With a job market as lucrative as physical therapy’s – the career boasts 100 percent placement numbers and is projected to grow 20 percent in just the next five years as the U.S. population continues to age – the doctorate degree has become an entry-level requirement.
NIU now meets that need.
Thirty-six students in the first cohort to pursue NIU’s new doctorate in physical therapy (DPT) begin their classes this week. They are expected to graduate in the spring of 2013.
“This is the direction the profession has gone, and we must remain competitive,” said MJ Blaschak, coordinator of the physical therapy program housed in the School of Allied Health and Communicative Disorders in the College of Health and Human Sciences.
“Entry-level physical therapists need 100 credit hours past the bachelor’s degree,” Blaschak added. “That’s a doctorate.”
A pair of cohorts already on track toward the master’s in physical therapy will finish the program in the springs of 2011 and 2012. Those are the last students who will earn that degree, which NIU technically no longer offers.
The deadline to apply for Fall 2011 admission to the DPT program is Friday, Oct. 15. Admission is limited and competitive; more than 40 qualified applicants were turned away this fall, and Blaschak anticipates a larger number of applicants next year.
“We offer a high-quality degree at a very good price compared to other schools. This is the training physical therapists need and the degree they need without going $120,000 into debt,” she said. “We’ve also seen more applicants from out of state than we’ve had before. Our out-of-state tuition is still less than private schools.”
NIU’s physical therapy program began as a bachelor’s degree in 1980 and ascended to the master’s degree level in 1999. Most students who enter hold bachelor’s degrees in health science or biology, Blaschak said.
Completion of the DPT meets one of the eligibility requirements for mandatory state licensure to practice. NIU program has enjoyed accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education since its inception and will undergo re-accreditation in 2013.
The program also prepares physical therapists for the possibility of “direct access” in Illinois. A broad range of full- and part-time clinical experiences within academic settings and at various health care facilities in and around Illinois are required.
“With direct access, a patient can come to the physical therapist as the entry point into the health care system,” Blaschak said. “In Illinois, we can evaluate a patient without a physician referral or diagnosis, but we cannot treat.”
Meanwhile, although the DPT is a professional degree that enables recipients to practice physical therapy and encourages them to continue their education, the degree does not equip them to teach. Professors of physical therapy still need academic degrees, such as the Ph.D. or Ed.D.