SAN ANTONIO (July 29, 2008) —The UT Health Science Center San Antonio’s School of Allied Health Sciences will offer its first doctoral degree this fall — a doctorate in physical therapy (DPT). The new degree program was approved July 24 by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, following initial approval last November by The University of Texas System Board of Regents.
Forty students have already been recruited to begin the new program this fall, with classes starting Aug. 25. Converting the Health Science Center’s program from a master’s degree to a three-year doctoral program brings the university in line with a national trend to offer a doctoral degree in this growing and well-paid field.
“This is a tremendous achievement and would not have been possible without the enormous amount of work accomplished by our faculty and staff over the past few years,” said Marilyn Harrington, Ph.D., dean of the School of Allied Health Sciences, said. “Offering this new degree will give our students a competitive edge in the workplace and benefit patients because our students will be better prepared as they enter the field. And with the Baby Boomer generation beginning to enter retirement, there will be an even greater need for highly educated physical therapists to help patients stay active,” Dean Harrington added.
“We are so proud of Dean Harrington, Dr. De Domenico and the many others who have worked together to offer our first doctoral degree in the School of Allied Health Sciences,” Health Science Center President Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D., said. “This is further proof that the Health Science Center is meeting the challenge to provide a top-notch education and improve the quality of patient care in South Texas.”
Higher standards recommended nationwide
The move is based on the American Physical Therapy Association’s (APTA) recommendation that a doctoral degree be the entry-level professional degree for physical therapists. APTA is the national professional organization for physical therapists and provides accreditation to those wishing to enter the field.
According to APTA’s “Vision 2020” statement, “By 2020, physical therapy will be provided by physical therapists who are doctors of physical therapy, recognized by consumers and other health care professionals as the practitioners of choice to whom consumers have direct access for the diagnosis of, interventions for and prevention of impairments, functional limitations and disabilities related to movement, function and health.”
For this reason, universities across the nation that offer master’s degrees have been working to upgrade their programs to offer doctoral degrees. “The eight public universities in Texas that offer a physical therapy curriculum have been working together to upgrade all of our master’s degrees to doctorate degrees,” said Giovanni De Domenico, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Physical Therapy. “In fact, more than 90 percent of the current physical therapy programs nationwide now offer a doctoral degree. We expect that, within the next couple of years, master of physical therapy (MPT) degrees will no longer be offered in the U.S. and this will mean that in order to get a license and practice physical therapy, a graduate will need to have a doctorate,” he explained.
Conversion to the DPT
Students currently in the Health Science Center’s master’s degree program will be offered the opportunity to earn a doctorate by taking an additional intensive semester of courses designed to broaden and deepen their critical-thinking and clinical skills in the broad area of physical therapy, De Domenico said. These skills are needed to facilitate the role of physical therapists as autonomous practitioners.
New students entering the DPT program this fall will take courses during their first summer in the program, which for master’s students had been a summer off.
“Because we already offered an intensive three-year entry-level program that provided many additional learning opportunities, the conversion process to a DPT is expected to be relatively smooth,” Dr. De Domenico said. “Many other master’s programs are two-year degrees and programs moving from a two-year to a three-year curriculum will obviously involve a considerable change in tuition costs. For our students however, the conversion to a DPT will mean only minimal changes in tuition costs,” he said.
Increasing demand for physical therapists
“There seems to be an ever-increasing demand for physical therapists, especially with the aging Baby Boomer population that wishes to remain fit and active, and more physical therapists being employed in private industry,” Dr. De Domenico said.
“We have no shortage of well-qualified applicants and our new graduates are consistently bringing in salaries between $50,000 and $80,000 or more depending on location,” he said.
For more information about the new doctoral degree in physical therapy, visit the School of Allied Health Sciences Welcome Center, call (210) 567-8744 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is the leading research institution in South Texas and one of the major health sciences universities in the world. With an operating budget of $576 million, the Health Science Center is the chief catalyst for the $15.3 billion biosciences and health care sector in San Antonio’s economy. The Health Science Center has had an estimated $35 billion impact on the region since inception and has expanded to six campuses in San Antonio, Laredo, Harlingen and Edinburg. More than 23,000 graduates (physicians, dentists, nurses, scientists and allied health professionals) serve in their fields, including many in Texas. Health Science Center faculty are international leaders in cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, aging, stroke prevention, kidney disease, orthopaedics, research imaging, transplant surgery, psychiatry and clinical neurosciences, pain management, genetics, nursing, allied health, dentistry and many other fields. For more information, visit www.uthscsa.edu.