By Hope Hamashige

Helen Hislop

Helen Hislop

Helen Hislop, PhD, a pioneering former chair of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy, a division at the Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC, died on Nov. 15 in North Carolina at the age of 84. Hislop spent 30 years at USC, heading the division from 1975 to 1998.

In a message to colleagues at USC, James Gordon, EdD, current chair of the division, wrote, “More than anyone, she was responsible for the growth of our research programs, the formation of our clinical programs, and the excellence of our education programs. She was a true visionary, and she is recognized as a giant in the physical therapy profession. Every physical therapist, not just those of us at USC, benefits from her legacy.”

At USC, Hislop developed the first PhD program in physical therapy in the United States and one of the first Doctor of Physical Therapy programs.

She also embraced evidence-based learning, integrating the practice of physical therapy with top-level scientific research, which has since become the standard at the division and for all physical therapy programs in the United States.

Another of her innovations was the creation of clinical specializations within the division curriculum. She also developed the clinical internship programs, which transformed into physical therapy residencies while she was at USC.

Hislop studied physical therapy at the University of Iowa in the early 1950s, where she first worked with polio patients. She went on to work at Yale University Hospital and later finished a master’s degree in physiology at the University of Iowa. After teaching for several years, she completed her PhD in physiology at the University of Iowa.

Early in her career, Hislop conducted research on the state of physical therapy education that would serve as the foundation of the reforms she later instituted at USC. That study, published in the Journal of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), looked at the level of physical therapists’ preparation in the sciences and clinical work and the types of positions they held. She was later asked to edit the journal, a position she held for much of the 1960s, which gave her a voice in shaping the direction of the profession.

In 1968, Hislop came to USC while working as director of the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center at Rancho Los Amigos Hospital, which had an affiliation with several departments at USC, including physical therapy.

Hislop redesigned the clinical education for division students, offering a one-year internship for select students.

During that year, students did three rotations at three local institutions, including Rancho Los Amigos and Los Angeles County Hospital, now called LAC+USC Medical Center.

By 1978, the program at USC accepted its first PhD students and awarded its first PhD in 1984. In 1993, Hislop introduced the concept of biokinesiology, which studies the interplay between molecular and cell biology of muscles, bones and joints and how that influences the mechanical and behavioral aspects of movement. Biokinesiology was integrated into the division’s curriculum during that time and also became part of the division’s formal name.

It took another decade to plan, but she also successfully launched USC’s DPT program, which graduated its first class in 1998, the year Hislop retired and moved to Durham, North Carolina.

Donations in Hislop’s honor may be made to the Helen Hislop Endowed Scholarship Fund, which supports USC Doctor of Physical Therapy students at USC, at