Sue Wenker, PT, PhD, was honored with the Joan M. Mills and Distinguished Educator awards by APTA Geriatrics—an Academy of the American Physical Therapy Association—in February 2020. Wenker is an assistant professor of family medicine and community health, and a member of the teaching faculty for the Doctor of Physical Therapy Program.

The Joan M. Mills award honors an APTA Geriatrics member who has given outstanding service to the Academy and a commitment to excellence in the delivery of therapy to older adults. With a career dedicated to geriatrics, Wenker strives to be a strong advocate for older adults in everything she does.

Sue Wenker
Sue Wenker

“It’s humbling to receive this award,” said Wenker. “I see it not as the end but, hopefully, as the beginning to continue to find good ways to teach and provide service to people who are aging.”

The Distinguished Educator award recognizes an APTA Geriatrics member for excellence in teaching and presenting geriatrics content in an engaging manner. Wenker’s research interests include program development and interprofessional clinical simulation in geriatrics—particularly related to dementia and exercise—and she takes many approaches to create interest in the field. For example, she teaches students to recognize implicit bias against aging and encourages them to manage these negative perceptions. Additionally, she shares opportunities within APTA Geriatrics for students to get involved, whether through writing or serving on a task force.

“I try to share with them (students) that age is a process,” said Wenker. “I think a lot of people don’t realize they are working with older adults when the adults are cognitively intact and can make their own decisions. There are healthy aging adults and frail older adults; we just don’t show up ‘old,’ so I try to show to students that we treat aging people along a spectrum, and that students are part of that spectrum. I try to bring excitement because it’s a great field to work in. It’s very applicable because we are all aging.”

Wenker says her desire to learn, to help and to be the best teacher and service provider she can be are all motivators for her, as well as a desire to uphold the high standards set by her peers and collaborators.

Wenker has been a member of APTA Geriatrics since 1991 and has served in a variety of roles, including editor for a home study course series, writing test items for the geriatric specialty exam and co-developing a course. Currently, she serves as the Director of Education on the APTA Geriatrics Board of Directors.

“I want to support my peers in the good work that they do,” Wenker said. “I’ve been fortunate to surround myself with people who have similar interests but different mindsets, and so they challenge me to think differently.”

By Josie Zindler, communications intern, as part of a series focusing on members of the school who received national awards during the 2019-20 academic year.