Dr. Sherri Hayes Establishes Student Scholarship Fund in Physical Therapy

After building the Department of Physical Therapy as its longtime Chair for nearly three decades, Sherrill Hayes, Ph.D., is now offering financial assistance to the Department’s students through a newly created scholarship fund.

Hayes, who built a program that is consistently one of the top-ranked physical therapy programs in the nation, pledged $10,000 recently to establish the Dr. Sherri Hayes Student Scholarship Fund, which is designed to award funds for student-related travel expenses or scholarships.

“I care a great deal about a program that I helped to build over a very long time to make it into what it is now,” said Hayes, who retired from teaching in 2015 and now serves as a consultant. She stepped down as Chair of the department in 2014, after serving 29 years in the post.

Hayes was an instrumental figure in the department’s unprecedented growth at the Miller School of Medicine. Under her leadership, the program has been ranked as one of the top 10 out of 240 academic physical therapy programs in the nation by U.S. News & World Report since 1995.

Over nearly three decades, Hayes, who began as Director in 1985, expanded the department from a small program in the School of Education with only two and a half faculty members and a handful of students to a comprehensive department that supports 24 academic core faculty members, more than 80 clinical faculty and staff members, and provides didactic and clinical education to more than 160 students each year.

“We embarked upon building a program of excellence, active in research, known for our clinical expertise, with excellent and dedicated faculty and outstanding students,” said Hayes. “We have the total package here at UM — with the D.P.T., the Ph.D., and post-professional clinical residency programs in orthopaedics and pediatric physical therapy. We have a large clinical department, with both in-patient and out-patient facilities, and a large, dynamic clinical faculty with many board-certified specialists.”

The Department of Physical Therapy provides clinical physical therapy for UHealth at the University of Miami Hospital, five satellite outpatient clinics and UM’s Department of Athletics.

Hayes also developed new programs that made it possible for students to pursue advanced degrees in physical therapy at UM, including the first entry-level master’s degree, the first post-professional master’s degree, and the first doctor of physical therapy (D.P.T.) program in Florida. The department also offered the first Ph.D. in physical therapy in the southeastern United States and now graduates 55 D.P.T. students and one to two Ph.D. students annually.

“Over the past three decades, Dr. Hayes directed the physical therapy department to be a national leader in physical therapy education, ranking in the top 10 since 1995,” said Neva Kirk-Sanchez, Ph.D., associate professor and Chair of the Department of Physical Therapy. “She has shown incredible leadership through the years at the department, school, university and national levels. She has been a change-maker at the University and nationwide due to her wisdom, knowledge and insight as it relates to the development of physical therapy education.”

Hayes estimates she has worked with close to 2,000 students through the years. Though the department has several small scholarships, the financial need among students always outmatched the available funds.

After being honored with the James W. McLamore Outstanding Service Award from the Faculty Senate in 2014, Hayes decided to create the scholarship fund.

The first two $500 awards were granted last year to Tristen Asken, D.P.T., and Adam Stewart, D.P.T.

Hayes is optimistic that her reputation and experience will appeal to alumni who can support other scholarship programs. After her decades of service, she is proudest of the graduates who have returned as faculty or just to visit, the faculty who have stayed for a long time, and the students who act as the department’s best ambassadors for prospective students looking to join the “UMPT” family.

“We started small, and are now one of the largest departments in the country,” Hayes said. “We have always spoken of the ‘UM Family’ — cheering each other on, celebrating successes and happy moments, or supporting one another in times of grief — all of us together, faculty, staff, students and alumni. We are all ‘UMPT.’ ”

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