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Pumped to lead

Physical therapy chair Maura Iversen gamely climbs onto the seat of a stationary exercise bicycle in a Bouvé College of Health Sciences lab, as she discusses her research into the benefits of exercise on patients with arthritis.

The specialist in rheumatology is excited by the opportunity to lead Northeastern’s renowned physical therapy department, which is anything but stationary in the race to develop healing regimens offered by proper exercise.

“Northeastern’s physical therapy program is well positioned to take the lead in education,” she says, noting that the co-op program, which has placed students in exciting international jobs in Costa Rica, Peru and elsewhere, is another dimension to a program setting the pace for others to follow.

Iversen’s career has been in turbo drive. She holds a doctor of science in behavioral science and clinical epidemiology from Harvard University, and a doctor in physical therapy from MGH Institute of Health Professions, and is a very active researcher.

She is currently examining the way patients utilize physical therapy, and also, the way physicians view prescribing exercise as compared with how they view prescribing medications.

“In one research project, I’m examining how doctors explain exercise to patients, and whether they prescribe it as readily as they do medications,” Iversen says. “Exercise represents a treatment milestone in the management of rheumatoid arthritis, and other forms of autoimmune disease, and is also very beneficial to patients with accelerated heart disease and cardiovascular risks.”

In another current project, Iversen is focusing on the best methods to ensure a patient adheres to a physical therapy prescription, whether it involves an exercise program, taking medications, or both.

Her recent studies include investigations of the efficacy of non-pharmacologic interventions in patients with arthritis, and of behavioral and social factors influencing patients to follow their programs.

Iversen is using a large Medicare database to identify patients and to test the use of interviewing techniques to promote medication adherence in persons with osteoporosis.

Her other passion is advocacy. To address the shortage of pediatric rheumatologists for the 300,000 children in the United States with arthritis, she has lobbied on behalf of the federal Arthritis Prevention, Control, and Cure Act of 2009. The organization aims, among other things, to increase patient awareness about arthritis and its treatments and to increase funding for pediatric rheumatologist training, thereby increasing access to care.

Iversen has received numerous honors in recognition of her work, including the 2006 Association of Rheumatology Health Professionals Presidential Award, and the 2008 ARHP (Association of Rheumatology Health Professionals) Ann Kunkel Advocacy Award.

To learn more about Northeastern’s physical therapy program, please visit

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