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January 17, 2003

Physical therapy master's program is right on track

The last steps in establishing an accredited master's degree program in physical therapy at CSUS were reached at the end of the semester, in plenty of time for first graduates to pick up diplomas this December. A combination of new hires in the department and progress toward doctoral degree by current faculty led to a "yes" vote for full accreditation without conditions from the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education.

"We've got a clean slate and are in full compliance," says program director Susan McGinty. "Initial accreditation of the master's program was granted in spring 2001, however, the Commission required a series of progress reports. The most recent called for a review of faculty, which showed the department now has eight full-time faculty members.

"The issue was the number of doctorally prepared faculty," McGinty says. "That was the critical piece in the last report. We needed to show we'd made the new hires. And we added two outstanding faculty members this fall."

One of the new faculty members, Rafael Escamilla, has a doctorate in biomechanics and recently became a physical therapist. He has a strong research record in biomechanics and strength and conditioning which he will apply to the discipline of physical therapy. The other, Brad Stockert, has a doctorate in physiology and comes to CSUS after 15 years at University of the Pacific. McGinty says he is a respected physical therapy educator with research in the area of balance in the elderly.

A third new faculty member, Jancis Dennis, joined the faculty last year and is serving as co-director of the CSUS Life Center. She has a doctorate in education, specifically distance education, and is expected to apply her computer expertise to open possibilities for post-professional training.

Of the rest, McGinty completed her doctorate, another completed her dissertation, another is "ABD" and two others are fully engaged in the process.

"The addition of faculty who already had doctorates was a huge factor in the approval. They came with established research and recognized records of academic achievement," McGinty says.

"It raises the program to a level of respect and recognition as a player in the field. With their research, and the work of the current faculty, we can become a significant contributor in the field. It allows us to move forward in the area of evidence-based physical therapy."

More and more, physical therapists are expected to demonstrate the efficacies and the scientific basis of physical therapy. While therapists know it works and have lots of anecdotal evidence, McGinty says, it's not hard science in the area of controlled studies the medical community requires.

The physical therapy program at CSUS has only been in operation since 1995. It began as a baccalaureate program and the decision to move to a master's level only program was made in the late 90s following a national trend. As of December 2002, there is no longer a committee that accredits baccalaureate physical therapy programs.

The master's degree program is a two and a half year program that includes two summers of clinical work. At this point, it has two classes of students - one group of 20 second-year students and a first-year class of 28. Applications for a third class are now being evaluated.

All students have completed a bachelor's degree, many in the kinesiology and pre-PT programs at CSUS. The classes are almost equally balanced among men and women with many from historically underrepresented groups. This is different from the national norm where 90 percent of physical therapists are Caucasian and 75 percent are female.

"The fact that we have equal parts male and female and a significant number of underrepresented students shows we're meeting a mission to serve this state," McGinty says.

And those students should face a bright future. The market for physical therapists is "outstanding," McGinty says. She expects it to stay strong as the Baby Boomers age and seek out services.

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