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Exploring frontiers in rehabilitative science and technology

Randy Trumbower (left) and Steve Wolf work together on the FiRST initiative. Photography by Jack Kearse

In 2009, the American Physical Therapy Association convened a meeting – the Physical Therapy and Society Summit (PASS) – to gain input from more than 24 different professional, governmental and consumer groups to review their perceptions of physical therapy and recommend changes compatible with how the profession needs to operate in a changing health care landscape. One of the key recommendations to emerge was that physical therapists need to become much more knowledgeable about the advances in science and technology that have direct applications to their practice.

Those recommendations could have died on the vine if not for some organizational concepts initiated by Steve Wolf. The Emory professor embraced the challenge emerging from PASS and created the FiRST initiative – Frontiers in Rehabilitative Science Technologies. "Whatever success FiRST has had or will have is almost entirely attributable to Steve," says Marc Goldstein, EdD, director of Research Services for the APTA. "He was as instrumental as is humanly possible in creating the initiative, recruiting the team to craft it, making presentations and even meeting with the new APTA CEO to explain how important it is to keep the initiative going. The absolute truth is, if Steve hadn’t picked up the gauntlet, the PASS summit would have come and gone, the results would have been published, and that would have been the end of it."

Wolf and the interdisciplinary team he recruited first identified four content areas they deemed critical to the future of the profession: bioengineering; regenerative rehabilitation; genomics, and telehealth. He then persuaded the research and education arm of the APTA to provide funding to bring together experts both inside and outside the physical therapy profession to generate information in each of the content areas.

"We recognized the knowledge base of most physical therapy programs is not well-equipped to deal with these content areas," says Wolf, PT PhD, FAPTA, FAHA. "We want to make the information we generate available to everyone through podcasts, webinars and presentations."

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