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A Bradley first: new doctoral program to graduate 16


Sixteen students will make Bradley University history in May 2008 as they become the first graduates of BU’s only doctoral program, the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT).

Bradley welcomed its first DPT students in 2005 after adapting its PT program to meet the needs and demands of the physical therapy market. Today, the three-year doctoral program is home to 59 students.

Since Bradley established downstate Illinois’ first physical therapy bachelor’s degree 18 years ago, the program has evolved to keep pace with changes in the profession, first with a bachelor’s and then a master’s degree in PT. Both of these programs have been phased out, and the Department of Physical Therapy and Health Science now offers a professional doctorate program. The DPT represents an adaptation to the needs and demands of the physical therapy market. The progression from a baccalaureate to a master’s program, and now to a doctorate, has evolved in response to changes in the profession and other institutions of physical therapy. In addition, a bachelor’s in health science has been added. This major serves as a feeder program for the DPT and also serves students who wish to go directly into the health care job market upon graduation or into other health care graduate programs.

arm measurements

The DPT was created at Bradley for varied reasons. Seeking to stay on the cutting edge of the physical therapy market, Bradley’s PT department decided it was the right time to expand with the development of downstate Illinois’ first doctoral program. Another reason, department chair Dr. Mary Jo Mays explains, was that the increased demands set forth by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education requirements caused the department to adjust its curriculum, which led to the establishment of the DPT. In discussing the importance of accreditation to the PT program, Mays relates that physical therapist licenses indicate that in order to practice PT, the program attended must be accredited or a physical therapist cannot practice. Another reason given for the necessity of this doctoral program was legislative efforts that would allow patients direct access to PT services.

Relating that Bradley’s program is the only one south of I-80 in Illinois, Mays describes the program as successful. Its location within central Illinois and within a major medical community makes Bradley’s DPT “the program of choice in the state” for those who do not want to be in the metro-Chicago area. “We have a lot of students from out-of-state, too, who are applying.”

The program attracts people nationally not only because of its reputation, but also because of the limited number of physical therapy programs available. “Most physical therapy programs have become national because there are only so many, and there are a lot of kids who want to be physical therapists.”

dr. mary jo mays with students

It was a historic moment at Bradley’s May 2008 Commencement as 16 students became BU’s first to graduate from its only doctoral program, the Doctor of Physical Therapy. Three 2008 graduates and Department of Physical Therapy Chair Dr. Mary Jo Mays, who retired in May after 18 years at the helm of the program, talked about their future after Bradley. From left were Andy Wiggers, Dr. Mays, Nicole Nauyalis, and Melissa Fox.

Mays believes the number of students entering each year will remain between 20 and 24. “I anticipate that there won’t be any major change in the number of students.” This number is partly determined by the number of program faculty as well as the clinical sites needed for each student, Mays explains, adding that each student must have five clinical sites. If the university had two classes doing clinicals at the same time, they could need approximately 50 facilities available at any one time. The clinical sites are located throughout the United States.

The department chair, who coincidentally is retiring at the same time the first DPT class graduates, believes the DPT program will continue to be successful, since “we have not been on the roller coaster of most professions.” Physical therapy continues to be a hot career field, and physical therapists continue to be in demand. She adds there was one four- or five-year period of time that physical therapy was not as strongly in demand, but overall the field never suffered as much as others. “The only reason we were not in demand during that period of time, and we still were more so than a lot of professions, is because of the balanced budget amendment. When that happened, a lot of hospitals started merging and closing. Staff would merge together, some would lose their jobs. When that happened, the market closed down a bit. There were not as many clinical sites available.”

Although there was a minor setback for a short period of time in the physical therapy market, Mays says the program has always continued to grow.

“Most physical therapy programs have become national because there are only so many, and there are a lot of kids who want to be physical therapists.”
Dr. Mary Jo Mays
Chair, Department of Physical Therapy

Dr. Andrew J. Strubhar, associate professor of physical therapy and chair of the DPT Admissions and Strategic Planning Committees, says, “Of the last four application cycles, we have had a substantial increase in the number of applicants. Numbers of applications have gone from 54 to 79 to 116 to 179. I think the increase is from the growing recognition and reputation of our program and the popularity of the profession.”

Also contributing to the success of the program is the reputation of Mays, her 10 full-time faculty members, and her part-time faculty members. The program’s small faculty/student ratio guarantees a close working relationship between the students and their teachers.

In discussing the success of the program, Mays relates that 100 percent of the program’s graduates have received job offers, even during difficult times. “They do very well. We are very pleased with that. We truly are.”

That perfect statistic alone makes it understandable how applicants continue to be attracted to Bradley’s DPT program.

PT research touches all

Whether you’re among the young, elderly, or anywhere in between, the Department of Physical Therapy and Health Science’s faculty members are conducting research that could one day benefit people in your age group.

Considered an epidemic in the United States and in other industrialized countries, childhood obesity is the subject of research being conducted by Dr. Melissa Peterson and Dr. Stacie Bertram. These two faculty, along with Doctor of Physical Therapy students Kim Whalen, Michelle Pickering, and Heather Ferrero, are studying what effect childhood obesity has on gait and balance. The project’s goal is “to be able to identify strategies that can be used to improve the gross motor function and increase physical activity levels of children classified as overweight,” Peterson says.

The study will compare how healthy weight children and children who are overweight or at risk for being overweight perform varied activities. According to Peterson, early results indicate there is a difference in how these groups of children accomplish the tasks. “If children classified as overweight are less capable of performing motor activity, they may be less likely to participate in these types of activities, thereby continuing the cycle of inactivity and weight gain.”

Peterson also joined Bertram and DPT students Shyla McCarthy and Emily Saathoff for research focusing on physical therapists and their practice patterns related to screening, evaluating, and treating individuals with or at risk for osteoporosis. In addition, Peterson, Bradley DPT students (Rebecca Zehr, Kristin Zeurcher, Brooke Fessler, and Jamie Fifarek), co-investigators Stephanie Pasquini, Saira Rattansi, and the OSF St. Francis Medical Center PT Department research committee are conducting research on whether a wheeled walker or a standard walker is best for people who have undergone total knee replacement.

how to assess a patient's standing balance

Dr. Melissa Peterson (center), assistant professor of physical therapy, shows first-year Doctor of Physical Therapy student Rachel Bloom (left) how to assess a patient’s standing balance using the Proprio 5000. Dr. Brenda Pratt (right), assistant professor of physical therapy, helps Peterson in demonstrating how the machine is used. The Proprio 5000 assesses a person’s ability to maintain balance under a variety of different perturbations—small, large, slow, fast, and from random directions. Peterson says the PT faculty expose students to devices for both academic and research purposes.

Dr. Steven Tippett is also conducting research on patients who have undergone total knee replacement surgery. Tippett, who will become department chair in May 2008, relates that his study focuses on proprioception, which is “a joint’s ability to provide information to the brain regarding what position the joint is in space, after total knee replacement surgery.” According to Tippett, who is being assisted on the project by students Michael Gibson, Ashley Reel, and Tania Sarraf, “The total joint study is a meta-analysis of the proprioception following total knee replacement surgery. We will then use a new and more realistic method to assess a proprioception in a knee joint that has been surgically replaced.”

In another research project, Tippett answered a colleague’s question: “How high of an incline is ‘safe’ for a patient who has had an Achilles tendon repair?” According to Tippett, who was assisted on the project by DPT students Janet Gayan and Kara Rathmel, PTs “will want to keep treadmill angles no greater than five degrees when rehabilitating patients with Achilles tendon repair.”

These are just examples of the many research projects Bradley PT faculty are pursuing. With the active participation of DPT students, they are finding practical solutions to issues facing physical therapists and patients of all ages.