UW-L’s first doctoral degree will meet health care need

Two PT students with fingers touching - an examination skill.

From left, PT students Carissa Melk and Maria Peloquin practice examination skills used to assess patients with neurological conditions.

UW-La Crosse’s first doctoral degree provides graduates to meet a national demand for increased expertise among physical therapists.

In spring 2014, UW-L will award its own clinical doctoral degree for the first time. It is anticipated that 45 students will graduate with doctor of physical therapy (DPT) degrees.

Students have graduated with doctor of physical therapy degrees from UW-L since 2008; however, the degrees were all offered through a partnership with UW-Milwaukee. In April 2013, the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education formally approved UW-L conferring its own doctor of physical therapy degree, independent of other UW System schools. UW-L is the first comprehensive university in the UW System to offer a doctor of physical therapy degree.

UW-L’s transition to offering its own doctoral degree in PT is part of a larger trend nationally as the scope of the profession expands. Today’s physical therapists must be more highly trained primary care providers because their scope of practice allows them to offer services without physician’s referral in some cases, says Michele Thorman, clinical associate professor and a PT program co-director. For instance, a physical therapist may be the first care provider to see a patient with an undiagnosed pain. These PT professionals would need to have the expertise to know whether the issue is neurological or musculoskeletal in nature and treatable within their scope of practice or a condition requiring a referral to a physician.

PT students practicing a technique where one student lays at a table while another student has hands near the neck.

From left, PT students Greta Leemkuil, Anna Klusendorf and Brett Krueger practice cervical spine treatment techniques on student Laura Becker.

Another factor influencing UW-L’s PT program development is the high demand for physical therapists as the baby boomer generation gets older and trends toward people seeking greater health, wellness and fitness continue.

“All of our graduates are fortunate to obtain employment immediately upon graduation if not before,” says Thorman.

The program’s success reflects its high caliber students, faculty and staff, she adds. UW-L PT program spring graduates had a 100 percent pass rate on the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy’s National Physical Therapy Exam and one student earned a perfect exam score — with only three other perfect scores recorded in the state.

“This high pass rate is not the norm in most programs around the country and it reflects the very fine programs at UW-L and the dedicated, hard work of the faculty and students,” says Peggy Denton, chair of UW-L’s Health Professions Department.

Thorman adds that UW-L’s program couldn’t function without the benefit of partnerships with local healthcare providers and clinical affiliates across the country who offers students hands-on experience in a clinical setting.

UW-L’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program is a 34-month program taken after students earn a bachelor’s degree. Cohorts typically include 45 students. Learn more at www.uwlax.edu/pt/

PT student wears leg brace while faculty members fascine it.

Program faculty members Paul Reuteman and Erin Hussey fit a hip spica brace on PT student Trent Stensrud.

UW-L’s Physical Therapy Program Timeline

1974 – UW-L Physical Therapy Program begins – offering a Bachelor of Science in Physical Therapy degree
1996 – UW-L transitions to offering a Master of Science in Physical Therapy degree
2005 – UW Systems Board of Regents authorize UW-L and UW-Milwaukee to offer a UW Systems Consortial Doctor of Physical Therapy degree
2008 – First Consortial Doctor of Physical Therapy degrees conferred.
2012 – UW Systems Board of Regents votes to dissolve the consortial degree
2013 – Higher Learning Commission and the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education both approve UW-L to confer its own Doctor of Physical Therapy degree.

What is a physical therapist?

Physical therapists are health care professionals who diagnose and treat people who have medical problems or health-related conditions that limit their abilities to move and perform functional activities in their daily lives. Physical therapists provide care for people in a variety of settings, including hospitals, private practices, outpatient clinics, home health agencies, schools, sports and fitness facilities, work settings, and nursing homes. State licensure is required in each state in which a physical therapist practices.

  • Source: American Physical Therapy Association and Guide to Physical Therapist Practice, 2nd Edition (2003)