Susan Effgen, PT, PhD, has spent more than 45 years consulting, researching, and publishing on issues related to children with disabilities in the United States and abroad. After a storied career and 20 years serving the College of Health Sciences as a professor in the physical therapy and rehabilitation sciences doctoral program, Effgen retired from academia in January.
Effgen has known since childhood that she wanted to become a physical therapist. “I’ve always had very specific career goals,” she said. “I wrote about Boston University in a seventh-grade paper and ended up earning my physical therapy degree there. I was fortunate because I’ve always known what I wanted to do.”
Effgen received her bachelor’s degree in physical therapy from Boston University, her post-professional master’s degree from Emory University, and completed a research fellowship at the University of North Carolina. Her PhD is in special education from Georgia State University. Before joining the UK College of Health Sciences in 2000, she spent two years teaching in Hong Kong. She’s also been asked to present her research in multiple foreign countries.
Effgen’s clinical career started in pediatrics and then naturally expanded into research and academics. Her pursuit of physical therapy came simply from a desire to help people. “I’ve always been a strong advocate for people with disabilities,” she said. “I’ve spent most of my life searching for ways to improve their experiences and outcomes.”
Effgen’s research projects have all stemmed from this desire to enact change—specifically discovering what techniques and practices work best for children. One of her largest projects is focused on a nationwide study of school-based physical therapy practice.
“This project followed children receiving physical therapy in 59 different school systems across 28 states,” Effgen explained. “After a year, we wanted to see if the therapy these children received helped them achieve their goals and objectives.”
In retirement, Effgen will stay committed to this cause. She plans to work closely with Shriner’s Hospital studying constraint induced movement therapy and bi-manual therapy of children with cerebral palsy.
In addition to research, Effgen is deeply invested in legislative advocacy. “I’ve spent a large part of my career lobbying for IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act),” she said. “It’s important that our laws are appropriate for people with disabilities.”
When asked if she prefers teaching or research more, Effgen smiles and responds this question is almost impossible to answer. “It’s like asking someone to pick their favorite child,” she said. “They’re both meaningful in different ways. I love teaching students who have a zeal for changing practice and finding evidence. Both avenues allow you to make a significant impact on patients’ lives.”
“I will certainly miss my time at the College of Health Sciences. I had a great run here,” Effgen continued. “It’s been incredible to watch the growth of the doctoral program since I first came to CHS. This college has really moved up in terms of research and I’m excited to see what the future holds.”