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Schmitz named Penn State University Distinguished Professor

Kathryn Schmitz, PhD, MPH, professor of public health sciences with joint appointments in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, has been awarded the title of Penn State University Distinguished Professor.

Schmitz joins the College of Medicine’s elite faculty to be recognized with this title, based on her exemplary scholarship in research, teaching and service.

Schmitz is an internationally recognized leader in the area of exercise physiology. In this discipline, her contributions have directly improved the lives of cancer survivors through treatment innovations that she developed into widely disseminated programs. For this reason, she was chosen to give the 2020 fall dean’s lecture.

The College of Medicine recruited Schmitz in 2016 largely because of her research at the University of Pennsylvania on the science of exercise in cancer survivors. Her work to discover the effectiveness of strength-building exercises for cancer survivors has led to translational research that integrates exercise programs into clinical practice. In particular, she has focused on physical activity and lymphedema, a common and debilitating complication of cancer treatment.

In addition, Schmitz’s Strength After Breast Cancer (SABC) program comprised an innovative partnership between the College of Medicine and a commercial continuing education company to deliver an online training module for physical therapists to learn how to deliver SABC programs. The SABC program is now being used by more than 1,000 nationwide locations and is the breast cancer rehabilitation module for the largest rehabilitation program in the country, ReVital. Her research took only seven years from the efficacy trial to delivery in clinical practice.

Schmitz’s research has been continuously funded through the National Institutes of Health and other organizations, including the Susan G. Komen Foundation and the American Institute for Cancer Research. Her work has appeared in 254 peer-reviewed publications, including top journals, such as the New England Journal of Medicine, American Journal of Public Health and the Journal of the American Medical Association. She has won many awards, including the Perry Award from the University of Buffalo and the George Kotzias Award from the Hellenic Society of Physiology in Greece.

A member of Penn State Cancer Institute, Schmitz is passionate about making exercise standard care during oncology treatment and afterwards. This vision has given her a voice internationally. She was president of the largest sports medicine organization in the world, the American College of Sports Medicine, and in 2020 she was appointed to the Adult Cancer Treatment Committee of the National Academy of Sciences Engineering and Medicine. She is also an elected fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine, the Obesity Society and the National Academy of Kinesiology.

Schmitz earned her PhD in kinesiology at the University of Minnesota, where she was also a post-graduate research fellowship trainer in cardiovascular disease epidemiology, and received her MPH in epidemiology. She was an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota before joining the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and ascending to a full professor of epidemiology in biostatistics and epidemiology. She is the founding director of the exercise medicine unit of Penn State Cancer Institute as well as director of The ONE (Oncology, Nutrition and Exercise) Group.

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