Tilson earns Award for Leadership in Education from the APTA Academy of Physical Therapy Education

Julie Tilson portrait
Photo: Nate Jensen

BY JOHN HOBBS MA ’14
February 1, 2021

PROFESSOR OF CLINICAL PHYSICAL THERAPY Julie Tilson MS ’09, DPT ’98 has been recognized with an Award for Leadership in Education from the American Physical Therapy Association Academy of Education.

The award is one of the highest honors bestowed by the Academy of Physical Therapy Education and is meant to recognize a nationally prominent educator who has exhibited outstanding leadership and contributions to physical therapy education.

“The faculty, staff and students here at USC are enormously proud of Dr. Tilson and her contributions to physical therapy, DPT education and to the APTA,” wrote James Gordon, Associate Dean and Chair of the USC Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy in his nomination letter. “She is deserving of [the Award for Leadership in Education] because she has demonstrated outstanding leadership and because her contributions have had a significant impact on DPT education and practice.

To be eligible for the award, an educator must have exhibited outstanding leadership in three of the following areas: scholarship, teaching, administration or service.

Scholarship

Tilson is a globally recognized expert in the implementation of evidence-based practice into physical therapy education. She and retired Adjunct Professor Linda Fetters wrote the definitive textbook on the subject, Evidence-Based Physical Therapy, which is now in its second edition. In addition to the textbook, Tilson has had 32 peer-reviewed publications since 2007, 11 non-peer reviewed publications and two book chapters. “This is an extraordinary scholarly impact for a physical therapy faculty member who does not have a PhD and has had a heavy teaching and service load during most of her academic career,” noted Gordon, who received the Award for Leadership in Education in 2002.

Teaching

Tilson joined the division in 2005 as an assistant professor of research in physical therapy. In the years since, she has received Outstanding Teacher of the Year Awards in both 2012 and 2017 a Commendation for Excellence in Teaching in both 2014 and a Commendation for Excellence in Leadership in 2019.

“[Tilson’s] constant and consistent focus on the students’ perspectives and how to support their successful learning is central to her success as and educator,” Fetters said in her nomination letter. “During every class or student interaction, she asks the students about their learning, the methods she uses and their suggestions to improve their experience.”

Administration

In early 2017, Tilson was appointed the director of the division’s new hybrid online/on-campus DPT pathway, requiring the Herculean task of re-imagining every aspect of the DPT curriculum to be taught partially online.

“As a member of the development team, I have directly observed her creative facilitation with faculty and students to create a cutting-edge delivery of a top-ranked curriculum by merging asynchronous and synchronous online delivery with face-to-face learning,” noted Adjunct Assistant Professor of Clinical Physical Therapy Chris Sebelski DPT ’98. “She has impressed me with the leadership skills of negotiation, navigation, understanding dynamics and facilitation to guide others to think beyond the traditional manner of presenting content and nurturing learning.”

This past summer, Tilson was asked by the American Council of Academic Physical Therapy to share with educators across the country her experiences having re-imagining curricula for remote learning as the pandemic sidelined face-to-face instruction.

Service

“Dr. Tilson’s record of service is extraordinary, both here at USC as well as the state and national level in the APTA,” Gordon said. Tilson was the inaugural chair of the Evidence-Based Special Interest Group, an offshoot of APTA’s Section on Research — a section she presided over from 2018 to 2020. She also served as co-chair on the task force on Evidence-Based Practice Curricular Guidelines for Doctor of Physical Therapy Education, which eventually led to physical therapy programs across the nation developing contemporary evidence-based practice curricula.

In addition to those four areas, awardees must be recognized as a national leader in physical therapy education and have reflected substantial impact on both the APTA as well as physical therapy education overall.

“To be recognized by the Academy for leadership in physical therapy education is a true honor,” Tilson said. “I have been blessed by fantastic mentors and abundant opportunities in the division. I have excelled thanks to my mentors, and I hope that as a leader I am paying that forward to future generations.”