Nontraditional Physical Therapy Programs
Bridge and Doctoral PT Programs
By Andrea Poteat Salzman, MS, PT
Six PT students cram (noisily) into a hotel room. It's a Friday night at 11 p.m. In seven hours, the day will dawn bright for these six students. But for now, at least, they sleep.
Six cars belonging to the six students sit (silently) in a hotel parking lot. It's a Friday night at 11 p.m. In 24 hours, the cars will return to the cities from which they came. Cities in Ohio, Michigan, Illinois and Pennsylvania. But for now, at least, they, too, lie dormant.
What madness brings these six students together? What force could compel six grown-ups to share a suite at the Red Roof Inn?
"Sacrifice," reported Tamara Christoffel. "Every one of those students is making a sacrifice." Christoffel should know. She's a classmate to each and every one of them.
All PT students at the University of Findlay have one thing in common: They have already graduated once--from an accredited PTA program. Students attend classes on weekends, beginning on Friday afternoon and carrying over to a 13-hour day on Saturday. This means they can still keep their "day" jobs. It also means they ride the bus, drive and even fly in for weekends in Findlay, OH. And that means Friday nights at the Red Roof, Super 8 or Country Hearth Inn. Students live with one another on the weekends in order to fulfill a dream.
Currently, there are 32 students in Christoffel's class. "When the president [of Findlay] originally came up with the idea, the university surveyed the PTA community to see if there was any interest," commented Lisa Dutton, PT program director. "There was a tremendous response."
School is in session year-round, with an average load of 9 to 12 credit hours per semester, for a duration of two years and three months. Although admission standards require students to have completed at least one year of clinical experience--the average years of PTA experience is five.
Christoffel began the program at the University of Findlay because she craved more autonomy in her job. After being a PTA for 11 years, she said she felt it was "time to move forward. I felt stagnant. Tired of asking 'why, why, why' to the PT, and tired of not knowing myself."
As a single parent, she found the weekend program to be ideal. It enabled her to continue to work full time while furthering her education.
"My workplace has been very supportive. They even let me take a three-month leave of absence to complete a portion of my clinical affiliation."
In 1997, the University of Findlay graduated its first accredited PT class. Christoffel will graduate in the second. "The first two classes were pretty much risk-takers. We sacrificed our lives for an unknown end-product. The dedication at the top to make sure this program got accredited was awe-inspiring." stated Christoffel.
Already, the school is busy tracking employer's perceptions of graduates. "Employ-ers have been very satisfied," reported PT director Dutton. "They feel the students are performing at the same (or above) level as graduates from traditional PT programs."
She elaborated, "I believe that clinical confidence is the difference. Our graduates bring their prior experience to the mix." Dutton will further detail this information via poster presentation at a national APTA meeting in June.
The Doctoral PT Program
Charlotte Norton already held her bachelor's degree. And her master's. So why did she choose to enter the field of physical therapy via the doctoral program at Creighton University?
"Anyone can have alphabet soup after her name and be passive, but to me the DPT vision is about change and growth in our profession... moving us ahead in a pro-active sense," confided Norton. "A degree itself doesn't mean much unless you do something with it to make a difference."
Prior to acceptance to the DPT program, students like Norton must take a minimum of 90 collegiate hours of prerequisites. The vast majority of students accepted to Creighton already have at least a bachelor's degree, although this is not a requirement. After three calendar years (four academic years), including 46 weeks of clinical affiliations, students graduate with a doctorate of physical therapy degree. As of 1997, there were only 99 people with an entry-level DPT degree in the world.
Dr. Joe Threlkeld, chair of the Creighton program, said he believes that the physical therapist is currently transitioning from an allied health provider to an autonomous professional.
"If you examine the criteria associated with becoming a professional, physical therapy is one of those areas which only partly meets those criteria," reported Dr. Threlkeld. "We are in transition between art and science."
"This mental shift is almost a mirror image of the transition that took place between the late 1970s and into the 1980s--when we first began to move from the bachelor's degree to the master's." Dr. Threlkeld noted that he believes that the move to a DPT degree is the next step-up the evolutionary ladder and eventually all physical therapists would have the same educational baseline. And he mentioned that it took the pharmacy community approximately 20 years to transform from a BS to PharmD base.
"When students apply to, and enter a doctoral program, they have already chosen to internalize the concept of 'doctor.' They feel comfortable with the idea," stated Dr. Threlkeld. This is not an idea readily accepted by all clinicians, as evidenced by the current maelstrom of controversy over the DPT degree. Readers interested in following this debate are directed to recent APTA magazines.
The Future Holds...?
As physical therapy evolves as a profession, so too will its educational programs. Indi-viduals interested in pursuing a nontraditional degree may eventually have the best of all elements: A DPT degree to be offered in a learning model conducive to the motivation and demanding schedules of working adults. Until that time, students currently have some exceptional programs from which to choose.
Andrea Poteat Salzman, MS, PT, owns the Aquatic Resources Network, a multidisciplinary, international clearinghouse of information on aquatic therapy and related fields. To contact the author, phone (423) 220-0367, fax (423) 483-0062, or e-mail ARNetwork@aol.com. See the ARN Web site at http://nvi.com/aquaticnet/.
Number of Existing Accredited PT Programs
Within United States:
Number of Developing PT Programs
Other International 4
Within United States:
Other International 7
1. (1998, March). Accreditation Department of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA): Alexandria, VA.
Creighton University PT Department
School of Pharmacy /Allied Health Professions
2500 California Plaza
Omaha, NE 68178
Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania
Graduate School of
Suite 100, North Rd.
Slippery Rock, PA 16057
University of Southern California
Department of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy
1540 East Alcazar St.
Los Angeles, CA 90033
Loma Linda University
Department of Physical Therapy, School of Allied Health Professions
Loma Linda, CA 92350
Offers master's degree
Physical Therapy Program
Division of Nursing and Health Sciences
Aston, PA 19104
Offers master's degree
University of Findlay
Physical Therapy Program
1000 North Main Street
Findlay, OH 45840
Offers bachelor's degree
(Transitioning to master's degree)
Existing DPT Programs
Existing PTA-PT Bridge Programs
Additional APTA Resources
General Educational Information on PT Schools:
Web Site: http://www.apta.org
List of Current APTA-Accredited PT Programs
Fax on Demand: (800) 399-2782 then select document #702
List of Developing PT Programs
Fax on Demand: (800) 399-2782 then select document #703