The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) has named Conway’s Nancy Reese as its 2019 recipient of the Catherine Worthingham Fellow Award.

Reese is a professor at the University of Central Arkansas where she serves as the chairperson of the physical therapy department.

“I’m extremely honored by this award,” Reese told the Log Cabin Democrat on Monday.

Reese was not only selected, but remains the first physical therapist in Arkansas to receive the distinction.

“I’m so humbled by this award,” she said. “I never expected to receive something like this.”

Reese said she is a first-generation college student. She said she is from south Arkansas and while her grandparents on both sides were poor, her parents ultimately taught her to work hard and to do her best.

“God has blessed me with people in my life who have helped me all along the way,” she said. “It's great to receive an award for doing what you love to do with people you love to be around.”

As a young physical therapist just starting out in the profession, Reese said she remembers looking at APTA fellows and being intimidated by how much they had accomplished and contributed to the career field.

"I never even considered I would be named a fellow,” Reese said. “There are only around 200 fellows out of the [more than] 100,000 members of the APTA, so being named a fellow is almost unbelievable to me. I kind of feel like I don't belong in this group.”

The UCA employee said she got a call from APTA president, Sharon Dunn, a few weeks ago with the news.

“Sharon is a southern woman like me — she's from northern Louisiana — and her voice is pretty recognizable, so, I knew it was her when I answered the phone,” Reese said. “She's also an educator like me, so I thought she was just calling about something related to PT education.”

Nope, that wasn’t it all.

“I was completely surprised when she told me I had been named,” Reese said. “I’m so very thankful for this honor.”

Particularly, she said, she’s thankful most to the people in her life who have supported her, including her family, the UCA faculty and staff she works with and the many professional colleagues she has made over the years who have helped and mentored her along the way.

Reese has been in the physical therapy field for 38 years. After graduating with a bachelor’s in physical therapy, she went on to earn a master’s degree in health sciences administration and then a doctorate in anatomy and neurobiology.

“I learned a ton from my education, but I've learned even more teaching the wonderful people who have graduated from the UCA Physical Therapy program over the years,” she told the LCD.

Reese said she continues to learn from her students and peers every day.

“Not just about the profession, but about how to be a team member, a mentor, a coach and a leader,” she said. “Those are the hardest lessons and the most valuable for me.”

The LCD asked Reese what her favorite aspect to the profession was.

She said while she hasn’t worked clinically in several years — her focus lately mainly in education — her answer to the question would be the same in both settings.

“My favorite aspect of my job is the relationships I've made and the great people I get to work with,” Reese said. “I am blessed to work with an exceptional group of faculty and staff in the [UCA] Department of Physical Therapy.”

She acknowledged the many PT programs across the U.S. she has been witness to but admitted that UCA’s group was “second to none.”

“They are amazing,” Reese said. “I also get to work with an incredible team of department chairs and a great [dean] in the College of Health and Behavioral Sciences at UCA. The trust and support in our team makes UCA a great place to work. I'm very, very fortunate.”

Reese will be honored during the APTA’s NEXT 2019 Conference and Exposition on June 12-15 in Chicago, Illinois.

“What I'm looking forward to in June is that my family will be there and will be able to meet some of the people from across the U.S. that have become my close friends over the years,” she said. “My personal family will get to meet my professional family and I'm excited about that.”

The university sent out a news release recently acknowledging Reese’s award.

“Dr. Reese is a recognized leader in APTA, having served as president and treasurer as well as chief delegate for the Arkansas Physical Therapy Association,” Bill Bandy, a professor in the UCA Department of Physical Therapy, said.

Bandy said Reese had been a long-term member of the education section, the health policy and administration section, the neurology section and the private practice section.

He said she had also served as treasurer of the education section and treasurer of the academic council of the APTA simultaneously, among her many other roles.

“Her leadership at UCA and in the APTA are exemplary,” Bandy said. “The fact that Dr. Reese is the first physical therapist in Arkansas to earn this honor is quite an achievement for her, as well as for UCA.”

In addition, Reese:

Is a past president of the Arkansas Chapter of the APTA. Currently serves on the board of the American Council of Academic Physical Therapy (ACAPT) as treasurer. Has been the chairperson of the UCA Department of Physical Therapy since 2004. Has been a UCA faculty member since 1986. Has been a member of the APTA since 1980. Published works including numerous articles, book chapters and two textbooks, each in their third edition.

“The Catherine Worthingham Fellows of the American Physical Therapy Association, the association’s highest membership category, serves as inspiration for all physical therapists to attain professional excellence,” the UCA news release reads. “This honor is eligible to American Physical Therapy Association members or life-member physical therapists who have demonstrated unwavering efforts to advance the physical therapy profession for more than 15 years, prior to the time of nomination."