Fountain Valley resident Tom Bintliff has worked with physical therapy students at Western University of Health Sciences for two years, getting help with his balance, flexibility and strength.

The interaction has been mutually beneficial, he said. Students learn how to work with real patients and he, in turn, receives a boost in many ways, he said. 

“This is something I really look forward to,” said the 61-year-old Bintliff. “Besides the physical help I get from it, mentally it’s a huge lift to get out and socialize with bright-eyed, bushy-tailed students.”

 

The two students he recently worked with as part of a class having “Patient Care Day,” Nakisa Verdugo and Kristine Hun, are in their final year of the Doctor of Physical Therapy program.

 

“I am a people person,” Hun said. “With the physical therapy profession, there are so many different areas to go into.”

 

The physical therapy profession continues to broaden in scope, mirrored by the growth of the Department of Physical Therapy Education, part of the College of Allied Health Professions at WesternU. The department is celebrating its 15th anniversary with an open house and health fair on Oct. 19 and an educational presentation by Shirley Sahrmann, PT, PhD, FAPTA, and luncheon on Oct. 20. Click here for more information: www.westernu.edu/xp/edu/cahp/dpt_anniversary.xml

 

The department started in 1992 with 49 students enrolled in the Master of Physical Therapy (MPT) degree program. They graduated 28 months later.

 

In 2003, the program accepted the first entry-level class into a three-year Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree program. There are currently 148 students in the entry level and transitional DPT programs.

 

The profession has evolved from purely rehabilitation to include health and wellness, said Dee Schilling, PT, PhD, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Physical Therapy Education. Students can choose to work across the lifespan, from infants to geriatrics, and in a variety of settings such as home health and public schools.

 

“It provides students a wonderful world of opportunities with great diversity,” Schilling said.

 

Schilling, who has been a physical therapist more than 30 years, said when she and her peers entered PT school, the majority expected to work in a hospital. Many of today’s students come in with the expectation of opening a private practice or working in sports or other specialties.

 

Physical therapy education has moved rapidly from the certificate or bachelor’s level to the doctoral level, said Cheryl Resnik, PT, DPT, who is a USC assistant professor of clinical physical therapy and president of the California Physical Therapy Association.

 

“Because patients are moved through the health care system much more quickly, we have to have a much greater grasp of the total status of the patient,” she said.

 

Physical therapy once responded primarily to patient injury or illness, but now it’s much more focused on the prevention of injuries, such as ergonomics evaluation and prevention of heart disease and hypertension, Resnik said.

 

Employment in physical therapy has gone through highs and lows. The physical therapy profession lost jobs and enrollment in PT programs dropped nationwide due to a lack of Medicare reimbursement caused by the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, said Georgeanne Vlad, PT, MA, Associate Chair/Associate Professor and Director of Clinical Education for WesternU’s Department of Physical Therapy Education.

 

But the reimbursement cap was repealed and the pendulum has swung back, resulting in the expansion of clinical programs and employment opportunities. Graduates may now get multiple job offers even during their last clinical internship, Vlad said.

 

“Today it’s a very good time to be a physical therapist,” she said.

 

Employment of physical therapists is expected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations through 2014, according to the current information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

 

New graduates can have jobs after graduation as quickly as they want them, said John Wallace, PT, MS, OCS, a board member of the American Physical Therapy Association and CEO of BMS Reimbursement Management, which provides billing and collection services for rehabilitation providers. Wallace has worked with WesternU students in the clinical setting and has hired WesternU graduates.

 

“They graduate with a really great balance of academic background related to physical therapy, balanced with hands-on skills and the ability to do critical thinking,” he said.