Meet WKU’s new physical therapy chair


Abbey Nutter

Beth Norris, the newly appointed chair of the department of physical therapy at WKU, had a long history in the physical therapy practice before transitioning to teaching and making her way to the Hill.

Norris earned an undergraduate degree in chemistry from Austin Peay State University and from there completed her degree in physical therapy at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis.

While practicing physical therapy, Norris pursued a master’s degree in exercise physiology at Springfield College in Massachusetts and continued to practice.

Norris completed a doctorate in health sciences while living in New Jersey.

At the same time as she was managing an outpatient department and completing the doctorate, Norris was also teaching physical therapy in New York. This is when she discovered her love for teaching.

“Physical therapy is a teaching profession,” Norris said. “We teach our patients, we teach their family continuously.”

Norris said she’s always been interested in answering questions, which led her to pursue her doctorate, and completing that program required her to teach classes.

After finishing her doctorate, Norris moved to Texas to teach full time at Texas Woman’s University as an assistant professor in TWU’s school of physical therapy.

Norris then returned to Tennessee, where she worked as a regional manager for outpatient physical therapy clinics throughout the state.

Norris received an announcement WKU was starting a physical therapy program while working in Tennessee and inquired about the two faculty positions that opened. After the interview process, she shifted from full-time clinical management practice and joined the physical therapy department at WKU as an associate professor in 2013.

From 2017 to 2018, Norris completed a yearlong fellowship in education leadership.

At the start of summer 2018, the chair of the physical therapy program resigned, which left the position open. The acting dean at the time decided to fill this position as an interim and worked with WKU President Timothy Caboni to permanently fill the position over the Fall 2018 and Spring 2019 semesters.

According to Norris, the search was over in July 2019, and she was offered the position in August.

“I was very excited,” Norris said. “I enjoyed doing the interim position.” Norris said that she’d held previous director positions in physical therapy while she practiced, although she had not previously held one in academia.

“The timing was great,” Norris said.

Norris’s appointment as chair of the Department of Physical Therapy was announced on Aug. 26, in a press release.

“Dr. Norris has done a fantastic job as Interim Chair of the Department of Physical Therapy this past year, and I am confident her dedication to the program, department and CHHS will serve us well in the upcoming years,” Tania Basta, dean of the College of Health and Human Services, said in the release.

Basta said in the release that the Department of Physical Therapy program will experience reaccreditation in 2020 and that Norris’s leadership and experience will be valuable throughout the entire process.

“We have so many ideas as far as continuing to grow the program, to bring clinical ideas into teaching, to bring patients into the teaching environment for students to see, to explore different types of opportunities for our students as well as community partnerships,” Norris said.

News reporter Abbey Nutter can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @abbeynutter.