School of Health Professions

PT professor Martha Acosta retires

School of Health Professions Dean David Shelledy and Associate Professor Martha Acosta pose at her retirement reception.


By Kate Hunger


At age 10, Associate Professor Martha M. Acosta, PhD, PT, GCS, was sure she would one day be a neurosurgeon.

“I was always interested in health care and helping people get well,” she said. “I was fascinated with the human body — how it works and how it repairs itself.”

The death of her father while Acosta was a premed student caused her to reevaluate her plans.

“I looked at my life picture and wondered if I wanted to spend as much time in school,” she said.

Her chemistry professor told her about the physical therapy bachelor’s program at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. Acosta applied and was accepted — the start of a decades-long career as a physical therapist and professor.

Acosta practiced for 35 years as a clinician and served 22 years as faculty in the UT System —the last 15 at the UT Health San Antonio. On Aug. 31, she will retire to spend more time with her grandchildren, travel and pursue a range of hobbies.

“Although academia has its challenges, I think teaching has made me a better therapist,” she said. “And the biggest thing I will miss is working with the students and faculty.”


Caring for older adults, inspiring students


As a PT, Acosta worked in a variety of settings, including pediatrics, inpatient and outpatient and long-term. Ultimately, she chose to specialize in geriatrics, earning her board certification.

“I am really invested in trying to improve the quality of life for the older adult,” she said. “I think that can be accomplished directly as a clinician and also indirectly through the students I teach. 

Earlier in her career, Acosta had run the PT department at a rehab hospital in El Paso when she received the opportunity to teach at the fledgling PT program at the University of Texas at El Paso. Her next stop was UT Health San Antonio in 2007.

“I really enjoyed teaching a lot,” she said. “In my mind, I kept thinking. ‘These student may be my therapists one day.”

Acosta is unapologetic about her high expectations of students in her clinical foundations courses to ensure their clinical decisions are evidence based and that they provide the best care for their patients.

“You have to ask questions. Don’t ever make assumptions — that’s what I tell students on Day One,” she said. “I use a lot of examples to make sure they understand the appropriateness of a professional, caring demeanor. In situations where patients fall apart in the middle of a treatment session, or is having a very bad day, if you stop and simply listen, they will remember for a lifetime that this person cared enough to listen to what they had to say and then got back to therapy.”

Acosta’s impact on the profession will continue through her students, said Gavin Harrell, a second-year DPT student who spoke at Acosta’s Aug. 16 retirement reception. Harrell credits Acosta for pushing him to develop his critical thinking skills — and instilling confidence in him in the process.

“You may be stopping teaching, but your legacy is going to keep going,” Harrell told Acosta.

Acosta has been a key member of the Department of Physical Therapy, said Department Chair and Associate Professor Greg Ernst, PT, PhD, ECS.

“Dr. Acosta committed herself to continually make these courses the best they could be and prepared the students well for their remaining time in the program and their future careers,” Ernst said. “She also made a significant impact in many aspects of our department from being a caring mentor for students to helping manage department resources. She will be greatly missed.”

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