Pages Navigation Menu
Yellow pips

Special Calling

Special Calling

UMHB’s newest doctoral program teaches bright young men and women how to help people fight back from injuries and illness.

On the outside, Hardy Hall looks very much like it did when it was constructed in 1929. But when you step through the front doors, the traditional architecture transitions to a spacious, contemporary lobby where students are studying, checking e-mails, discussing assignments, and relaxing on sectional sofas and chairs. Hardy has become the home for UMHB’s new Doctor of Physical Therapy program, a change that has breathed new life into the grand old building.

If the students here look particularly sharp and on the ball, it’s because they are. Admission to physical therapy programs is highly competitive, and the students who are accepted are usually the cream of the crop. “Most programs get anywhere from 10 to 15 times the number of applicants they have spots for,” says program director Dr. Barbara Gresham. “With a limited number of slots available in all the schools and a large number of students interested in going into physical therapy, the admissions process is very selective.”

Demand is high for physical therapists, and the need is increasing every year. “The baby boomers are getting older, and although we work with patients of all ages, probably the biggest percentage of our work is with people over the age of 60-65,” says Gresham. “The number of joint replacements is growing exponentially, and physical therapy is a very important part of recovery from surgery. Physical therapy plays an important role in recovery from strokes, heart attacks, and all kinds of debilitating injuries. And there is a growing part of our practice devoted to keeping people healthy and preventing injury and disease as much as possible.”

“As a result, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics continually lists physical therapy among the fastest growing professions,“ she says. “The bureau’s most recent forecasts predict there will be a 34 percent increase in physical therapist jobs across the United States between 2014 and 2024.”

The right stuff
Recognizing the need for trained physical therapists both locally and across the nation, UMHB administrators began work five years ago to establish a new doctoral program in physical therapy and to secure accreditation both from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges and the Commission on Accreditation on Physical Therapy Education. In the fall of 2015, the program welcomed its first cohort of 40 students, and applications are coming in now for this fall’s cohort of 40.

What sort of traits do administrators look for when assessing applicants? Gresham says that good physical therapists are

Problem solvers: “With every patient who walks in the door, the therapist faces a problem. We have to be able to help the patient solve it.”
Good communicators: “Much of what we do centers on communicating with and educating patients and their families, so this is critical.”
Adaptable: “I tell people, ‘If you want a job with a regular schedule, do not go into physical therapy.’ We have to adjust our schedules constantly, so being able to tolerate change is important.”
Creative: “Patients come in who don’t fit the textbook description of a patient with a particular diagnosis; therapists have to be very creative to figure out how to work with those patients and help them achieve their goals.”
Compassionate: “Caring for others is a requirement for all healthcare providers, including physical therapists. We have to be able to put our patients’ needs ahead of our own.
Lifelong learners: “The healthcare profession is always changing. You can’t graduate from a program and know all you ever will need to know. Good therapists are curious and open to keeping up with change.”

Tough curriculum
Once students are admitted to the program, they work their way through a series of rigorous courses which build on what they learned in their undergraduate studies. Classes such as anatomy, kinesiology, physiology, and neuroanatomy expand their understanding of the human body and how it works. From there the students move into classes where they learn about therapeutic exercise and rehabilitation for neurological or musculoskeletal injuries. They learn how to properly examine and evaluate patients and even learn the practical aspects of establishing and running a clinic.

Each new group of students moves through their studies as a cohort, taking all of their classes together. The system fosters collaboration among the students as they go through assignments and study for exams together. Many lab sessions require them to practice skills on a real person, so they work together, sometimes playing the role of a patient, sometimes being the therapist, as they learn how to assess physical problems and help people deal with them.

The coursework generally keeps the students in class from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. or later, Monday through Friday. Students tend to arrive up to an hour early in the mornings (“So we can get the seats we want in class,” one coed explained). With study sessions extending into the evenings and weekends, it is possible to find doctoral students at Hardy Hall at almost any time, 24/7.
And the hum of activity in Hardy will only grow as the three-year program moves toward full capacity. With the addition of 40 new students this fall, the number of students will jump to 80, then jump again to 120 when cohort 3 begins in the fall of 2017. Administrators plan for enrollment to stay at that level, once it is reached.

“We set the number at 40 per year because we are trying to address the need for therapists in central Texas, rather than the entire state or region,” Dr. Gresham explains. “We don’t want to produce more graduates than can find jobs in the surrounding area. We have a few students who have come to us from out of state, and most of them will probably go back out of state once they graduate. But we feel that 40 per year is the right number for our geographic area.”

Helping the hurt
By the end of year two of the program, the doctoral students are ready to do their clinical rotations, which take them out into hospitals and clinics to work with real patients. Each student is required to do three full-time rotations. One rotation must be done in an in-patient setting (such as a hospital); another must be done in an outpatient setting (such as a physical therapy clinic, where patients come for appointments and then leave again). The third rotation can be used to train in a specialization that’s of particular interest to the student. “For instance, we have a lot of students who are interested in pediatric therapy, so they might do a rotation at McLane Children’s Hospital in Temple,” Gresham says. “We have some who are interested in sports medicine, and we also have quite a few who are interested in geriatrics, dealing with elderly patients.”

The clinical rotations provide a transition from students’ classroom studies to beginning their first jobs in the field. By the time they finish their degree program, the students will have spent a total of 32 weeks treating patients under the supervision of clinical instructors at the different locations.

The curriculum and clinical instruction offered in UMHB’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program mirrors those of the finest accredited programs across the nation. But there is an added dimension to the program that isn’t found at just any school. “Our focus on Christian leadership and service makes this program special; serving the underserved is a big part of our mission,” Gresham says. “A number of our students are interested in mission work and reaching out to people who don’t have adequate resources. That ties right into the values we teach in our program.”

The students recognize this difference. “I enrolled in the program at UMHB because I could see that the faculty shared my commitment to bringing quality health care to our society,” says doctoral student Garrett Schwartz. “The passion they show towards bettering the life of those around us is unsurpassed. I am honored to be a member of the first class admitted to the program.”