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Physical therapists (PTs) are movement specialists who help people return to high levels of function, strength and activity after an injury or illness. Wellness - or helping people avoid disability by developing flexibility, strength and better aerobic conditioning - is also a growing area of practice. And some PTs work in industrial settings, where they help employees stay injury-free.
The demand for physical therapy is increasing due to an aging population, changes in reimbursement by third-party payers and federally mandated access to school-based services for students with disabilities.
"All our recent graduates have found jobs," says Denise Wise, chair of the physical therapy department at the College of St. Scholastic in Duluth. "And every week, I receive at least four new job postings."
Transitioning to the DPT
In the past, PTs needed only a bachelor's or master's degree from an accredited physical therapy program. But today, most earn a three-year doctor of physical therapy (DPT) degree after completing an undergraduate degree. By 2020, a DPT will be the required entry-level credential.
Three years ago, the College of St. Scholastica created a transitional DPT program allowing practicing therapists without a DPT to achieve educational parity with new graduates. The program focuses on content areas added to today's entry-level DPT program but not addressed in bachelor's or master's degree curricula.
Courses are delivered online. Students interact with faculty and classmates through online discussions, e-mail and restricted chat rooms.
Courses include pharmacology, diagnostic imaging, health policy, evidence-based practices, and patient screening and referral. A sixth course, or clinical capstone experience, is arranged by students in their own community.
Students find that it's a great way to update their knowledge. Says one recent grad: "The program was an incredible experience, and my practice is much more well-rounded."
For more information about the transitional DPT program, visit www.css.edu/Academics/School-of-Health-Sciences.html.