Kahnert receives Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship for telerehabilitation study

Headshot of Emily Kahnert

Emily Kahnert, DPT, CCTT, received a Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship from the University of Minnesota to support her research on telehealth physical therapy for Temporomandibular Disorders. 

Kahnert is a PhD candidate in the Division of Rehabilitation Sciences, but her clinical work takes place in the School of Dentistry’s TMD and Orofacial Pain Clinic. She studies physical therapy as a solution to head, neck and joint pain caused by TMD. For her dissertation, Kahnert is running a clinical trial that compares the results of in-person and virtual physical therapy for patients with TMD. 

“I started doing telehealth physical therapy during the pandemic-related clinic closure, and found that it worked much better than we expected,” Kahnert said. “Given its ability to improve access to care and the lack of existing evidence about telerehabilitation effectiveness in this population, we wanted to see if virtual PT is as good as our in-person standard.” 

Believing that “telerehabilitation is not necessarily better than in-person PT,” Kahnert designed her study to determine whether teletherapy is “not inferior” to in-person visits. She accomplishes this by using “non-inferiority statistical methods of analysis to compare functional outcomes after six months of visits,” as well as comparing diagnostic outcomes up to six months after treatment ends. 

“When my research is done, we will have results for nearly 200 participants, and we will perform cost-effective analysis to further examine the effectiveness of telerehabilitation,” she said. 

The Division of Rehabilitation Sciences saw great value in Kahnert’s work—so much so that they nominated her for the Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship. The fellowship “gives the University’s most accomplished PhD candidates an opportunity to devote full-time effort to an outstanding research project by providing time to finalize and write their dissertation during the fellowship year,” according to the Graduate School

Kahnert was “surprised, flattered and honored” to be selected as one of the recipients from among 193 nominations. “There are so many amazing PhD candidates at the University of Minnesota studying life-changing, important things. I couldn’t believe that they selected me as one of the award recipients.” 

The fellowship’s funding will protect Kahnert’s research time, giving her the dedicated space and time to complete her dissertation successfully. “My research aligns somewhat with the clinical care that I provide through the TMD clinic, but the day-to-day requirements of clinical activity can be time consuming,” she explained. “This fellowship will allow me to focus my clinical time on patients who are research participants, and devote additional time to analysis and writing."

The dissertation fellowship isn't the only recognition Kahnert has received for her groundbreaking work. In June, she received the 2023 Promotion of Doctoral Studies II Scholarship from the Foundation for Physical Therapy Research, an additional scholarship that supports post-doctoral research. This additional funding will support Kahnert's protected dissertation time.

Kahnert is excited to be able to fully devote herself to her dissertation, and is looking forward to the great research she can complete. 

“Very rarely do we get this kind of opportunity to step back, analyze and assess different overarching aspects of our day-to-day work,” she said. “We have built many sub-analyses into my research that will allow us to look more closely at the process of physical therapy evaluation, outcomes for specific TMD diagnoses, short- and long-term results, functional scale assessment and validation, patient satisfaction and telehealth implementation, just to name a few. The possibilities feel endless, and I’m excited to build upon the experience I have gained from doing this work as a future independent investigator. I have a lot more questions to answer!”