UT Health Science Center San Antonio offering Transitional Doctorate of Physical Therapy

SAN ANTONIO (Dec. 16, 2011) — Physical therapists who are seeking a way to update their credentials to the nationally recommended Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree are able to earn the degree through the newly approved transitional DPT degree program at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

The Department of Physical Therapy in the School of Health Professions has been accepting applications for the new program and will continue to do so through Dec. 31. The inaugural class will begin on Jan. 9.

“In 2000, the American Physical Therapy Association published its Vision 2020 statement that set a new goal for the profession. The goal was that the entry-level degree should be a doctorate in physical therapy. We started our DPT program in 2008 and now more than 90 percent of the physical therapy programs in the U.S. are offering the DPT degree,” explained Catherine Ortega, Ed.D., PT, ATC, OCS.

“Because many physical therapists earned bachelor’s or master’s degree in physical therapy before the doctoral programs were initiated, there is a great need to advance the education of these professionals for ever-expanding roles in our health care system,” said Dr. Ortega, a Distinguished Teaching Professor, associate professor and interim chair of the department.

“Physical therapists with a doctoral degree are prepared to practice as an autonomous provider — a neuromusculoskeletal injury specialist,” she explained, much like an optometrist and podiatrist are independent providers in their fields.

“Our curriculum will prepare physical therapists to have a deeper knowledge of physical therapy and of overall health care so that they will be prepared to identify when a patient has a medical illness and be able to refer the patient to a physician or other medical provider. They will learn how to routinely use and conduct clinical research to provide better care for their patients. They will also learn how to interpret diagnostic test results,” she explained. The overall goal is to prepare physical therapists to become independent practitioners with specialized knowledge.

“In many states, doctorally prepared physical therapists practice independently, and Texas is moving in that direction. We are a partial direct-access state, which means that we can do evaluations, but for treatment we still must receive a prescription from a physician. However, we will continue moving toward full direct access and continue to support autonomous practitioner status,” she said.

The Health Science Center transitional program will consist of eight courses constituting a total of 16 semester hours. “All courses will be offered on site and all will have electronic components using the Blackboard platform,” Dr. Ortega explained. Some physical therapists — those with only a bachelor’s degree — may need to take two additional courses.

The Transitional DPT program is classified by the Higher Education Coordinating Board as an extension program.

To meet the needs of the majority of potential students, who are working full time, the classes will be conducted on weekends, with two courses offered each semester.

“We conducted a survey of our alumni and we know of at least 80 graduates who are interested in enrolling in our program,” Dr. Ortega said. Four other transitional programs are offered in Texas, but this will be the only Transitional DPT to be offered in South Texas. “This is not enough to meet the needs of the approximately 9,000 Texas physical therapists without their DPT degree to advance their knowledge and skills,” Dr. Ortega said.

Work on the Transitional DPT degree proposal was begun in 2008 by faculty members Greg Ernst, PT, Ph.D., ECS, SCS, ATC, assistant professor, who previously served as interim department chair, and by Clinical Assistant Professor Ron Scott, PT, Ed.D., J.D., M.B.A. The work was continued by Dr. Ortega until approval.

For more information about the TDPT program, please visit the Department of Physical Therapy website, http://www.uthscsa.edu/shp/pt, or call Dr. Ortega, the program director, at 210-567-8750.


The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, one of the country’s leading health sciences universities, ranks in the top 3 percent of all institutions worldwide receiving federal funding. Research and other sponsored program activity totaled $228 million in fiscal year 2010. The university’s schools of medicine, nursing, dentistry, health professions and graduate biomedical sciences have produced approximately 26,000 graduates. The $744 million operating budget supports eight campuses in San Antonio, Laredo, Harlingen and Edinburg. For more information on the many ways “We make lives better®,” visit www.uthscsa.edu.

Share This Article!