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Member Spotlight: Dr. Wendy Rheault, PT, PhD, FASAHP, FNAP, First Woman President and CEO of RFUMS

Wednesday, December 18, 2019   (0 Comments)
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Member Spotlight: Dr. Wendy Rheault, PT, PhD, FASAHP, FNAP,
First Woman President and CEO of Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science

The IPTA is proud of our fascinating and influential members who are working hard towards advancing the physical therapy profession.

IPTA member, Dr. Wendy Rheault, PT, PhD, FASAHP, FNAP, is the first woman president and CEO of North Chicago-based Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science. A national leader in health professions education reform, Dr. Rheault was instrumental in the development of RFU’s pioneering model of interprofessional education in which students across healthcare disciplines learn collaborative, team-based patient care. A native of Canada, she holds a doctorate from the University of Chicago.

We got to know a little better the first woman president in the institution’s 107-year history, by asking her a few questions.

You have served as a professor, chair, dean, vice president of academic affairs, provost and now president. How has being a physical therapist prepared you for this academic leadership?

Dr. Rheault: "Physical therapy is a team profession and it’s a really good problem solving profession. I minored in psychology as an undergrad, which helped me understand how to motivate people. A lot of the skills that PTs possess are well suited for administration, which like physical therapy requires motivating, communicating and mentoring. There are many PTs who are deans of colleges and schools. We understand the power of teaching and learning and we lead with that understanding. PTs also have to be resourceful. It’s in our DNA to work in teams, to consult, and to yield to expertise in the best interests of our patients. My education and experience, coupled with the skills and attitudes I developed as a PT, prepared me to help lead the transformation of health care. My values as a physical therapist — teamwork, empathy, humility, patient-centered care, now a student-centered approach to learning — have translated really well to educational leadership."

What is a specific skill or competency that future healthcare leaders should work to develop?

Dr. Rheault: "We need to understand and teach the art of caring. Patient satisfaction and outcomes are closely tied to the quality of their relationships with their health caregivers. Do our patients feel listened to? Do they feel respected? Do they truly feel cared for? While I attended the University of Chicago, I worked for the Veterans Administration where PTs spent a lot of time with patients and also with their families. I really appreciated that aspect of the profession — the time and care involved and getting to know my patients on a personal level. We’re teaching our students how to focus on the patient first, how to really listen, to understand what patients want and need. True care extends beyond the office visit or hospital stay. It involves communication, shared decision-making and compassion."

What inspired you to become a PT?

Dr. Rheault: "Back in Canada, I babysat for a family, one I knew for many years, whose oldest child had cerebral palsy. I helped with his physical therapy and I saw how having a disabled child affected the family. The second born really became the oldest. She carried a lot of responsibility for both her older and younger brothers. And it was tough for the mother to see her second-born reach the developmental milestones that her child with cerebral palsy did not reach. It added to her mourning, I think. I really saw the importance of the family in patient care and how physical therapy integrated treatment, psychology and social work. The physical therapy I was witnessing was much more holistic than the medical care I had experienced. I also saw the importance of team-based care by a group that included speech, physical and occupational therapists — how that made a difference for the child and for the family. The PT would spend a whole hour with this boy. The relationship building was such a powerful lesson."

"If you had the attention of all IPTA members, what message would you convey?"

Dr. Rheault: "Physical therapists can use their experience and their voices to transform the delivery of health care. We have long exemplified patient-centered, collaborative care and the demand for that model is growing along with the evidence that shows it improves patient care and outcomes, and lowers costs. We can help push it, expand it, beyond our practices and hospitals to transform the delivery of care."



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