One career leads to another

Kathryn Roach ’74 BS PT sees her career in two related chapters: first, as a clinical practitioner in Chicago, then in research and teaching as a professor of physical therapy at the University of Miami.

Roach was recently honored with the 2019 UIC Alumni Achievement Award. She received the College of Applied Health Sciences Outstanding Alumni Award in 2002.

She was a member of the college’s second graduating class in physical therapy, which met in classrooms next to what became the UIC Library of the Health Sciences.

“We watched the construction from our classroom windows, and the workers watched us practice our clinical skills,” she recalls.

She was a clinical practitioner for 14 years, working in the burn unit of Cook County Hospital and as an in-home physical therapist.

“I worked with people as they fought to regain their ability to fully participate in their lives,” Roach says. “It was an enormous honor.”

Roach never imagined herself leaving clinical practice, but an interest in research led to the second chapter of her career. She earned a Ph.D. in epidemiology from the UIC School of Public Health and moved into academia. At the University of Miami, she’s also vice chair for research and acting vice chair for Ph.D. studies.

“I went into academics to participate in clinical research, but what I did not anticipate was how much I would love teaching,” she says.

Her work as a clinician informs her current research. She has developed tools to help physical therapists measure patients’ functional outcomes related to many areas of the body, including for people with physical disabilities. She was a methodologist on exercise intervention studies of patients with Alzheimer’s disease, spinal-cord injuries and lower-limb loss. She helped develop the Physical Therapist Clinical Performance Instrument, used to assess physical therapy students during their clinical internships.

Roach established the Donna Roach Scholarship in the Department of Physical Therapy to honor her mother’s “courage and persistence.” Her mother’s father thought it was a waste of time and money for a woman to go to college, but she was determined. Roach’s parents met on the Chicago campus—both the first in their families to graduate from college.

“My parents instilled in me a belief in the value of education,” Roach says.