Dr. Cody Pannell, from left, SHRP Early Career Achievement Award winner for 2023, and Dr. Cris Bourn, SHRP Alumnus of the Year for 2023
Dr. Cody Pannell, from left, SHRP Early Career Achievement Award winner for 2023, and Dr. Cris Bourn, SHRP Alumnus of the Year for 2023
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SHRP recognizes Alumnus of the Year, Early Career Achievement award winners

Published on Monday, April 17, 2023

By: Danny Barrett Jr., dlbarrett@umc.edu

Photos By: Jay Ferchaud/ UMMC Communications

The School of Health Related Professions has named Dr. Cris Bourn as its 2023 Alumnus of the Year and Dr. Cody Pannell as its Early Career Achievement Award winner.

Helping a patient navigate the long road back to physical health from a car accident, stroke or spinal cord injury often involves more than just muscles and tendons, Bourn (’85, ’07) said.

Dr. Cris Bourn, SHRP Alumnus of the Year for 2023
Dr. Cris Bourn is the SHRP Alumnus of the Year for 2023

“When we work with people who have had life-changing events, you have to treat the whole patient,” said Bourn, who had watched as a teen his grandmother rehab from a stroke with the help of physical therapists who inspired his eventual career path. “They’re very depressed, very anxious. Even minor injuries have a way of affecting our lives, like with jobs where people sit in front of computers and have stress on their backs that can be painful.”

Tackling the roles of therapist, cheerleader for patients and employees and health care leader has proven vital for the 30-year health care professional, whose newest honor is as the School of Health Related Professions Alumnus of the Year for 2023.

“Physical therapists are really motivators for their patients,” he said. “People have a new injury or a surgery coming up and they’re afraid it’s going to hurt. Sometimes, a young athlete might be feeling depressed or hopeless after being injured. Therapists are good motivators who try to be optimistic and positive. Sometimes we do have bad news, like with severe spinal cord injuries. You’ll never really know how they feel, because you’ve never had a neck broken or a stroke.  You just have to be a good listener and have a little savvy to connect to the patients.”

This year, Bourn, a Jackson native and current Flora resident, began work as CEO of Select Specialty Hospital – Belhaven, located inside Mississippi Baptist Medical Center. He worked most previously at St. Dominic Hospital for eight years as director of rehabilitation services and then as an administrator for neuroscience, orthopedic, bariatric and rehab services. 

He earned both the BS and Doctor of Physical Therapy from UMMC, with an MS in health science in between, from Mississippi College. His multiple leadership roles include current positions on the SHRP Alumni Board of Directors and the Mississippi State Board of Physical Therapy and prior roles on the boards of the Mississippi Physical Therapy Association and the Epilepsy Foundation of Mississippi.

He credited a string of “dynamic women” who instructed him during his two spans of time as a student at UMMC for shaping his career.

“We had some excellent teachers who were mentors to me,” he said. “They always challenged us to learn more and to do more, especially when research wasn’t as easy to do as it is now.”

Dr. Kim Curbow Wilcox, assistant chair of physical therapy, instructed him as a doctoral student and has kept track of his career.

“I have had the pleasure of watching Cris develop as a physical therapist, expanding his knowledge of the profession and patient care, and then integrating these experiences into more administrative roles,” Wilcox said. “He models the values of the physical therapy profession regardless of his role in health care.”

Life on the administrative side is both a departure and an intriguing challenge, Bourn said.

“I will always be a physical therapist at heart, but I’m enjoying the challenge of other leadership roles,” he said.

He and his wife, Mary Ann, an instructional design analyst at UMMC, have two adult children, Christian and Liv.

Early Career Achievement Award

Dr. Cody Pannell, SHRP Early Career Achievement Award winner for 2023
Dr. Cody Pannel is the SHRP Early Career Achievement Award winner for 2023

Dr. Cody Pannell, a 2016 graduate of the physical therapy program, was a self-styled “recreational athlete” during his formative years at South Pontotoc High School. He dabbled in intramural football and baseball, but it was the science and health side to sports that intrigued him most.

“Athletic performance has always drawn me in,” said Pannell, 36, of Clinton. “Today, I still set goals with myself both physically and mentally and try to meet them.”

He graduated from Mississippi College in 2010 in exercise physiology, then worked as a personal trainer in Flowood before earning the DPT.

In 2018, he lived the dream of football fans across the Gulf South by working with the New Orleans Saints as part of the sports physical therapy residency program at UMMC. Helping key players on the team like Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas and Cam Jordan stay on top in the NFC was a teaching experience beyond just the training room, he said. 

“The relationships I continue to build with those still there and those who’ve moved on just drive me to be better,” he said. “Working with the Saints taught me to be the best in every situation I’m presented with, just like those athletes are expected to do the same.”

He is now director of that same sports residency program at UMMC, which adds to a full plate of duties that includes teaching entry-level coursework in PT and playing a vital role as a research assistant for grant-funded studies of sports-related concussions that incorporate virtual reality. He still works with athletes locally, most notably with football players at Jackson State University and Millsaps College, plus local high school players in Jackson Public Schools.

“I’ve had the best of both worlds with doing both sideline training and academic research,” he said. “It’s awesome to have a parent or a coach come up to you and thank you. It’s so fulfilling to receive that appreciation. Then with concussions, the symptoms are so complex, yet they affect everyone differently.”

His experience so early in his health care career is a huge plus for both selling the program to prospective students and training up the beginning students, said Dr. Melanie Lauderdale, chair of the Physical Therapy Department.

Portrait of Melanie Lauderdale

“Dr. Pannell is an invaluable asset to the physical therapy program and is respected by students he instructs at the entry level,” said Lauderdale. “His recent experience just a few years ago in the sports residency program makes his skills even more relatable to his students, as he now directs the program and has helped it grow.”

An atmosphere of spirited competition shaped his development as a student, he said, which has carried over into a successful role as an educator.

“It took a few attempts to first get into PT school, but maturity helped me along the way,” he said. “It’s all about the attention to detail and the investment UMMC makes in its student population. I noticed it early on and wanted to stay.

“We’re last in a lot of things pertaining to health in Mississippi, but UMMC is an institution primed to change that,” he said.

A board-certified clinical specialist in sports physical therapy, he also holds certifications in emergency medical response, basic first aid and CPR, and blood flow restriction. He also serves as the central district chair for the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) Mississippi chapter, specialist site reviewer for the Agency for the Accreditation of Physical Therapist Residency and Fellowship Education programs and is an active member in the APTA Sports Physical Therapy section.

Portrait of Whitney Bondurant

“In the short time since Dr. Pannell received his DPT degree, he has made outstanding contributions to the health care field, particularly in regards to concussion intervention and education,” said Dr. Whitney Bondurant, president-elect of the SHRP Alumni Board of Directors. “His work in this area will create a lasting impact in the field of sports medicine.”

He and his wife, Catherine, have one son, Liam.