Friday January 20, 2006

Addressing Shortage of Physical Therapists

The University of Dayton's board of trustees has approved a doctor of physical therapy degree to help local hospitals address the critical shortage of physical therapists in the Dayton region.

The University of Dayton's board of trustees today approved a doctor of physical therapy degree that will educate students for well-paying jobs in a growing health care field and help alleviate a shortage of physical therapists in the Dayton region.

The program, pending approval by the Ohio Board of Regents and the Commission on Accreditation of Physical Therapy Education, is expected to begin as early as August.

The program will replace Andrews University's master of physical therapy program, which graduated its last class in October after offering a degree locally since 1994. When Andrews University decided to consolidate its offerings at its main campus in Berrien Springs, Mich., the Greater Dayton Area Hospital Association (GDAHA) approached UD and pledged approximately $1.1 million to offset the start-up costs associated with planning and implementing an elevated degree program.

"The 20 regional hospitals that make up the Greater Dayton Area Hospital Association are very pleased to have worked with the University of Dayton to ensure that this important academic and training program remains in the Dayton area," said Bryan Bucklew, president and CEO of GDAHA. "While the financial commitment of the hospitals is substantial, the return on investment for the hospitals, the University of Dayton and the Dayton region is extraordinary as the community needs to have qualified and trained physical therapists to meet the health care needs of the Dayton region."

Since 1994, Andrews University graduated 358 physical therapists, with 115 currently working in the greater Dayton area, according to Bucklew, noting that the national unemployment rate for physical therapists is just 1.2 percent.

Locally, hospital administrators note a shortage that is expected to grow because of the health needs of the baby boomers, technological advances that are saving the lives of a larger proportion of newborns with severe birth defects and a growing number of sports injuries as more Americans exercise. The median expected salary for a physical therapist is $59,662, according to Salary.com.

"We have a critical shortage of physical therapists in the Dayton area as the patient population in the hospitals has gone way up. Physical therapy is one of the high priority or 'hot jobs' that Kettering Medical Center is trying to fill. We applaud UD for developing the doctorate of physical therapy program as that will allow the Dayton-area hospitals a better opportunity to recruit quality physical therapists who will want to work locally," said Diane Ryckman, director of the Orthopedic Service Line and Rehabilitation Medicine at Kettering Memorial Hospital.

"Miami Valley Hospital employs over 50 physical therapists. The job can be physically and emotionally demanding because of staffing shortages and the increasing number of patients who we see with higher levels of functional loss," said Joe Tod, assistant director of Rehabilitation Institute of Ohio, Sports Medicine and Comprehensive Outpatient Rehabilitation Program at Miami Valley Hospital. "The new doctoral program should help ease staffing shortages and help to bring about a more positive balance for those in the profession."

Employment of physical therapists and aides is expected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations through 2014, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Accredited physical therapy programs in the U.S. are either offering a doctor of physical therapy degree or planning to offer one after the American Physical Therapy Association made a formal announcement about raising the educational standards for practitioners, who are now expected to be doctors of physical therapy by 2020, said Paul Vanderburgh, chair of the health and sport science department at UD, which will house the doctor of physical therapy program.

In 1995, UD started a pre-physical therapy program, which now enrolls 91 majors. It's one of UD's most popular programs on campus. "Demand has always been high," Vanderburgh said.

For the doctoral program, UD plans to hire a director and four faculty this spring, with additional faculty to be added, depending upon enrollment. UD will enroll an initial class of 20 students, growing the enrollment to a projected 35 per year by 2008. The 33-month program will include 86 weeks of classes, 38 weeks of clinical rotations and a research capstone course leading to a publishable manuscript. Students require a bachelor's degree in a field such as pre-physical therapy, exercise science, dietetics, biology, psychology or chemistry to enter the program.

UD officials say the program will fill a strong community need. "If this program left the area, it would create a void," said Daniel J. Curran, president. "We're happy to step up and work with the hospital community." Thomas J. Lasley II, dean of the School of Education and Allied Professions, agreed: "The Miami Valley is without any advanced physical therapy program. This doctor of physical therapy program is a collaborative professional program that connects UD with the hospitals and the community."

Contact Paul Vanderburgh at (937) 229-4213; Bryan Bucklew at (937) 424-2373; Tom Lasley at (937) 229-3557; Diane Ryckman at (937) 395-8653; and Joe Tod at (937) 208-3070.