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By uscbknpt

Moving the Physical Therapy Profession Forward

Tilson portrait

Associate Chair of DPT Education Julie Tilson to be named USC’s 11th Catherine Worthingham Fellow.


IT ALL STARTED WITHIN THE PAGES of a book. A tale unfolded of a young girl whose doctors said she’d never walk again. 

As a 12-year-old Julie Tilson read how, against all odds and as a result of physical therapy, the character triumphantly learned to walk, her calling became clear.

“I was set,” says Tilson DPT ’98, professor of clinical physical therapy and director of USC’s doctor of physical therapy program. “I’m going to be a physical therapist. Nobody around me even knew what a physical therapist was, but that was what I wanted to be,” she recalls. “My decision was reinforced by the fact that I wanted to be in healthcare, but didn’t want to sit at a desk.”

The bright-eyed dreamer did just that … and then some — transforming into a prominent figure in the physical therapy world who’s known for pushing the boundaries of innovation. 

As a result of Tilson’s dedicated work over the years, she was recently named a Catherine Worthingham Fellow of the American Physical Therapy Association, the association’s highest membership category. The honor is bestowed upon physical therapists who have demonstrated unwavering efforts to advance the profession for more than 15 years. 

“Julie Tilson is a gifted teacher, a prolific researcher, an innovative educator who has moved our field forward in curricular design, and an articulate advocate for evidence-based practice,” says Associate Dean and Chair (and fellow Catherine Worthingham Fellow) James Gordon. “But the main reason I was inspired to nominate Julie for this fellowship is that she is a visionary leader who is able to translate her ideas and ideals into action.”

After graduating with her DPT degree from USC in 1998, Tilson immediately developed a passion for advanced evidence-based practices. “I like having quantified information upon which to base care,” she explains. “Evidence-based practice benefits our patients and strengthens our profession. Over the past 25 years, I’ve conducted research, taught nationally and internationally and co-authored a textbook, all to promote evidence-based care in physical therapists’ practice.”

Tilson was also instrumental in launching USC’s DPT hybrid pathway, which combines online learning with in-person immersion experiences and clinical work in the community. “I supported the idea that hybrid education was going to be part of the landscape in professional education and in physical therapy,” she says. “USC is a leader in academic physical therapy; I believe we had an opportunity and a responsibility to step in, figure out and then share with others how to do it really well.”

When Tilson receives her award next summer at a ceremony in Kansas City, it will bring further distinction to USC. With a total of 11 Catherine Worthingham Fellows, the USC Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy has the highest concentration of fellows at any physical therapy educational institution in the nation.

“Receiving this honor signals that the work I’ve done is valuable, and I’ve been able to make a difference for the profession and the patients we serve,” Tilson says. “To make that kind of difference in one’s career is incredibly rewarding — and it’s great to have it recognized as such.”