Published on Thursday, April 12, 2018
Media Contact: Amanda Markow
When Dr. Carmen Cooper-Oguz first started college at Delta State University, she was determined to find a career in which she could help people. She thought that would take shape in law, but she soon found her way in the physical therapy program at the University of Mississippi School of Health Related Professions. This past Friday, April 6, she was named SHRP Alumnus of the Year at the school’s annual Alumni Day at the Jackson Medical Mall.
Cooper-Oguz received her Bachelor of Business Administration and Master of Business Administration from Delta State University before earning her Bachelor of Science in Physical Therapy in 1997 and Doctor of Physical Therapy in 2008 from UMMC.
“I went into physical therapy so that I could return to the Mississippi Delta to live and work. It was important to me to return to my home to serve in underserved areas,” said Cooper-Oguz.
After many years of providing direct patient care, Cooper-Oguz is now helping Mississippians as the Vice President of Service Line Development and Director of Rehabilitation for North Sunflower Medical Center in Ruleville. She is also working with Mississippi Delta Community College to develop a physical therapist assistant program in Greenville, and as a health care consultant and advocate for critical access hospitals.
Cooper-Oguz was hired at North Sunflower in 2004 to help transition the hospital from a prospective-payment system to a critical-care-access hospital.
“I had the good fortune of watching a rural hospital grow and turn around. It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me from a strategic and business perspective,” she said.
Cooper-Oguz is not one to sit still for long. In addition to her work at North Sunflower, she is active in the American Physical Therapy Association and the Mississippi Physical Therapy Association, where she has been leading federal advocacy efforts for almost two years, and local and state efforts for over a decade.
“The APTA has embraced my passion and helped me take it to a new level,” she said.
Fellow APTA board member Jeremy Foster, a PTA and clinical instructor at NSMC, said, “Carmen is a tireless warrior when representing the MPTA and the APTA.” Foster and Cooper-Oguz have traveled to Washington to lobby, educate, and advocate to senators and congressmen on behalf of the MPTA.
“When Carmen sees a problem, she leaps into action, no matter how small or large; she is on it,” said Foster.
Cooper-Oguz’s tenacity in fighting for rural health care initiatives led to two recent nominations by the APTA to serve on federal panels: The Community Preventative Services Task Force convened by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention within the United States Department of Health and Human Services and the Advisory Panel on Hospital Outpatient Payment convened by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. U.S. Senator Thad Cochran co-sponsored Cooper-Oguz’s nomination to the CMS panel.
“It [serving on these task forces] would put Mississippi at an advantage to have a citizen on either or both. Mississippi is behind in a lot of areas, specifically education and health care. I want to take Mississippi to the top of these trajectories,” said Cooper-Oguz.
Dr. Sherry Colson, assistant professor of physical therapy at UMMC, submitted the nomination for Cooper-Oguz saying that her enthusiasm was contagious, and that she inspires others to take on challenging projects. “Those who have worked with her are amazed as to how one person can accomplish as much as she does,” she said.
With a resume of accomplishments and awards a mile long, leaders of the SHRP Alumni Board say it was an easy decision to select Cooper-Oguz for this year’s honor.
Board President-Elect Dr. Willie Lockett, director of Clinical Education, Respiratory Care at Coahoma Community College, had worked with Cooper-Oguz before, and was already familiar with her work ethic and dedication to health care. “After reviewing her extensive bio, I was no longer reviewing the list of candidates' bios to determine who was worthy; but rather to determine if any of the other candidates were more worthy than Carmen,” he said. “Carmen's international and national recognition along with her current and past work and accomplishment across the state undoubtedly gave her an edge over the rest of the candidates in my eyes.”
An Alumnus of the Year award has a certain gravity to it, even when this honor adds to an extensive list for Cooper-Oguz, including the 2018 Lucy Blair Service Award from the APTA, 2017 Outstanding Physical Therapy Award from the MPTA, and the 2016 Lynn Phillippi Advocacy for Older Adults Award from the Geriatrics Section of the APTA, among others.
“Being recognized by your peers is one of the greatest honors of your professional career,” said Dr. Jessica Bailey, dean of the School of Health Related Professions. “I believe it means more to have this recognition from your own alma mater than any other type of recognition. Your peers know you best, know your real character, and know what you had to go through to get your degree.”
Cooper-Oguz was truly humbled by the news. “I don’t think I’ll ever realize the magnitude of the award. There are tens of thousands of SHRP graduates, and it’s a tremendous honor.”
As a token of her appreciation for her education at UMMC, Cooper-Oguz announced at Friday’s celebration that she is establishing the Carmen Cooper-Oguz Scholarship Fund for Rural Healthcare Advocates and presented the first year’s gift of $1,200. This scholarship will support PT students who plan to serve rural areas of Mississippi after graduation. At the conclusion of the presentation, Cooper-Oguz challenged others to consider paying it forward by also supporting SHRP.
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