Susan S. Deusinger PT, PhD, spent 36 years at Washington University building a progressive academic culture in physical therapy to assure excellence in clinical practice, education and research.
Upon her retirement in 2014, Dr. Deusinger had served for 24 years as director of the Program in Physical Therapy and achieved the rank of professor of physical therapy and of neurology. She now serves as professor emerita.
As director, Dr. Deusinger brought a profound dedication to the profession, leading with passion and persistence, and inspiring students and colleagues to apply their knowledge and expertise in the movement system to optimize and advance human health through movement.
Her work has led to the Program in Physical Therapy’s consistent No. 1 national ranking by U.S. News & World Report. The program has been recognized in the top 1 percent for two decades.
A career in physical therapy perfectly suited Dr. Deusinger’s interests in service and science. Building on her initial education at Grinnell College and a summer of volunteering in rehabilitation at St. John’s Mercy Medical Center in St. Louis, she pursued training in physical therapy at the University of Kansas.
She earned her bachelor’s degree in physical therapy in 1969 and spent the next decade in full-time clinical practice in venues across the country.
During that time, she developed rehabilitation programs for patients with brain injuries, aquatic programs for people with physical disorders, educational programs for patients with arthritis, and a therapeutic riding program for children with developmental disabilities.
Dr. Deusinger joined the faculty at Washington University in 1978 to coordinate clinical education for baccalaureate-level students enrolled in the Program in Physical Therapy.
To hone her ability to develop new models of practice and education, she completed two graduate degrees at Washington University — a master’s in education in 1980 and a PhD in social work in 1987. In 1990, she was named director of physical therapy at the School of Medicine.
When Dr. Deusinger assumed leadership of the program, the profession was poised for major change in education and practice, and the university provided the ideal culture to effect such change. Today, all students in the program complete a clinical doctoral degree that combines evidence-based clinical and classroom learning. Dr. Deusinger not only facilitated advancing professional education to the doctoral level, but also gained approval in 1989 of the PhD in movement science.
In 1980, she developed the program’s first faculty clinical practice — a community-based service. Subsequently, in collaboration with her colleague and husband, Robert H. Deusinger, PhD, now an associate professor emeritus of physical therapy, an on-site evidence-based faculty practice was established. This has grown into a major outpatient service that is fully integrated into the School of Medicine’s Faculty Practice Plan.
Within that practice, Susan developed and for 20 years personally directed an exercise intervention for adults who are obese and experiencing functional decline. She also continually encouraged the university to create a culture of health, matched with health promotion programs for employees and students.
Dr. Deusinger has served as editor of the Journal of Physical Therapy Education, president of two components of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), a lead reviewer for the Commission on Accreditation of Physical Therapy Education, and a member of groups planning the future of professional and post-professional education.
Dr. Deusinger’s scholarly activities yielded improved methods to assess clinical competence, innovative models of professional development, and an understanding of errors in clinical practice.
Her leadership has been acknowledged multiple times by chapter, state and national levels of the APTA. In 2006, she was named a Catherine Worthingham Fellow of the APTA, the highest honor recognizing members’ efforts to advance the profession.
In retirement, Dr. Deusinger still seeks ways to contribute to the lives and health of others. She consults with institutions wishing to change education and practice in ways that inspire new visions for health care. She and her husband live in St. Louis and enjoy traveling, exercising and spending time with their children and grandchildren.