Meet Clinical Associate Professor Megan Flores: Impacting the Next Generation with Research on Neuromotor Disabilities in Children and Adults

April 2, 2024
Megan Flores

Dr. Megan Flores is a Clinical Associate Professor in the Department of Physical Therapy and a Center Affiliate. Dr. Flores received her master’s degree in Physical Therapy from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School and her Ph.D. in Physical Therapy from Texas Woman’s University. Dr. Flores is an American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties (ABPTS) Board-Certified Pediatric Clinical Specialist. She currently serves on the Nominating Committee for the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) Academy of Pediatric Physical Therapy and as Secretary for the Texas Physical Therapy Association. She also serves on the Robbins College Interprofessional Education (IPE) Committee. 

Dr. Flores’s research focuses on clinical outcome measures and interventions for children with neurological conditions or neuromotor disabilities. She works specifically with individuals diagnosed with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, and spina bifida. She has dedicated her years of clinical experience to the neurorehabilitation of pediatric and adult patients. According to Dr. Flores, physical therapy uses movement to improve an individual’s participation in daily life activities and quality of life. In the context of her practice, Dr. Flores helps children with disabilities increase the variability of their movements so they can gain independence to play with their peers, go out with their families, or independently explore their environment.

Dr. Flores has been a physical therapist for 22 years. She started working with adults with neurologic diagnoses, then switched to pediatric physical therapy about 14 years ago. “I didn’t intend to switch to pediatrics. A friend, and fellow PT, had started a pediatric home health company and asked for my help to evaluate and treat a 3-month-old baby with Erb’s palsy. I reluctantly said I would help but was not excited about it. And then I fell in love with the baby and family. I realized that working with children was fun and challenging.” Dr. Flores loved seeing children in their natural environment and teaching the family how to carry over techniques in the home. “I found that kids are generally very happy and just want to play – as long as I can make my sessions feel like “play” they will work very hard.”  

“PT is such a fun and rewarding career.” Dr. Flores said. “I truly believe that movement is medicine, and I have had the privilege of watching the joy on the faces of many children and families as they gain mobility.” She transitioned to teaching ten years ago but didn’t intend to move to academics. She began helping as a lab assistant at a university in Austin and started teaching there as adjunct faculty. “I found a love for teaching and was ready for the next step in my career.” From there, she returned to school to work toward her Ph.D., which taught her how to be a researcher in this field. However, being a professor has not stopped her from doing what she loves, so she sees a couple of pediatric patients weekly through a local home health company.

Currently, Dr. Flores is working on projects that examine the relationship between motor and language skills for infants with Down syndrome from racially/ethnically diverse backgrounds, as well as the impact of a home program intervention for infants with Down syndrome. Currently, she is in the project development phase for a study that will establish the validity and reliability of standard physical therapy outcome measures for use in telehealth. Another of her projects examines the impact of an activities-based locomotor training program versus traditional physical therapy on activity, participation, and neurophysiological adaptations in children with cerebral palsy. Dr. Flores also recently completed a national survey studying physical therapy trends for children with spina bífida, which is currently in press. She is also currently in the project development phase for a scoping review to explore physical therapy interventions and possible outcome measures for children with spina bifida.

Dr. Flores said, “This research helps physical therapists effectively improve mobility, independence, and participation for children with neuromotor disabilities, thereby enhancing quality of life. Early and accurate assessment and interventions can lead to improved outcomes. Hopefully, this research can advance policy and advocacy efforts, ensuring that children with neuromotor disabilities receive the care and support they need.”

Physical therapy has been a huge part of Dr. Flores’s life. She loves what she does and now shares her knowledge with students to help them fall in love with the field as she has over the years. She remembers working with a 3-year-old child on a playground (as she attempted to climb the ladder herself), thinking, “I can’t believe this is my job!” The child looked so triumphant when she got to the top. “I’ve been present for many ‘first steps’ - for children and adults of all ages, which is always rewarding.” She also recalls one child with spina bifida who could not stop laughing when he got his first wheelchair and experienced independence with mobility for the first time. As a teacher, she strives to bring experiential learning to the classroom so students can get hands-on experience with children with neuromotor disabilities. “The most impactful experiences as a teacher have been when students contact me from their clinical experiences and talk about how they applied something they learned in my class. It gives me a sense of accomplishment and joy,” said Dr. Flores.

Dr. Flores hopes that her work can advance the field of physical therapy by teaching current best practices to the next generation and making an impact through research. “Knowledge translation in physical therapy can be slow, and I hope to help move evidence-based practice forward.”