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Dr. Kimberly Veirs' journey from injury to innovation

As a student dancer at Butler University, Kimberly Veirs struggled with injuries and had a difficult time finding professionals who were equipped to deal with those dance-related injuries.

When her injuries prevented her from continuing her dance career, she decided to take things into her own hands and dedicated her education and career to helping others in similar situations.

Now a licensed physical therapist, a certified athletic trainer and a professor in the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at OCU, Veirs has turned her frustrations as an injured dancer into a career aimed at developing strategies for injury prevention and physical therapy intervention for those injured in dance performance.

Veirs has noticed over the years that as she worked alongside dancers and attempted to pinpoint and help heal their injuries, she often found herself with more questions than answers.

“I was seeing all these things amongst my dancers that I was screening that we didn’t have the answers for,” said Veirs, “Like all of the injuries in the foot such as dancer’s tendonitis, dancer’s facture, dancer’s stress fracture… Things that are really only seen in the dance population that I can’t find the answers on how to help.”

These unanswered questions were what inspired her to go back to school and dive into research that would allow her to properly assist and provide the help she wasn’t afforded as an injured dancer in college.

Veirs earned her PhD from the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in 2019 and then joined Oklahoma City University in 2021 as a full-time core faculty member in the Doctor of Physical Therapy program.

OCU’s world-class dance program – where students master skills in tap, jazz, theatre dance and ballet – provided a perfect opportunity for Veirs to continue her work.

Beginning in the fall of 2022, Veirs headed up an ongoing collaboration between the Physical Therapy program and the Ann Lacy School of American Dance and Entertainment. The partnership focuses on developing strategies for injury risk reduction through annual pre-participation dance screens, injury surveillance of university dancers and physical therapy intervention for those injured in performance.

This mutually beneficial partnership serves as an experimental learning experience for students in the OCU Physical Therapy program, where they learn the unique culture of dance, how to properly care for performing artists’ needs and gain real-world experience working with a highly competitive patient population.

Dance students receive injury prevention and care from the moment they step on campus, and according to dance school Executive Director Melanie Shelley, they can play a significant role in shaping the next generation of dance injury research.

“In the world of dance physical therapy, almost all research has been focused on ballet – not tap and jazz,” Shelley said. “This partnership can really change and shape the way physical therapy practitioners work with dancers.”

Veirs’ hope is that no matter where her students end up, whether they pursue a career in dance medicine or a career as a general practitioner, they will be equipped with the knowledge to help any dancers who walk through the door.

“Even if they’re not going into dance medicine, they gain an appreciation for the demands of dance and when they have a dancer come into their clinic one day, they know how to approach their injuries.”

To learn more about the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at OCU, visit okcu.edu/doctor-physical-therapy/home.

To learn more about the Ann Lacy School of American Dance and Entertainment, visit okcu.edu/dance/home.

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