In Memoriam: Joan Edelstein, PT, MA, CPed

January 20, 2020

Joan Edelstein, the director of the Columbia University Program in Physical Therapy from 1991-2001, passed away in early December 2019.

head shot of Joan Edelstein
Joan Edelstein

She was born in East Orange, New Jersey. An uncle, who was a urologist, suggested to Joan that instead of working in the family business of servicing calculators, typewriters and check-writing machines, she should pursue something more unique.  Inspired by the war veterans who were in need of physical rehabilitation, she graduated from New York University with a degree in the then-emerging field of physical therapy and entered clinical practice at NYU Medical Center (now NYU Langone Medical Center) in prosthetics and orthotics. For 30 years, she was a research scientist at New York University where she established the first undergraduate curriculum leading to the baccalaureate degree in orthotics and prosthetics.

She then went on to serve as director of Columbia’s physical therapy program for ten years.  During her tenure at Columbia, her work included teaching, writing and program administration, with expertise in orthotics and prosthetics. She authored numerous textbooks and research papers and was well known as a lecturer both in the United States and abroad.

Dr. Christopher Kevin Wong, Associate Director for Faculty Development and a Columbia DPT program graduate, worked closely with her as a student and as a collaborator. “Joan has been a great professor, collaborator, mentor, and friend over the past 30 years," he recalled. "Her teaching inspired me to challenge students to rise to a higher level. As a collaborator, she taught me to get the most of each project I was involved in. As a mentor, she set me up for professional success that I could not have foreseen. And as a friend, she showed me that life is much more than work. She always found time to exercise, play music, expand her mind in new directions, and enjoy family, friends, and travel."

Cynthia Worthington, recently retired admissions coordinator, also had the opportunity to work with Joan.  She commented, “I have very fond memories of her.  She was kind and accommodating as well as a great listener.  She always had excellent advice to share.   Joan did not spoon-feed. She taught me a great deal of independence and inspired me to be a go-getter!”

After her retirement from Columbia, Joan continued as a guest lecturer at various universities including Columbia. She enjoyed traveling and spending time with her grandchildren. She took advantage of the many cultural opportunities that New York City has to offer, and was an avid swimmer.  She also worked as a docent in several New York City museums and performed in chamber music ensembles.