Washington People: Tracy Spitznagle

Tracy Spitznagle with a patient
Tracy Spitznagle shows a model of a pelvis to pregnant patient Kim Hofmann. Spitznagle is a professor of physical therapy and of obstetrics and gynecology at the School of Medicine. (Photo: Matt Miller/School of Medicine)

As a high school student, Tracy Spitznagle knew she wanted to be a physical therapist. However, she had no idea that in becoming one she would influence how women’s health care is delivered, not only in St. Louis, but across the world in Africa.

As a freshman and avid reader at Kirkwood High School in the St. Louis suburbs, she developed an interest in quadriplegia and other disabilities. Then, while working as as a lifeguard at a camp for girls with disabilities, she had the opportunity to serve as an attendant for a counselor with quadriplegia. She decided then that she was going to work with people with spinal cord injuries.

Spitznagle — now a professor of physical therapy and of obstetrics and gynecology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis — earned her bachelor’s degree in physical therapy in 1986 at Marquette University in Milwaukee and headed back home to St. Louis to launch her career.

“I had attained my goal, so I thought I was going to treat spinal cord patients for the rest of my life at Jewish Hospital, then the premiere rehabilitation hospital in St. Louis,” she said.

Spitznagle has worked in the health-care system ever since, but there have been a few life-changing twists and turns along the way. She has evolved into an advocate for women with pelvic floor dysfunction, which refers to the inability to control the pelvic-area muscles that control bowel and bladder movements. Her expertise has led her to Africa, where she helps women who have had difficult births.

“Tracy’s passion for women’s health is undying, and her willingness to give of herself to improve the lives of others is remarkable,” said Gammon Earhart, director of the Program in Physical Therapy at the School of Medicine. “She seeks to make an impact not just today, but in the future through engagement in efforts that will make a sustainable difference at the global level.”

Spitznagle — who earned a master’s degree in health science in 1994 and a doctor in physical therapy (DPT) degree in 2006, both from Washington University — discussed her life and career in physical therapy.

Read the rest of her profile on the School of Medicine site.