Established in 1970, the program began as a division of the Department of Neurology in the WVU School of Medicine. Six founding faculty members, including then-Chair Mary Lou Barnes, helped launch the program. Among those faculty members was John Petronis, M.S., P.T., who is still on the faculty today.
“In the 70s we taught our students physical therapy examination and treatment skills that were used to treat patients who were referred to us from physicians who wrote treatment prescriptions that we were expected to follow under the authority of that referring physician,” Petronis, assistant chair and professor, said. “Today, physical therapists still receive treatment prescriptions from physicians, but a number of states, including West Virginia, permit physical therapists to evaluate and treat patients without physician referral.”
Petronis said this change in patient referral status requires more comprehensive evaluation and interpretation skills from the practicing physical therapist in order to make appropriate decisions for successful outcomes for patients.
“Also in the 70s, our knowledge was largely obtained from clinical experience, but during the past two decades, there has been a consistent emphasis within the physical therapy profession to promote evidence-based clinical practice that is supported by reliable, validated research. This, in turn, has placed an added responsibility on faculty to do the research necessary to continue to progress the profession,” he said.
For the 27 years following the program’s inception, students received a two-year Bachelor of Science degree. In 1972, 16 students graduated from the program.
In the late 1990s, the program joined with the divisions of Exercise Physiology and Occupational Therapy to form the Department of Human Performance and Exercise Science within the School of Medicine. During this period, the program transitioned to a Master of Physical Therapy degree.
In 2005, the program once again responded to national changes in the profession by transitioning to the Doctor of Physical Therapy degree (D.P.T.). The first D.P.T. class graduated in 2008.
In addition, the division has maintained continued accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) over its entire existence. CAPTE is an accrediting agency that is nationally recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.
“The Division of Physical Therapy was established to meet healthcare needs of the citizens of West Virginia and to allow residents of the state who wished to pursue this career access to education at the state’s land-grant institution. Over the years, the program has fulfilled its mission admirably,” MaryBeth Mandich, Ph.D., professor and chair, said.
“Beginning with the Class of 2013, 40 students per year will graduate from the program. This class size increase to current levels was in response to demographic needs of the state, which has an aging population with a high incidence of chronic disease and which ranks first in the country in incidence of disability.”
To date, the division has graduated more than 900 physical therapists, including the 31 students who graduated in May 2012. It currently has 14 full-time faculty members.
Recent statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor project a 39 percent increase in need for physical therapists over the next 10 years. Each year, about 50 percent of WVU graduates stay in-state, and about 20 percent practice in rural areas.
“Our graduates are working in the hospitals and long term care facilities of West Virginia, as well as in early intervention and public schools,” Dr. Mandich said. “Our graduates are also in positions of national prominence, such as in the training rooms of professional football teams and professional ballet companies.”
One alumnus of the program, Dave Pariser, is currently a member of the Board of Directors of the American Physical Therapy Association.
Mandich also said that in the years to come, the program will continue to adapt to meet both the educational needs of its students and the healthcare needs of the patients those students will treat.
“As we look to the future of healthcare, we know that physical therapy is an integral part of both prevention and rehabilitation. At WVU, we will continue to prepare graduates to practice in an emerging healthcare environment, which includes direct access to physical therapists and a role for physical therapy in the management of chronic disease,” she said. “Our faculty and students look forward to meeting the demands of the emerging healthcare system, with its focus on health, independent living and life-long participation in whatever activities are meaningful to our patients.”
To celebrate 40 years of providing outstanding education, the division will hold a celebration at 11 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 28, in the WVU Health Sciences Commons Area. Chancellor for Health Sciences Christopher C. Colenda, M.D., M.P.H., and School of Medicine Dean Arthur J. Ross III, M.D., M.B.A., will make remarks.
“This is an anniversary well worth celebrating. Our outstanding Physical Therapy Program has enabled us to improve the health and wellness of West Virginians,” Dr. Ross said. “The program is one of our School’s brightest shining stars. There is no finer Physical Therapy Program in the country.”
For more information: Angela Jones-Knopf, News Service Coordinator, 304-293-7087