The Catherine Worthingham Fellow designation (FAPTA) recognizes physical therapists whose contributions to the profession through leadership, influence, and achievements demonstrate frequent and sustained efforts to advance the profession for a period of not less than 15 years preceding the nomination for election.
“Billie has been influential in physical therapy for most of the 60 years she has been a member of APTA,” UNC PT Division Director and Professor Rick Segal said in his letter nominating Nelson for the honor. “Her record of contributions to the advancement of physical therapy in many areas is amazingly sustained and exemplary. She has carefully shaped the teaching and practice of electrophysiologic PT and successfully advocated for its place in the profession and society.”
Nelson joined the UNC Chapel Hill Division of PT in 1961 and is now an Emeritus Associate Professor who continues to actively support the division. Throughout her career and even after her retirement from UNC, Nelson played a pivotal role in the development and acceptance of electrotherapy and electrodiagnostics.
In the late 1970s, Nelson helped lead a group of PTs and PT advocates protesting rules by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals that required PTs to be supervised by physicians for electromyographic services. After their compelling arguments helped reverse the rules, Nelson focused her attention on establishing rigorous training and guidelines for the field. She became a member and Chair of the Section Task Force on Electroneuromyographic Competencies and Specialization, which ultimately resulted in the creation of the Specialty Council of Clinical Electrophysiologic Physical Therapy. In 1989, 38 years after becoming a PT, Nelson passed the specialty exam and became an Electrophysiologic Clinical Specialist (ECS).
Among other honors, Nelson received APTA’s Lucy Blair Service Award in 1981 and was selected to deliver the North Carolina Physical Therapy Association (NCPTA) Founders Lecture in 1997.