A native of Affton, Mo., Michael J. Mueller, PhD, professor of physical therapy and of radiology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, attended Lutheran High School South, where he played tennis and basketball. He went to Vanderbilt University, but was undecided on a major.
“I was considering medicine, but it didn’t feel quite right,” he says. “I was more interested in biomechanics — the way the body adapts to different kinds of physical activity — so that was a bigger draw for me than the medical aspects.”
He spent summers working with children with disabilities for Easter Seals in St. Louis, and that offered some clarity about his career path.
“I really enjoyed helping people with physical disabilities, and I think that’s what got me hooked into physical therapy, ” he says.
He looked for a physical therapy program that would accept the credits he had earned at Vanderbilt. Washington University fit the bill, so he came back to St. Louis and enrolled.
Mueller graduated in 1979 with a bachelor’s degree in physical therapy. He completed his clinical studies at what was then the Central Wisconsin Colony, a residential facility for children with profound intellectual disabilities. It was there where he met his wife, Monica, who was working as an occupational therapist.
Mueller started as senior staff therapist at WUSTL’s Irene Walter Johnson Rehabilitation Institute (IWJ). Shortly after, Steven J. Rose, PhD, then director of the Program in Physical Therapy, took over the academic and clinical programs and combined them.
“It was a wonderful time when both programs were completely integrated,” Mueller says. “A lot of exciting research was going on. There’s still a group of us here from that era.”
Mueller earned a master’s of health sciences and took over as co-director of the IWJ clinic, but came to a crossroads: whether to stay in an administrative position or pursue a doctorate and go fully into research.
“I hadn’t intended to pursue an academic career, but I found myself increasingly interested in research,” he says. “I had done clinical studies as part of my previous position, and after I got my PhD, I didn’t know any better not to pursue (National Institutes of Health) RO1 funding right away.
Original article published by Washington University Newsroom: Michael J. Mueller, PhD Physical therapist studies movement in people with diseases or injuries