Nationally Recognized Physical Therapist Named New Chair of Rehabilitation Science

Published January 12, 2018

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“I am honored to work with the dean and her leadership team and hope to contribute to her vision of the School of Public Health and Health Professions.”
Sue Ann Sisto, Chair
Department of Rehabilitation Science

The University at Buffalo School of Public Health and Health Professions has a new chair in the Department of Rehabilitation Science. Dr. Sue Ann Sisto, a recognized leader in her field who was selected following an extensive national search, will join the University of Buffalo on January 18.

Dr. Sisto comes to University of Buffalo from Stony Brook University, where she has served as professor of physical therapy since 2007. She also served as chair of the PhD program in health and rehabilitation science, for which she was director of the rehabilitation and movement sciences concentration. In addition, she developed and directed the Rehabilitation Research and Movement Performance (RRAMP) Laboratory in Stony Brook’s School of Health Technology and Management since 2009.

“I am thrilled to join such a talented team of faculty with a rich history of scholarly and educational excellence,” Dr. Sisto said. “I am particularly excited to work with the physical and occupational therapy programs, the rehabilitation science PhD program, their faculty and the students they serve. I am honored to work with the dean and her leadership team and hope to contribute to her vision of the School of Public Health and Health Professions.”

Dr. Sisto received her bachelor’s degree in physical therapy from St. Louis University, as well as both a master’s degree and PhD from New York University. She has been a physical therapist for more than 35 years, specializing in pathokinesiology, the study of human movement as it relates to any abnormal condition affecting movement. Most recently, she has focused on recovery of walking and health outcomes after spinal cord injury.

Dr. Sisto’s work has focused on the evaluation of movement using 3-D movement analysis technology, electromyography, kinetic analysis and metabolic exercise capacity. In 2012, she became the first physical therapist to be named a fellow of the American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine (ACRM), which recognizes individuals who make significant contributions to the field of medical rehabilitation, and she served as president of ACRM from 2013-15.

“I am excited to be able to recruit someone with Dr. Sisto’s leadership experience and academic accomplishments, which is a testament to the quality and potential of the department, school and university at large,” said Dr. Jean Wactawski-Wende, dean of  the University at Buffalo School of Public Health and Health Professions.

Dr. Wactawski-Wende thanked Dr. Susan Bennett, who has served as interim chair of the Department of Rehabilitation Science since September 2016 and also served on the search committee. “Dr. Bennett has done a tremendous job leading the department this past year, during two accreditation periods for both our physical therapy and occupational therapy programs. And this could not have been done without the dedication of all faculty and staff,” Dr. Wactawski-Wende added.

The study involved 1,531 men with newly diagnosed, clinically localized prostate cancer, meaning the disease hadn’t spread to other parts of the body. Researchers measured participants’ emotional distress with the Distress Thermometer, an 11-point scale ranging from 0 (no distress) to 10 (extreme distress). The men were assessed after diagnosis and again as soon as they had made their treatment decision.

The majority of study participants had either low- or intermediate-risk disease, and were more likely to have been treated with surgery, followed by radiation and active surveillance.

“Men’s level of emotional distress shortly after diagnosis predicted greater likelihood of choosing surgery over active surveillance,” the researchers report. “Importantly, this was true among men with low-risk disease, for whom active surveillance may be a clinically viable option and side effects of surgery might be avoided.”

While prostate cancer is a major disease in the U.S., it is not a death sentence, according to the American Cancer Society, which estimates there are nearly 3 million prostate cancer survivors alive today.

However, over treatment is a concern, and surgery and radiation therapy have side effects that include erectile dysfunction and incontinence, which, for the majority of men diagnosed with low-risk prostate cancer, can be avoided by instead choosing active surveillance to monitor the cancer and considering treatment if the disease progresses.

“There’s an interest in driving the decision-making experience to prevent over treatment and ensure that men have full information about all the side effects so they can make a choice that’s preference and value driven,” Dr. Orom said. “We don’t want men to make a decision that they’ll regret later on.”

“The goal of most physicians treating men with prostate cancer is to help their patients and family members through a difficult process and help their patients receive appropriate treatment,” said Dr. Willie Underwood III, an associate professor in Roswell Park’s Department of Urology, and a paper co-author. “To do so, it is helpful for physicians to better understand what is motivating men’s decisions and to address negative motivators such as emotional distress to prevent men from receiving a treatment that they don’t need or will later regret.”

Ms. Caitlin Biddle, a doctoral candidate in community health and health behavior at SPHHP, is also a co-author on the paper.