She worked seven years in retail, developing an interest in chemistry and nutrition before landing in physical therapy in the 1970s, when it was still a nascent field.

“I chose physical therapy specifically because we work hands-on with people and can have a positive impact on their mobility and quality of life,” Topp says. One of her formative experiences was volunteering at a preschool for children with autism and realizing the power of working one-on-one with someone in need.

Topp started her UCSF career as a postdoc in 1990, joined the faculties of the Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science and the Department of Anatomy in 1993, and “retired” in July 2018, following 11 years as chair of the former and 25 years as a faculty member. However, she’s still active at UCSF, doing research and helping her successor as chair, sometimes working remotely to avoid the 80-mile commute from her Aptos home.

“My very supportive husband understands that I’m married to UCSF,” Topp says. No wonder she received her UCSF Campaign Alumni Award in “The Dedicated” category. She uses the word “devotion” to describe her feelings for UCSF, her department, her field, and her patients, colleagues, and students. “UCSF is a phenomenal place,” she adds, “and I love what I do.”

In her tenure as chair, Topp grew the department’s offerings, spearheading a doctorate in rehabilitation science and an entry-level Doctor of Physical Therapy program, creating the interdisciplinary Clinical Skills Center, adding physical therapy residencies and faculty practices, and strengthening the curriculum in anatomy, which she considers “foundational” to physical therapy.

“I’m very proud of having had 25 years of students in physical therapy and medicine,” Topp says. “Now I see them reaching their potential in clinical care, advanced training, policy change, global health, and other areas.”

Topp has held leadership positions with the American Physical Therapy Association and the American Association of Anatomists (AAA), which she says have been crucial in developing her leadership and professional skills. In her newest role as chair of the AAA’s Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, she is parlaying lessons learned from UCSF’s exemplary interprofessional community into the national arena.

What’s next for her in retirement?

“Next week I start volunteering with Hospice of Santa Cruz County, offering comfort, hand-holding, and light massage to people in hospice care,” Topp says. “I always have to be doing something to help people.”

The UCSF Campaign Alumni Awards, inaugurated in 2018, recognized 12 outstanding UCSF alumni for work that aligns with the three grand challenges of UCSF: The Campaign.

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