College of Health Professions Alumni Spotlight: Evangeline Yoder, PT, MS, DHSC

Evangeline Yoder was first introduced to the physical therapy profession as a child while being treated by an orthopaedic surgeon in Richmond named Dr. Thomas Wheeldon. Yoder had adolescent idiopathic scoliosis – an abnormal curvature of the spine that appears in late childhood or adolescence. Wheeldon received accreditation in 1931 from the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) to establish the first physical therapy school “in the south” at Richmond Professional Institute, the forerunner of the Medical College of Virginia’s (MCV) physical therapy program.

T. Greg Prince, senior director of development at the College of Health Professions and Evangeline Yoder, a 1962 graduate of VCU Physical Therapy
T. Greg Prince, senior director of development at the College of Health Professions and Evangeline Yoder, a 1962 graduate of VCU Physical Therapy.

She studied in the PT program and graduated from MCV in 1962 with a Bachelor of Science in Physical Therapy. The department chair during this time was Susanne Hirt, RPT, M.Ed.

“Miss Hirt developed and taught an intensely rigorous and demanding curriculum for aspiring therapists,” said Yoder, who also recalls the words of a 1953 graduate ‘she could put the fear of God in you with just one look.’”

Yoder began practicing at a rehabilitation center in Cleveland, and after a year, she traveled to England for experience in caring for patients with spinal cord injuries at the National Stoke Mandeville Spinal Injuries Center in Aylesbury, England. The center was founded in 1943 by Sir Ludwig Guttman – a medical pioneer in treating post WWII victims of spinal injury, and originator of the 1948 Paralympic Games.

With the practice of physical therapy expanding in the 1960’s to include neurophysiological approaches, Yoder took a post-graduate course in neurodevelopmental treatment in London, and a residency in proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation in Vallejo, Ca. She also learned physiotherapy procedures for patients with vestibular disorders conceived by otoneurologist Sir Terrance Cawthorne.

Another area of Yoder’s training took place at the Bad Ragaz Medical Center – Medizinische Abteilung in the Swiss Alps. She acquired skills in aquatic therapy, while also learning German and skiing on the alpine slopes.

In the 1970’s physical therapy practice expanded in the USA to include orthopaedic manual therapy procedures. Yoder took courses with Dr. James Cyriax and Freddy Kaltenborn, PT, DO, followed by a certification course in spinal manipulation with Geoffrey Maitland, PT in Adelaide, Australia.

Yoder says these experiences proved to be invaluable during her more than 20 years of clinical practice, in a variety of settings, and later as a professor in academic settings.

“I especially treasure the enduring friendships forged with other globe-trotting physios,” she said. “To this day, we still commiserate about our golden years as therapists.”

Yoder spent the latter 20 years of her career as a teacher. She says she is especially grateful for the mentorship of Otto D. Payton, who was once chair of the MCV Physical Therapy Master’s program.

Department of Physical Therapy names interim chair

Oct. 31, 2022

Virginia Commonwealth University’s College of Health Professions has named Benjamin Darter, P.T., Ph.D., interim chair of the Department of Physical Therapy. Darter replaces Michel Landry, Ph.D., former department chair.

Ben Darter“In our search for the next chair, we hope to find someone who embraces a shared vision for what I think is an outstanding culture of mutual respect, and a focus on strengthening our already highly successful, highly reputable program,” said Darter. “I feel fortunate stepping into this role with a certain level of confidence that those who are here to support me are very experienced and very good at what they do.”

Darter’s primary research and clinical interests are in the areas of rehabilitation following extremity amputation, optimization of gait performance, and overall health promotion. He teaches courses in orthotics and prosthetics, and applied exercise physiology in the entry level Doctor of Physical Therapy program.

“Ben’s leadership and outstanding focus on research will allow him to maintain VCU’s excellent physical therapy program,” said Susan Parish, Ph.D., dean of the College of Health Professions and Sentara Professor of Health Administration. “I am thrilled he will serve in this role as we continue to build upon the department’s long-standing and remarkable reputation.”

A national search for the next department chair will begin immediately, and will be led by the search firm Isaacson Miller.

VCU Takes Top Honors at the VCU-Marquette Challenge

The ‘VCU-Marquette Challenge’ is a national competition in which physical therapy students compete to raise the most money to support APTA’s Foundation for Physical Therapy Research (FPTR). VCU Physical Therapy students came out on top again this year, and were awarded the coveted first place among 79 participating programs in the country. This marks three years in a row that VCU students have won the competition signaling their clear and unwavering passion and dedication to support physical therapy research. Congratulations to Shawne Soper, who supported the PT student leaders in developing and implementing a year-long fundraising campaign that raised just $23,053.72.

Congratulations to VCU’s physical therapy students, staff, faculty and alumni who made this all possible, and on a job well done!

Click here to view the 2022 FPTR Awards Ceremony.

Click here to read the VCU News article about the VCU-Marquette Challenge.

‘I could really see myself here at VCU’

A health sciences summer pipeline program offers undergrads from across the country a six-week slice of life as a graduate health professional student — and connections to last a lifetime.

Cheryl Ford-Smith, D.P.T., demonstrates a reflexology exam over Zoom on Kaylah Beharrie, a second-year VCU physical therapy student and 2019 Summer Academic Enrichment Program graduate, in a classroom at VCU College of Health Professions. (Tom Kojcsich, University Relations)
Image by Tom Kojcsich, University Relations

As director of special programs for student recruitment and retention and a professor emeritus in the Department of Physical Therapy at the VCU College of Health Professions, Dr. Cheryl Ford-Smith created a physical therapy-focused high school program in the 2000s and was used to managing every aspect of a pipeline program, from recruitment to education of participants. When VCU established the Division for Health Sciences Diversity and its pipeline programs, Ford-Smith could put her focus back on what she does best: establishing relationships with pre-health students and educating them about the profession and VCU’s program.

Read more about student experiences at the Summer Academic Enrichment Program.

PT Faculty Receive National Awards

Two PT faculty received national awards at the 2020/2021 American Physical Therapy Association Awards Ceremony in Washington DC on September 12th, 2021.

Shawne Soper and Daniel Riddle

Daniel Riddle, PT, PhD, FAPTA was awarded the 2020 APTA Jules M. Rothstein Golden Pen Award for Scientific Writing. This award is given to someone who has demonstrated superior writing skills in style and clarity for one article or a series of articles published in Physical Therapy (PTJ). Awardees also must also have published numerous scholarly articles in PTJ

Shawne Soper, PT, DBT, MBA, FAPTA was named a 2021 Catherine Worthingham Fellow of the American Physical Therapy Association. This award is given to physical therapists who have demonstrated unwavering efforts to advance the profession. The recipients are viewed as change agents who have motivated others to make an impact on the PT profession and are recognized for their honestly and visionary leadership.

The VCU Department of Physical Therapy would like to congratulate these two faculty members who have contributed significantly to our profession and educated the next generation of PTs at the highest level.

PT Alumni Spotlight

We recently had the opportunity to talk one on one with Dr. Tracey Adler, a physical therapy graduate of the College of Health Professions, (formerly known as VCU’s School of Allied Health Professions).

Picture of Dr Tracey Adler

Adler is the director and owner of Orthopedic Physical Therapy, Inc., which specializes in manual therapy and hands-on treatment. She earned a Bachelors in Physical Therapy from Georgia State University in 1979, a Master of Science in orthopedic physical therapy in 1984 and Doctor of Physical Therapy in 2007, both from Virginia Commonwealth University.   

Born in Carmel, Ca. to a Navy family, Adler and her family lived in numerous places, including England, Rhode Island and Northern Virginia.

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Dr. Adler (center) and her team at Orthopedic Physical Therapy, Inc.

What are your thoughts on growing up in a military family?

I feel like growing up in a military family shapes you in a good way, and makes you learn how to be adaptable. You learn how to make new friends and interact with people easier. It makes you very open and tolerable. I never grew up with any kind of prejudice, because I lived in different places and met all kinds of different people. I believe all of these opportunities taught me how to adapt quickly in different situations.

When did you know you wanted to become a physical therapist?

I decided when I was 13 that I wanted to be a physical therapist. We were living in Northern Virginia, and a family friend of my parents had a disabled child. The family happened to ask if I would be interested in volunteering, and I wanted to take part in the opportunity. For three summers in a row, I volunteered at a day camp for disabled children. The first week I was there, I knew I wanted to be a physical therapist, and I never changed my mind.

Tell us about your education

I attended Mary Washington for the pre-physical therapy program, and initially thought my path would begin at Virginia Commonwealth University (formerly known as Medical College of Virginia), however I was not accepted there. At the time there were only 17 PT schools in the entire country. I went to Georgia State for PT school, which is where I earned my Bachelor’s degree. Afterward, I worked for two years, knowing I wanted to obtain a master’s degree. There were three programs in the country that offered an orthopedic masters in PT. These included Chicago Medical School, Pittsburgh and VCU. I was accepted into all three programs, and ultimately chose VCU.  

Her thoughts on how the inter-collaboration of programs helps prepare PT students

I believe it’s important to experience what other allied health professions are out there, and how your discipline can collaborate with others. I would go even a step further and say there needs to be more integration between allied health and medicine, because not everyone in the medical community has understood the role of allied health professionals. For example, I once had a family practice doctor in town who had an orthopedic resident doing an internship with him. The doctor suggested to the intern that he spend a week with me in order to gain a better understanding of the physical therapist’s role. Even if you’re an orthopedic surgery resident, it is important for you to have a better idea of what can benefit patients.

How has the field of physical therapy evolved?

When I finished PT school, I think we were viewed more as technicians. Today we’re regarded as independent practitioners. A patient can see a physical therapist without first having to see his or her doctor, and we provide a physical therapy diagnosis. Physical therapists are essentially an entryway into the health field, and no longer just an extension of care. I think this is by far, one of the biggest things that has changed within the field.

Additionally, Direct Access is available for patients. This means that licensed physical therapists in Virginia can evaluate and treat any patient, for a maximum of 60 consecutive days without the requirement of a referral from a medical professional. Direct Access empowers patients by giving them a choice, and allowing them to receive the physical therapy they need immediately, without avoidable delays. For more information regarding Direct Access, visit the Virginia State Board of Physical Therapy

How do you feel your education prepared you for what you do today?

It started with my Bachelors program at Georgia State, because there was a professor there who wanted PTs to learn manual therapy. At the time, in the 1970’s, manual therapy training was not taught at any PT school in the country. I completed my Bachelor’s program with skills that most PTs didn’t have or couldn’t get. One of the reasons I wanted to pursue those skills, and why I came to VCU, was because they recognized these specialties in physical therapy – orthopedics, and manual therapy. I learned these specialties and expanded my skills to include dry needling – a type of therapy involving penetration of the skin to treat underlying muscular trigger points for the management of pain and movement impairments. I did my doctorate because I wanted, not just to keep up with who was coming out in the field, but because I wanted to learn more about pharmacology, radiology, and other things I didn’t learn during my undergraduate studies.

Inspirational People:

My most memorable professor was Gordon Cummings from Georgia State. Professor Cummings taught me manual therapy, and this really set the tone for the rest of my career. When I came to VCU, they were open to the orthopedic specialty. This helped enhance my knowledge, skills and research on dry needling. When I was completing my doctoral training, there was a lot of self-study, but the opportunity to work with everyone was so helpful. 

Her role on State Board of Physical Therapy

I’m currently in my 2nd term, and was appointed by the governor. I was at a point in my career where I felt I had time to do this. I had a base of knowledge and experience, and I’ve always been very proud of our profession and I wanted to be able to give back. The board members and I are there to ensure that our colleagues continue to serve our communities from the highest standards possible.

Being a good listener and advocate for the patient

My practice is not like every other practice in that we are one on one with our patients for 30 minutes to an hour depending on their scenario. This gives patients the opportunity to talk with us about their situations and allows us to spend more time getting to know them. I believe we are able to establish a level of trust in that we listen to our patients and they feel like they are being heard. With other specialists, there may not be additional conversation about anything else connected to the reason why they’re coming in. As a result, I feel like patients really count on us. 

We are a different type of practice. The hope is that patients are coming to us for our hands and our brains, as opposed to the equipment. Our ultimate goal is to get to the source of your problem, and not just treat your symptoms. I look at everything to find out all of the possible sources of pain, and really dedicate ourselves to looking at a patient holistically.

What do you want people know about PT?

The field of PT in general has expanded in many ways. When I opened the practice in 1984, we were one of the first practices in town to do anything with women and pelvic pain and urinary incontinence, as well as men. There are techniques we use, such as dry needling, which I have been doing since 2003. We are trying to encourage people to see a physical therapist, to be more preventative – such as before beginning an exercise program, so you don’t end up getting injured. There may be things a patient is not aware of and should address before initiating a new physical activity or program.  

Outside of PT

I love to cook, and do a lot of walking and yoga. I have a dog named Sammy who is at my office every day, and patients love him.

As for my family, I have twin daughters in their 30’s who live on opposite sides of the country. My parents are in their 90’s and live nearby in Richmond.

Her message to aspiring PT professionals

In this field, you have a lot of interaction with your patients. You can see how patients improve, or sometimes they may not. Regardless, I really feel like we make an impact on people’s lives. We’re there for our patients, and they may talk to us more than they might talk to their physicians. In my practice, we specialize in people with pain, but in general, I believe physical therapy has so many avenues and a lot of options where you can really specialize within the profession.

This month, I am celebrating 42 years of practice, and I love what I do. To me, this is not a job as I love seeing my patients. At the end of the day, I believe that everyone has a gift. Sometimes people find their gift and it matches their profession. If you are able to connect with people, you have empathy, are great at science, then this may be the profession for you.

Distinguishing Chronic Low Back Pain in Young Adults

Peter Pidcoe Ph.D., D.P.T., Alexander Stamenkovic, Susanne M. Van der Veen, and James Thomas Ph.D., D.P.T., write a paper discussing distinguishing chronic low back pain in young adults. The paper is available for public viewing at the link below.


Follow this link to learn more

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Dan Riddle Co-authored Article

Dan Riddle, PT., Ph.D., has co-authored the paper "Pain Coping Skills Training for Patients Who Catastrophize About Pain Prior to Knee Arthroplasty"

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