Skip to main content

Curtin alumnus awarded APTA’s highest honour

Cite Magazine

Spinal treatment expert and physical therapist clinician Dr Joe Farrell has this year been awarded the highest honour conferred by the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA): selection as a Catherine Worthingham Fellow.

The honour recognises individuals whose work has resulted in lasting and significant advances in physical therapy. Farrell, who has won several awards throughout his 39-year career, cites his designation as a Fellow as his greatest career achievement to date.

“I am very grateful for my selection as a Catherine Worthingham Fellow of the APTA,” says Farrell. “Awards are not possible without great family, mentors, colleagues and friends. Additionally, I would like to thank Dr Lance Twomey, Brian Edwards, Bob Elvey, Dr Patricia Sullivan and Dr Jane Walter for their mentoring during my career.”

Not just a physiotherapist

Farrell’s interest in physiotherapy was sparked from his practice as a competitive gymnast while at college. Though studying a bachelor of education at the time, this interest led him to pursue postgraduate studies in physical therapy.

In 1979, Farrell moved to Australia to begin a postgraduate diploma at WAIT (the Western Australian Institute of Technology, now Curtin University), drawn to the course by its high regard in the industry. He later stayed on to complete a Master of Applied Science in Health Sciences, before ultimately moving back to the US.

“The manipulative therapy program in the late 1970s was one of the most highly regarded in the world,” says Farrell. “The clinical skillset I acquired at Curtin helped me climb the ladder of clinical expertise to the point that I am now recognised as in expert in spine treatment in the US.”

Now, Farrell splits his time between his busy private physical therapy practice specialising in spine and sports injuries, and mentoring postgraduate students under the Kaiser Manual Therapy Fellowship program. It’s the perfect balance of physiotherapy and education.

“I find it incredibly rewarding to be able to improve the quality of life of my patients and to mentor young post-doctoral fellowship students in advanced manual therapy,” he says.

Working against the odds

With two jobs on the go, not even a death scare could slow him down. When Farrell went into sudden cardiac arrest at dinner at a friend’s house in 2008, he only survived thanks to the quick actions of one of the guests (a track coach from the local high school who performed CPR on him until paramedics arrived).

Whereas some might have seen that lucky survival as a sign to take a break, smell the roses and maybe de-stress on a Caribbean beach Farrell saw it as an opportunity for education.

“It motivated my wife and I, along with our local HeartSafe committee, to train more than 12,000 citizens in CPR and AED-use (automated external defibrillator) over the past three and a half years in our local community,” Farrell says.

Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) has an out of hospital survival rate of just 8 per cent and is the leading cause of death for adults over the age of 40 in the US, yet through the work of Farrell, his family and his colleagues, the community has managed to increase the survival rate tenfold.

“We are proud to have achieved an SCA survival rate in our local community of 80 per cent in 2014 – one of the highest survival rates in the USA,” says Farrell.

Please join us in congratulating Dr Joe Farrell for his contribution to physical therapy and education in America, and for continuing to seek opportunities to change lives and the world.


Graduate Snapshot

Name: Joe Farrell
Studied: Master of Applied Science (Health Sciences) Graduated: 1981
Studied: Postgraduate Diploma in Manipulative Therapy Graduated: 1979
Area of study:  Health Sciences