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Monday, November 19, 2018

Academics & Research

UH introduces physical therapy program


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When the new doctorate in physical therapy enrolls its first students in 2019, the program will be housed in the Health & Biomedical Sciences Building II. | Ajani Stewart/The Cougar

The University of Houston’s Department of Health and Human Performance is about to undergo significant changes by producing doctors of physical therapy.

The new program was approved at the Aug. 25 Board of Regents meeting. Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Paula Myrick Short gave the proposal, explaining that the new degree is intended, in part, to help fill a statewide and national deficit in physical therapists.

“This is a growing field, and there is a high need for it,” Short said. “It’s predicted that as soon as 2020 or 2025, there will be a shortage of over 600 physical therapists to serve clientele in this area. That number is even larger nationally, with over 1,500 vacancies for physical therapists.”

UH undergraduates have shown a high level of interest in such a program. Several years ago, Charles Layne, a professor and former chair of the Department of Health and Human Performance, did a survey among more than 800 kinesiology students.

He found that about two-thirds of the survey wanted to earn a doctorate of physical therapy.

Because of the large gap between the number of positions in physical therapy and trained physical therapists, most of those who graduate from UH’s new doctoral program will likely get a job.

Layne helped to bring the physical therapy doctorate to UH.

“Literally, there are hundreds less being graduated than the state actually needs,” Layne said. “Which also means that it will be a relatively lucrative job for those that graduate, get their degree and their license.”

Preliminary plans for the program began seven years ago, but Layne said they were interrupted by budget cuts.

However, the lack of physical therapists around the country isn’t due to the lack of growth in academic programs offered. Six new programs have started in Texas in recent years. The number of programs in Texas has increased 60 percent over the last 10 years, Short said.

Dan O’Connor, professor and current chair of the Department of Health and Human Performance, said that changing demographics in the U.S. ignites a growing need for physical therapists. He thinks this is largely due to an aging population, an increase in chronic conditions that affect mobility and patients’ higher ability to access health care services in general.

The first students are expected to start their two to three-year-long doctorate in physical therapy program at UH in 2019, O’Connor said.

Not only does the new degree fill a national need, it also coincides with one of UH Chancellor and President Renu Khator’s areas of focus for the University: health.

Offices and labs for the program will be on the second floor of the under-construction Health & Biomedical Sciences Building II. Physical therapy professors will coordinate on research with other professors already in the department.

Layne’s teaching and research focuses on motor control, which directly relates to physical therapy. He expects the program to succeed from day one.

“We’re not going to have to work to work together. It’s going to be, ‘God, I can’t wait to work with those people,’ and hopefully vice versa,” Layne said. “I’m very excited about it, believe me.”

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