Research Roundup: Dr. Craig Wassinger, PT, Phd

Craig Wassinger earned his physical therapy degree from Daemen College, his Master’s and PhD from the University of Pittsburgh. He also completed a post-doc at the University of Otago in New Zealand. Currently, he is an Associate Professor of Physical Therapy at East Tennessee State University where he teaches courses in musculoskeletal assessment and rehabilitation, research and pain science. He has over 60 peer reviewed publications and presentations primarily in the areas of shoulder injury and assessment and musculoskeletal pain. In his free time, Craig likes spending time with his wife (Katie) and his two young daughters (Zoe and Tate). He also enjoys kayaking, mountain biking and trail running.

What inspired you to go into research?

I never planned on going into research; I really kind of backed into it. Ever since I was in PT school I knew that I wanted to be a teacher and that getting a PhD would be a good path to get to that end. As you know, a PhD teaches you how to perform research and not necessarily how to teach. During the process of learning research, I learned that research was also fun and engaging. So now, I get to do both!

Is there anything you wish you would have known before you became a researcher?

I wish I would have known that research, like life, is all about relationships. You have to develop relationships with patients, participants, clinicians, students, other researchers, and statisticians. Completion of research is a huge team effort.

Much of my success is because I have been fortunate to align with talented people around me who have similar interests and are also willing to come together to get things done.

What area of study has your recent research been on?  

I have had several different areas of research depending on the teams that I was working with at the time and resources available to me. I started off as a Master’s student biomechanics researcher studying patients after completion of total hip rehabilitation, then I moved on to more sports biomechanics related to shoulder injuries for my PhD. During my post doc, I started to get more interested in pain science and studies using experimental shoulder pain. Currently, I am working on more clinically orientated projects toward pain assessment and interventions. I also perform research on my teaching methods as a means to try to improve and incorporate evidence based practice toward teaching.

Can you describe how your research has evolved over the years, bringing you to where you are today?

I think my research has intentionally evolved from biomechanical laboratory studies to becoming more clinically applicable. When I was a graduate student and post-doc I had a lot of specialized equipment for research that is unlikely to be in a clinic. I have gradually shifted more toward research that can be applied by clinicians working in the clinic. I have also tried to include DPT students in the process as a means to help them see they can have a valuable role in research as well. It is not just something that “they” (researchers) do. There are many roles to be filled on a research team.

What do you feel is the biggest hurdle between researchers and clinicians? What are some solutions you see in overcoming these barriers? 

I think clinicians see research as something that researchers do and not something that clinicians do.

Clearly, clinical research needs clinician involvement. This may not be organizing the study design and running statistics but they can play a vital role in study ideas, obviously with patient interactions for study, and hopefully using evidence to inform what they do clinically.

As more DPT students are involved in research, there should be a shift in mentality to research having multiple players that all contribute in different capacities.

Can you give advice to students/practitioners, who may be considering a career in research, on how to how to find a school and researcher to work under?

I would recommend attending a conference and speaking with presenters who have topics that you would want to learn more about. By and large, researchers are interested in collaborating and training people who have an interest in learning more and contributing. Also, speak with your networks to see if you have any mutual connections.

Physical therapy is a small community and likely you will know some who knows someone. Again, research is about relationships.

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