Thursday May 18, 2006

The Final Hurdle

The Ohio Board of Regents has approved a doctor of physical therapy degree program that will begin at the University of Dayton in August.

The Ohio Board of Regents today approved a doctor of physical therapy degree program at the University of Dayton that will prepare students for well-paying jobs in a growing health care field and help alleviate a shortage of physical therapists in the Dayton region.

It's the last approval UD needed to launch the program, which will begin in August. UD's board of trustees approved the program in January, and the Commission on Accreditation of Physical Therapy Education endorsed it April 26, pending approval by the Ohio Board of Regents.

"Since we first initiated this program, it's become even more apparent how important a doctoral degree in physical therapy is to the Dayton community. Without it, the overall health care capacity of the Miami Valley will be compromised. With it, health care is significantly enhanced," said Tom Lasley, dean of the School of Education and Allied Professions.

The University of Dayton will construct classrooms, offices, anatomy labs, therapy labs and a physical assessment center on the second floor of College Park Center on Brown Street. "It will be transformed into a comprehensive physical therapy education and clinical area," Lasley said.

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.

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. The department 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. "Demand has always been high," Vanderburgh said.

For the doctoral program, UD will hire a director and four faculty this spring, with additional faculty to be added, depending upon enrollment. UD plans to 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.

Locally, hospital administrators note a shortage of physical therapists 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.

"It's vitally important that we maintain this program in the Dayton area," said Bryan Bucklew, president and CEO of the Greater Dayton Area Hospital Association. "These are important jobs for the community."

Contact Paul Vanderburgh at (937) 229-4213; Bryan Bucklew at (937) 424-2373; and Tom Lasley at (937) 229-3557.