Skip to Content

Arnold School of Public Health

Ph.D. student awarded predoctoral fellowship from American Heart Association

March 10, 2020 | Erin Bluvas,

Allison Lewis believes that movement is medicine. “My mom is a physical therapist, and she taught me from a fairly young age to think of movement and exercise as the best approach to recover and rehabilitate – often from the sprained ankles and overuse injuries I experienced playing competitive sports in high school,” she says.

The Wilmington, North Carolina native initially resisted following in her mother’s footsteps when choosing a career as an undergraduate student at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill but it was soon clear that physical therapy was the right path. Lewis majored in exercise science and then earned a Doctor of Physical Therapy at the Medical University of South Carolina. During her program, she discovered a passion for facilitating the rehabilitation of individuals with neurologic damage (e.g., stroke, traumatic brain injury) and subsequently specialized in this area at an inpatient rehabilitation facility. 

After a few years of full-time clinical practice (including a Neurologic Residency Program), Lewis began looking at doctoral programs to better understand how to optimize clinical interventions. In particular, she was looking for ways to make functional improvements in patients’ ability to move and drive changes in the brain.

“While outside of my comfort zone, I knew that gaining skills in neuroimaging techniques would allow me to better understand how therapeutic interventions can change both functional outcomes – like the ability to stand from a chair – and the brain,” she says. “Fortunately, this kind of work was going on here at UofSC in several labs, including Dr. Jill Stewart’s Motor Behavior and Neuroimaging Laboratory, which was a perfect fit for my Ph.D. training.”

In 2017, Lewis joined the Ph.D. in Exercise Science program (ranked No. 1 in the nation) in the Department of Exercise Science, which is also home to the Doctor of Physical Therapy program and exercise science faculty who specialize in this area. In addition to working closely with Stewart, Lewis also found mentors in Stacy Fritz and Sheri Silfies.

“Not only has Dr. Stewart been a steady force of encouragement and support during my time at UofSC, but she is the ultimate role model for me as a clinician-turned-successful-researcher-and-tenured-faculty-member. Dr. Fritz and Dr. Silfies have also influenced my education and career path, by serving as mentors and advisors, but also as models for the character, determination and commitment required to be excellent in my chosen career path,” says Lewis. “Beyond anything else, my success can be tied to the mentors and opportunities the Arnold School has provided.”

Those successes have included a Norman J. Arnold Doctoral Fellowship, a Presidential Fellowship, and a Support to Promote Advancement of Research and Creativity (SPARC) grant from the UofSC Office of the Vice President for Research to examine the effects of social comparative feedback on motor sequence learning. Lewis will build on this research project with additional funding through an American Heart Association Predoctoral Fellowship. The two-year program is designed to enhance the integrated research and clinical training of promising students who are pursuing careers aimed at improving cardiovascular health.

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.