Joan Erbach Edelstein, an esteemed NYU PT alum, passed away in early December 2019. Joan was an incredibly dedicated physical therapist who inspired countless students and colleagues and greatly influenced our profession.
Early in her life, Joan’s uncle, a urologist, suggested that instead of working in the family business she should pursue something more unique, and so she did. Inspired by war veterans in need of physical rehabilitation, she graduated from New York University with her bachelor’s degree magna cum laude and her certificate in Physical Therapy in 1956 and entered clinical practice. From 1956-1959 she was Chief Physical Therapist in the Children’s Division of what was then called the Institute of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (now Rusk Rehabilitation at NYU). In 1958 she earned her master’s degree from NYU.
From 1959-1961, Joan was an instructor at the University of Wisconsin Medical School. It was during that time that she received a grant from the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis that enabled her to study European physical therapy programs. She returned to New York in 1961 and embarked on a 30-year career as a research scientist at NYU Medical Center (now NYU Langone Health) as a Clinical Assistant Professor of Orthopedic Surgery and also an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Prosthetics and Orthotics in NYU’s then School of Education (now NYU Steinhardt).
Joan then went on to serve as Director of Columbia University’s Physical Therapy Program for ten years. As an Associate Professor at Columbia, her work included teaching, writing, and program administration, and she completed all of the course work for her PhD degree.
A measure of Joan’s amazing skill as a teacher is seen by the number of institutions that utilized her talents. She was adjunct faculty, visiting instructor, special lecturer at Albert Einstein, Columbia, NYU, George Washington University, Husson University, New York Medical College, State University of New York, Temple University, Touro College, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, and University of Pennsylvania.
Joan conducted continuing education programs and taught seminars internationally in all facets of prosthetics, orthotics, kinesiology, gait, and geriatrics. Her professional world endeavors brought her to Australia, Canada, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Fiji, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, the Philippines, Portugal, and Spain.
Her scholarly activities were prolific. Joan published 43 articles in leading publications in our field, 29 of which she was first author. She authored a total of 66 other publications, including books, book chapters, and monographs.
Joan also served the profession in many ways. For the American Physical Therapy Association, she was: a subject matter expert and manuscript reviewer for Physical Therapy (a commitment she sustained for 40 years); a member of the Academy of Content Experts for APTA; a member of the Leadership Committee of NYPTA; on the editorial board of Topics in Geriatrics; and a manuscript reviewer of JOSPT. She also served the International Society for Prosthetics and Orthotics of which she was a Fellow in several capacities.
In addition to all of that service, she was a member of the Editorial Boards of Physical and Occupational Therapy in Geriatrics; Journal of Rehabilitation Research and Development; and Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. She was Editor of the Journal of the Association of Children’s Prosthetic-Orthotic Clinics. Joan served the American Academy of Orthotists and Prosthetists as a member of their Expert Panel on Knee-Ankle-Foot Orthoses for Ambulation.
Joan was also much more than the consummate professional that has been detailed. She emulated the philosophy that life is much more than work. She found time to be wife to her beloved husband Haskell, and Joan herself was an accomplished flutist, performing in chamber music ensembles and serving on the Performance Health Care Committee of the National Flute Association. She was mother to two sons (David and Ben) and a grandmother, as well as a true friend to innumerable individuals. She always found time to exercise, swimming almost daily. Perennially curious, Joan enjoyed the social and cultural life of New York City and in the later years served as an active docent at the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum and the Museum of the City of New York. She also did volunteer work at the Museum of Natural History.
Joan enjoyed traveling and her last trip was a cruise around the world. When she told me what she was planning on doing, my response was “wow,” and her immediate response back was “If not now, when?” That was so much of Joan’s life philosophy, and we continue to miss her sage advice and joie de vivre.