health care practitioners, recognizing patterns so that they can establish a movement diagnosis to direct treatment, and much more. In most states, it is legal for PT’s to practice autonomously which was not the case in 1976.
What do you enjoy doing in your personal time?
I love to read, hike, and travel. My husband and I hike locally, but we also love to travel to hike in different locations nationally and internationally (pre-COVID)! We frequently return to Colorado to enjoy hiking in the beautiful Colorado mountains!