The UAMS Northwest Arkansas Region benefits from the support of many with deep beliefs in a culture of philanthropy. From time to time, we will feature profiles of some who contribute to our practice of community-based health care and the development of the next generation of health care leaders.

Ruth Wood – Ruth Wood Endowed Physical Therapy Student Award

Ruth Wood

Ruth Wood was honored for her service and dedication to the physical therapy profession by an endowed gift from her sister, Shirley Wood.

Doris Ruth Wood was born to Rex B. and Paulean Wood on October 24, 1922 in Rensselaer, Indiana. After her family moved to Gary, Indiana in 1925, she attended Gary’s public schools, graduating from William A. Wirt High School as salutatorian in 1940. Ruth was the third born of seven children, and, though rich in the ways that really matter, the family had little money.  In spite of knowing she would receive no financial help, Ruth was determined to go to college.  She worked at the Miller Branch of the Gary Public Library for two years and attended night courses at Gary College, and, in the fall of 1942, she enrolled at Indiana State Teachers College in Terre Haute, Indiana.  Going year round, she received her Bachelor of Science Degree in August of 1944.

Ruth taught in Ashley, Indiana for two years and then in Remington, Indiana for another two years. It did not take long for her to determine that she needed a different type of challenge and decided to enter the health field as a physical therapist.  Always ready for a challenge, it was not surprising that she chose to attend the Mayo Clinic School of Physical Therapy, the program that was at that time setting the standard for physical therapy education. Again, she had no financial assistance and needed a few science prerequisites, so she taught in Hammond, Indiana and took several night courses at Indiana University’s Calumet Center in East Chicago. To do this, she rode two buses and walked several blocks to the high school where she was teaching, and then rode another bus to where her night classes were held and then two buses to her home in Gary. That was difficult, but, showing the determination and strength of character for which she is known, she again achieved her goal and entered Mayo’s PT School in the fall of 1949. After completing the program in August of 1951, she worked at the Mayo Clinic for several months before moving to Fort Worth, Texas in October of 1951. In Fort Worth, she worked first with Dr. Rex J. Howard and later with several other physicians in the large orthopedic clinic established by Dr. Howard and Dr. Lawrence Kleuser. Always one to adhere to strict professional standards, Ruth became concerned with some of the clinic’s practices after Dr. Howard’s retirement, and so she struck out as an independent practitioner in 1969, sharing an office with another therapist. A year or so later, she opened her own clinic, Wood Physical Therapy, which she very successfully operated until her retirement in 1984.

To say that Ruth made a significant impact in her chosen field would be an understatement. She was involved with the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) at the state, national and international levels from about 1952 through 1995. Even a brief review of her honors and the offices she held in professional associations shows how highly she was regarded among her peers.

Ruth served the Texas Chapter in numerous leadership capacities, including serving as an executive committee member (1962-1971), as president-elect (1966-1968), and president (1968-70). She was on the Legislative Committee (1962-1971), the   Committee for Medicare Reimbursement Guidelines (1970), the By-laws Committee (1965-1967) and was the annual conference chair in both 1960 and 1966. As the Texas Chapter’s Legislative Committee chairperson from 1962 through 1968, she led the fight to obtain licensure for physical therapists, the last state to pass such legislation. After the state’s physical therapy licensing act was passed, she was appointed to the first state Board of Physical Therapy Examiners. She served as chairman of that board from 1971 to 1973 and remained on the board until 1981. Additionally within the North Texas District, she took on positions of secretary (1960), chair (1961-1963), delegate of the House of Delegates 1964-1970, and chief delegate from (1968-1970). The Texas Chapter presented her with the Ruby Decker Award as the “Outstanding Physical Therapist in Texas” in 1964. She also served for many years as the Texas Chapter’s parliamentarian.

In addition to her contributions to physical therapy, she was active in civic activities in Fort Worth, serving on the advisory Board of the Easter Seals Society from 1964-82, the Mayor’s Committee on the Status of Women from 1979-82, and donating her time to charitable activities sponsored by the Altrusa Club of Fort Worth.

At the national level, Ruth’s first appointment, sometime prior to 1971, was to the Standards of Practice Committee. She then became a member of the Board of Directors of the American Physical Therapy Association and served on that board for 10 years (1971-1981). In 1971, she was appointed as second vice president (1971-73) to fill a board vacancy. Her first elected position was as the Vice Speaker of the House of Delegates (1973-74). After that term expired, she was appointed as a director in 1974 to fill another vacancy on the board. She was then elected to the prestigious post of speaker of the House of Delegates, and served two consecutive terms in that position (1975-81). Always one to want thing done fairly, Ruth was known for running house meetings efficiently and by the rules. She became quite an expert on parliamentary procedures, joining the National Association of Parliamentarians and becoming a registered parliamentarian in 1976.

In 1976, Ruth was honored by the APTA with the Lucy Blair Service Award, an award that honors physical therapists whose contributions to APTA are of exceptional quality. In 1978, she received a commendation in recognition of her service and contributions on the Board of Directors. In 1989 and 1990, Ruth was accorded the great honor of receiving the two highest awards available from APTA at that time. She first received the Mary McMillan Lecture Award, an award given to individuals who had made distinguished contributions to the profession of physical therapy. In 1990, she was named as a Catherine Worthington Fellow, the association’s highest membership category given to a select few who have demonstrated unwavering efforts to advance the physical therapy profession.

At the international level, Ruth was elected in 1982 as a member of the Executive Committee of the World Confederation for Physical Therapy and remained on that committee until 1995. She was elected as the Second Vice President in 1988, and also served on a sub-committee to revise the articles of the association and another involving the search for a new secretary-general. As the committee chair of the WCPT Organizing Committee, she directed and managed the organization’s very successful 12th International Congress in 1995. As part of her work with the WCPT, Ruth traveled to many international locations, something that she enjoyed greatly, as she dearly loves to travel, explore cultures and meet people.

Ruth was honored in 1980 with the Barbara C. White Lecture Award from the University of Florida’s College of Health Related Professions because of her outstanding reputation as a therapist who truly cared about her patients. That reputation also resulted in invitations to speak at commencement ceremonies at a number of universities universities including: Southern California, Northwestern, Emory, Alabama, Washington (St. Louis), Chicago, Florida, and Baylor. The Mayo Clinic School of Physical Therapy also recognized her for her outstanding career when she was chosen to give a commencement speech at that institution.

After her retirement in 1984, she moved to Eureka Springs, Arkansas and has happily resided there since that time.  She continued to travel whenever possible and has been very active in the community.  Likeable, knowledgeable, service minded, and caring, she is treated affectionately and with great respect in her Grassy Knob Community.  One might say that she would land somewhere on a scale between admired and revered, and in 2011 she was honored with a Lifetime Membership in the Grassy Knob Fire Association.

Though Ruth has obviously received many honors and accolades, she probably considers her greatest achievement was her ability to set students and young professionals on a path of contribution and service to the profession. That she had great impact in doing that has been demonstrated in many ways. In a letter of support for the McMillan Award, Rick Reuss wrote about how many of the younger leadership of the association were touched and nurtured by this “grand individual,” and that she always “geared her nurturing of our colleagues to what was best for our profession and its continuing professionalization out of love for our profession. “Reuss went on to comment because of that quality, others were also moved to do the same so that her contribution was ‘multiplied many times over’.” In a similar vein, Venita Lovelace-Chandler, in her Linda Crane Memorial Lecture, also gave credit to Ruth by describing how Ruth mentored her in relation to the APTA and the House of Delegates.

To honor Ruth and her outstanding contributions to the field of physical therapy and because of her belief that physical therapists should be involved with their professional associations, the Ruth Wood Endowed Physical Therapy Student Award has been established to “foster activities that develop leadership, advocacy, and professional engagement … and to promote development of the APTA core values of professionalism: accountability, altruism, compassion, caring, excellence, integrity, professional duty, and social responsibility.” Ruth demonstrated all those core values in her long career and it is hoped that the endowment will encourage young professionals to emulate those admirable characteristics. It is additionally hoped, because of how hard Ruth had to work to pay for her education, the endowment will allow students with financial need more opportunities to become involved in professional activities.