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Arnold School of Public Health


Inspired by a high school injury, Katie Rush completes second Arnold School degree to become physical therapist at orthopedic clinic

December 9, 2016 | Erin Bluvas, bluvase@sc.edu 

Katie Rush always knew she wanted to attend UofSC to study public health or medicine, but it was an injury at the age of 15 that steered her toward a career in physical therapy. The high school student tore her ACL and meniscus while playing soccer and went through 10 months of rehabilitation.

I knew I wanted the chance to impact peoples’ lives daily like my physical therapist did, and the public health profession allows that,” Rush says. “It provides the chance to constantly give back to your community.”

The Barnwell, S.C. native earned a B.S. in Exercise Science from the Arnold School (Emphasis in Motor Development; Minor in Psychology) in 2013 and then spent three months as a Rehabilitation Technician in Lexington before enrolling in the Department of Exercise Science’s Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program. “I was in Columbia, loved it, and wanted to stay here for my doctorate,” Rush says. “The small class size and close-knit environment was what sold me on the Arnold School’s DPT program.”

I knew I wanted the chance to impact peoples’ lives daily, like my physical therapist did, and the public health profession allows that. It provides the chance to constantly give back to your community.

-Katie Rush, DPT Graduate

Her impression proved to be accurate, with the class playing intramural sports and attending Gamecocks football together. Rush also appreciated the faculty interaction that the small class size offered. “Teachers know you by your first name, and you can call or text them at any point with questions,” she says. “Having the chance to conduct research presented a great opportunity as well.”

Rush’s research centered on using a video game to help children within the Autism Spectrum improve their social skills (e.g., eye contact, emotion recognition, decreasing repetitive behaviors, following direction, and teamwork). She collaborated on this research with Assistant Professor Roger Newman-Norlund (see related story on undergraduate student research in this area), Associate Professor and DPT Director Stacy Fritz, and classmate Courtney Cauthen.

“It was an amazing experience to be able to work with a specific subset of the therapeutic population,” Rush says. “The kids had such a huge impact on the way I view life, and we tried to find a way for them to have fun while trying to improve a critical part of their way in the world.”

Physical therapy as a profession is so rewarding and allows interaction with all people, which is something you can’t get with most jobs. There is ample opportunity to work with some of the best in the field of physical therapy and public health.

-Katie Rush, DPT Graduate

Some of Rush’s other areas of interest are concussion and vestibular rehabilitation, orthopedic sciences, athletes, and the aging population. She’ll apply what she’s learned in these areas to her new position as a physical therapist with an outpatient orthopedic clinic in Aiken, S.C. In her role, Rush will help patients with various orthopedic conditions, geriatric patients, and athletes.

She also plans to complete an Orthopedic Specialist Certification and take continuing education classes on vestibular and concussion rehabilitation. Long term, Rush would like to become a clinical director so that she can both treat and lead.

“Physical therapy school requires determination, self-discipline, and a lot of hard work,” says Rush as she reflects on her discipline. “At the end of the day, physical therapy as a profession is so rewarding and allows interaction with all people, which is something you can’t get with most jobs. I love USC, and I love the DPT program here. There is ample opportunity to work with some of the best in the field of physical therapy and public health.”

I feel lucky to have the chance to learn from them as influential women in the field. 

-Katie Rush, DPT Graduate, on  Arnold School mentors and faculty Stacy Fritz and Cathy Arnot

For Rush, two of the best in the field include Fritz and Cathy Arnot. “I don’t think either of them is fully aware of the roles they played for me during the DPT program,” says Rush. “Dr. Fritz, while being the program director, teaches, practices, and conducts research amongst other things all with a smile on her face. She is a highly respected clinician, researcher, educator, and overall person. Dr. Arnot is selfless, knowledgeable, genuine, well known in the orthopedic field, and I’ve looked up to her since day one. I feel lucky to have the chance to learn from them as influential women in the field.”

She also feels fortunate to have her parents as mentors and as her first patients. “They have always been supportive, encouraging, and offer a little push when needed,” says Rush. “They have allowed me to be the person, student, and daughter I want to be without question—just being there for the ride when I hit a speed bump.”