Sac State Torchlight

Building program not enough, professor wants to do more


There’s a lot of “physical” in physical therapy. And after decades of working in the profession she loves, it wasn’t always easy for Susan McGinty to sit at her desk doing the necessary paperwork to lead Sac State’s Department of Physical Therapy from its infancy to offering the profession’s top level of educational pursuit. She did it anyway.

Because of her efforts, students can now pursue a doctorate in the discipline at Sacramento State. And through McGinty’s continued generosity, several Sac State students’ financial burdens will be eased while they obtain their degrees.

“You shouldn’t have to be rich to go to physical therapy school,” she says. “It’s important to keep those doors open for students.

”The Susan Young McGinty Endowed Scholarship will help worthy students overcome the cost of the program—which runs more than $75,000 during its three-year span. The endowment will provide one $3,000 scholarship this year and McGinty is hoping it will grow to provide many more awards in the near future.

McGinty’s path to becoming director of Sac State’s Department of Physical Therapy began in high school when her grandfather suffered a stroke. McGinty visited him after school and sat in on his physical therapy sessions. It planted the seed for her career.

“I would go and help the physical therapist and I saw my grandfather’s condition improve,” McGinty says. “He was paralyzed when we started and he learned to walk again, learned to use his arms again and even how to play the harmonica. I thought it would be a great job, to be able to help people like that.” 

McGinty earned her bachelor’s degree in physical therapy from UC San Francisco and went right to work with the Visiting Nurses Association. A move to Los Angeles and a subsequent back injury that left her unable to lift patients, led her to graduate school at USC. She and her husband Denis then moved to Sacramento, where she returned to work as an in-home physical therapist until fate intervened.While serving on a community advisory board during the planning stages for Sac State’s initial physical therapy program McGinty was chosen to serve as a clinical coordinator. When the program needed leadership in 1996, she was selected as the interim director. The then-dean of the College of Health and Human Services urged McGinty to obtain her doctoral degree, which she accomplished by taking weekend classes over the course of four and a half years.

“The timing with everything just worked out perfectly and it all just seemed to happen for a reason,” McGinty says. Knowing the accreditation standard for physical therapists was going to require a doctoral degree at some point in the near future, McGinty started her campaign for Sac State’s program in 2004. The first attempt to have the doctorate program accredited was denied, but after several more years of hard work and patience, the program received the stamp of approval last year. And this fall, Sac State welcomed 32 physical therapy doctoral candidates to campus.

“It’s incredible to feel that I helped shepherd that process,” McGinty says. “I think I had a knack for attracting, keeping and nurturing good faculty. I know I’m leaving the program in very good hands and that feels really good.” McGinty officially retired in August, but she is still a regular on campus. She serves on the community advisory board for the physical therapy program and is a frequent guest in classes. McGinty is excited about physical therapy’s move to spacious Folsom Hall next year.

“I hope to always stay in touch with the program,” McGinty says. “I had to get the doctoral program approved before I could walk away. Now I have to figure out what I’m going to do for the next 20 years.”