Interview with Dr. Carol Figuers of Duke University

Carol Figuers received her BA in Biology from Wake Forest University, her MS in Physical Therapy from Duke University, and her EdD in Education from NC State University. She is currently a Professor in the Duke University Doctor of Physical Therapy Program. Dr. Figuers is the Director of Student Affairs in Duke DPT and also is the Director of the Duke Faculty Development Residency Program. She teaches throughout the Professional Practice course series as well as directs the Women’s Health Advance Practice Courses. She served as the director of the Duke Women’s Health Residency Program and provided clinical services to the clinical practice in women’s health. Dr. Figuers’ current areas of research and scholarship interests are in Women’s Health. She has received funding for projects which have resulted in both presentations and publications, particularly focusing on pelvic floor dysfunction in female athletes as well as physical activity in postpartum women. She has authored numerous articles and textbook chapters on women’s health physical therapy. In 2007, Dr. Figuers received the North Carolina Physical Therapy Association’s Physical Therapist of the Year Award, and received the Duke DPT JK Richardson Teaching Award in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2017. She is a longtime member of the ATPA Section on Women’s Health.

Note: You should consult with your doctor or physical therapist for recommendations on treatment. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of Dr. Figuers and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of

How did you become interested in researching women’s health in physical therapy, as well as physical therapy education?

Initially I was interested in urinary incontinence in female athletes based on student questions and the proximity of D1 NCAA athletes here at Duke. As part of our APTA section’s task force on entry level PT education I worked on investigating and suggesting what content should be taught in women’s health PT.

A lot of your research looks at how women’s health subject matter is implemented into DPT curriculums. How have guidelines for women’s health content in DPT programs changed over time?

The clinical practice of women’s health PT has grown tremendously, but there remains a larger patient need than practitioners available. This is recognized more than ever by both students and faculty and has resulted in content in this area increasingly becoming a regular part of PT curricula.

How can we continue to better prepare physical therapy students to serve female patients?

It is critical to “normalize” women’s health or pelvic PT issues and treatments so that practitioners in all areas appreciate and can provide care or appropriately refer their patients to qualified providers.

What are some of the challenges to getting women with pelvic floor dysfunction, incontinence, or other women’s health issues the physical therapy care that they need?

Access to qualified PTs who provide pelvic health care is not widespread, particularly in less urban areas. As awareness of this specialty practice grows among students, that should change. I have certainly seen a tremendous growth in interest and focus among the DPT students here at Duke, which has translated into more PT’s providing this care.

You have also looked at the growing demand for DPT faculty- how can we address the growing demand caused by an increase in accredited physical therapy programs?

We began a Faculty Development Residency program credentialed by ABPTRFE, which has prepared highly qualified junior faculty now integrated into various DPT educational programs in the country. This is one mechanism which works VERY well. I would also suggest providing structured mentoring for new faculty in order to make academia a success.

How do you select new research projects?

Honestly, I am fortunate at Duke to have many colleagues with projects for collaboration both within DPT and in other areas of the School of Medicine. So, at this point, I am responding to those ideas. I am also interested in new projects related to specific areas of passion for me – right now that is the post partum population – a very overlooked group!

What aspect of your research are you most proud of?

I am most proud that some of my studies and articles have been read and appreciated by students who then go on to have an interest in providing clinical care in pelvic and women’s health.

Do you have any advice for those interested in becoming physical therapists?

My advice is to immerse yourself into many different areas of PT practice. Do your research and try to volunteer or work in lots of different clinical settings. This will open your eyes to both what a day in the life of a PT is like as well as what practice.