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Graduate Program Spotlight: The Department of Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation Science

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

 Dr. Mary Rodgers

As one of the oldest physical therapy education programs in the country, the Department of Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation Science (PTRS) at the University of Maryland School of Medicine has attracted and graduated top-tier students for more than 50 years. Uniquely positioned within the School of Medicine, PTRS functions as a “School within a School,” with separate departmental oversight of programs, admissions, student affairs and alumni.

Ranked in the top 10 percent of all physical therapy educational programs in the United States, PTRS offers students the opportunity to pursue advanced degrees in two areas: a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) or a research-focused PhD in Physical Rehabilitation Science.

From a historical perspective, the PTRS DPT program was among the first doctoral level physical therapy education programs in the country.  The DPT program was developed to prepare students to enter the work force as independent entry-level physical therapy practitioners. Currently, the program features a demanding hybrid block curriculum that includes human dissection and gross anatomy; didactic and psychomotor learning; and clinical education in a variety of settings with diverse patient populations. During the three-year post-baccalaureate program, students learn through integrated coursework and multidisciplinary team teaching the skills needed to examine and evaluate patients with physical impairments, functional limitations and disabilities, with the goal of promoting quality-of-life, illness prevention and wellness.

A significant draw for students completing the DPT program at the School of Medicine is the opportunity to learn from active researchers and expert clinician faculty. In fact, DPT students consistently identify as one of the outstanding aspects of the program the keen interest that faculty members have in students as professionals and individuals. This rich collaborative learning environment helps students develop the professional and personal attributes that are required in a competent, holistic, and ethical physical therapist.

Graduate outcomes for the DPT program reflect this successful confluence, as students consistently have a first-time Board licensure pass rate on the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) of greater than 95% – a rate that is well above the national average.

The DPT class of 2012 achieved an incredicble 100 percent exam passage rate, according to Mary Rodgers, PT, PhD, FAPTA, FASB, the George R. Hepburn Dynasplint Professor and Chair of the PTRS department. “We are very proud that our entire class of physical therapy graduates in 2012 passed on their first time taking the NPTE licensing exam,” says Dr. Rodgers.

For students looking to pursue a career in research, the PhD program in Physical Rehabilitation Science trains scientists to advance the physical rehabilitation field to improve the lives of people with functional impairments. Working with departments within the School of Medicine and two sister universities, the PhD program affords students a comprehensive interdisciplinary learning experience.
Graduate students admitted into the program complete coursework in the primary core area of neuromotor control and rehabilitation and a complimentary sub-disciplinary area (applied physiology, rehabilitation biomechanics, or epidemiology) that serves as the foundation for their dissertation research.

Faculty members who teach in the PhD program pursue funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other external sources to support research employing a variety of approaches focused broadly on neuromotor control and rehabilitation. Students have had the opportunity to participate in research that has innovated stroke rehabilitation techniques. They have investigated underlying neuroplasticity in stroke and have examined the neuromechanical bases of balance impairment leading to falls among older adults. Students also have explored rehabilitation interventions using robotics and faculty-developed and -patented devices, functional electrical stimulation, and motor-learning principles, all of which can have immediate translational benefits for patients.

“Faculty members in the PhD program act not only as teachers, but also as outstanding mentors for our pre-doctoral students,” says Dr. Rodgers. “Our graduates have gone on to successful research careers based upon the training and support they have received from faculty.”

As society’s need for rehabilitation researchers and physical therapist practitioners continues to grow, the department of Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation Science remains dedicated to educating practitioners and scholars who will make a significant impact in the lives of patients, communities and the profession in service to humanity.

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