Wendy Katzman, PT, DPTSc ’06 : A pioneer of physical therapy
Wendy Katzman, PT, DPTSc ’06, has spent the past five decades as a physical therapist. She was part of the first wave of physical therapists to become board-certified in Orthopaedic Physical Therapy and one of the first women to open a clinical practice in the Bay Area.
She also was an early provider specializing in pelvic health physical therapy. “I have had an enormously rich and satisfying career,” Katzman says, “and to be recognized for my contributions as I transition into retirement means so much to me.”
Perhaps it is all the more special because she essentially stumbled into what became a truly fulfilling career path. As a biology major at the University of Texas, Katzman planned to become a genetics researcher until she happened upon a description of a pre-physical therapy curriculum at the UT Medical Branch at Galveston.
“Something just clicked,” she recalls. “This program had the clinical-science curriculum that interested me, and my love of science and medicine was nurtured there. As I look back on this time, I can see that getting that Certificate of Proficiency in Physical Therapy was one of the best decisions of my life.”
Katzman worked in nearly every type of physical-therapy environment, including a large regional rehabilitation center in Houston, a home health practice, and a rotation through all the inpatient and outpatient services at California Pacific Medical Center. In 1987, she started a private outpatient orthopaedic practice in the Bay Area, where she served as clinic director until she joined UCSF in 2001 as a faculty member in the entry-level Master’s in Physical Therapy program and as a therapist in the outpatient faculty practice.
“I loved the supportive, interdisciplinary clinical and research opportunities at UCSF,” Katzman says. “I joined the faculty because I wanted to be involved in a higher calling, and then I had the opportunity to conduct research to answer the burning questions I had about the efficacy of treatments we would prescribe.” She was particularly interested in the influence of excessive spinal curvature in the aging thoracic spine – also known as hyperkyphosis – on physical function and health-related quality of life.
Katzman recalls with excitement her journey into research. “I would not have been as successful without the mentoring I received, which was so unique to UCSF,” she says. “I worked with colleagues in endocrinology, rheumatology, internal medicine, biostatistics, gynecology, and geriatrics, each of whom supported my growth and helped launch my career in clinical research.” The experience influenced her profoundly and deepened her commitment to mentoring junior faculty members herself.
In 2002, at age 52, she enrolled in the newly established joint UCSF and San Francisco State University post-professional Doctor of Physical Therapy Science program. She followed that with a four-year postdoctoral research fellowship at UCSF that extended her research on age-related hyperkyphosis. Throughout that time, Dr. Katzman also served as a faculty member in the UCSF Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science. In addition to her research, she saw patients, provided countless hours of mentorship to students in the entry-level PT program – as well as to junior faculty members at UCSF and abroad – and taught community-based exercise classes. She also helped expand efforts at the multidisciplinary UCSF women’s health clinic to include physical therapy.
“In the course of my career, I have constantly challenged myself to learn and advance my skills as a physical therapist,” Katzman says. “I developed the strength and endurance necessary to treat patients 40 hours a week for many years and to be successful as a graduate student and research scientist later in life. The best part is that physical therapy has enabled me to truly impact patients’ lives.”
Wendy Katzman won a 2020 UCSF Campaign Alumni Award in “The Dedicated” category. The award honors those who have devoted their careers to inspiring the next generation of scientists and health care providers.