Bob and Jan Richardson’s separate paths to physical therapy and rheumatology involve wrestling and horses—although not at the same time. Their intertwining stories also involve a fair amount of serendipity.
Mr. Bob Richardson
For Bob Richardson, PT, MEd, the path started in the late 1950s, when he was wrapping up a fulfilling college wrestling career at the University of Pittsburgh and also working as a student athletic trainer.
“I did not know anything about physical therapy at the time, but the other athletic trainers said I should think about being a physical therapist or orthopedic surgeon,” he says. “The next thing I knew, I found myself admitted to physical therapy school at the University of Pittsburgh.”
Six months after graduation, in 1960, Mr. Richardson was recruited to become director of St. Margaret’s, a small hospital in Pittsburgh—now part of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “I was the first physical therapist hired, and within 10 years, we had 20–25 physical therapists,” he says. “It was a program driven by practicing rheumatologists.”
Within two decades, the hospital became host to the largest practice of rheumatology-focused physical therapists in the country. “I landed in a place where the rheumatologists believed in what we did as physical therapists, occupational therapists, psychologists,” he says. “So it flourished.”
Dr. Jan Richardson
Mr. Richardson says he came to the specialty through the back door. But if that analogy holds, then Jan Richardson, PT, PhD, OCS, FAPTA, parachuted in from another universe.
“I actually intended on being a veterinarian, and I went to Penn State University because it had a program with the University of Pennsylvania where you could go for three years and have early admission to Penn’s veterinary medicine program your senior year of undergrad,” Dr. Richardson explains.
In school, she was vastly outnumbered by men. “It was a different time back then, so when we started to interview with the program about what type of specialty we wanted to pursue, they assumed I would want small animal, but I really wanted equine [medicine],” says Dr. Richardson. “Women didn’t really do large animal medicine back then, so it looked like I was going to change my focus.”
She didn’t know much about physical therapy, but a friend of a friend was a physical therapist, and he gave Dr. Richardson the chance to shadow him at the local community hospital. She found connections between her love of equine medicine and the musculoskeletal focus of physical therapy. Soon after, she was accepted into a physical therapy program at the University of Pennsylvania.
Then, she ran into an unexpected, yet fateful, snag: “I was to have gone for a clinical rotation at Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh, but 48 hours before it was to happen, they canceled on me,” Dr. Richardson says. “Our clinical educator called Bob—whom she knew, but I did not, and asked if he would be so kind as to take a student for her last clinical rotation so I could graduate on time.”
The Richardsons are the only husband & wife to have both served as president of the ARHP (now the Association of Rheumatology Professionals [ARP]). Mr. Richardson was president in 1977, & Dr. Richardson served in the post in 2013.
That’s how the pair, who have been married since 1977, first met. “Jan was one of the bright stars I hired,” says Mr. Richardson. “She’s a great practitioner and a pioneer in educating physical therapists.”
Today, Dr. Richardson is an emeritus faculty member of Duke University, where she ran the physical therapy program for nearly 15 years. She started the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania.
The Richardsons are the only husband and wife to have both served as president of the ARHP (now the Association of Rheumatology Professionals [ARP]). Mr. Richardson was president in 1977, and Dr. Richardson served in the post in 2013.
As well as serving as ARHP president, Dr. Richardson has fulfilled a variety
of committee roles. She is currently a member-at-large on the ARP Executive Committee and is one of two ARP representatives on the ACR Finance Committee.
Mr. Richardson just finished service on the ARHP Membership and Nominations Committee and recently started a term on the ACR’s Communications and Marketing Committee.
Dr. Richardson lauds her husband for helping people achieve their potential. “Bob doesn’t tell you, but throughout his career he has mentored people and sees things in people they don’t often see in themselves,” she says. “He makes a point of noticing and fostering and advancing people’s careers. … After all these years, he’s still my mentor.”
Both the Richardsons believe strongly in the importance of family and community, and in giving back. They believe physical therapists have a critical role to play in helping keep people healthy as part of multidisciplinary care teams and have worked to increase the number of physical therapists specializing in rheumatology.
“There has been less emphasis on academic preparation in schools to introduce professionals into the field of rheumatology,” says Dr. Richardson. “I think that has also affected membership numbers in our profession and ARHP, … but as we have moved to doctoral degrees as the entry level degree, we have been focusing on developing and training practitioner scientists.”
Mr. Richardson has brought his expertise to another of their passions: golf. He conducts golf boot camps—physical training, conditioning, flexibility training and technique, focused in particular on players over age 50—at his local club.
The couple spends as much time as possible with their family, including daughter Kara, who is a clinical research director in California, and son Ryan, who lives in North Carolina. With the advent of twins, Ryan and his wife recently made the Richardsons grandparents.
“I hold on to a lot of the family values passed on to me from several generations, and I do my best to pass that on to my children and will do that with my grandchildren,” says Mr. Richardson. In the long run, when you look back at your life, the Richardsons say, family is what’s important. “Careers are second to family,” Mr. Richardson says.
Kelly April Tyrrell writes about health, science and health policy. She lives in Madison, Wis.