The Delaware Physical Therapy Clinic has grown exponentially since its humble beginnings in the basement of McKinly Lab more than 25 years ago. 

Back in those early years, the PT clinic, lab and classroom all shared the same crowded space. Patients had to maneuver stairs and long walks to make their appointments in the makeshift clinic, which opened each afternoon after the student desks and equipment were pushed to one side to make room. 

But a solid reputation for providing patient care and a positive relationship with local healthcare professionals helped the clinic grow – enough to eventually warrant additional classroom space in McKinly so the clinic could continue to operate.  

Today, the 9,800-square-foot clinic – housed in the Health Sciences Complex on the STAR Campus – handles more than 25,000 patient visits each year, including 15,570 treatments provided by 122 mentored PT doctoral students. UD’s physical therapy program is currently ranked number one in the nation among graduate PT programs by U.S. News & World Report. 

Former patients, students and supporters of the clinic gathered Friday night at the STAR Campus to celebrate the clinic, which opened as a fee-for-service operation in 1994. Guests celebrated the clinic’s history and its ongoing impact on both the community and the students in the physical therapy department. 

“The reason why this space is so important to us is not just the clinical care it brings and the opportunity to train our students, but it also gives us an opportunity to really translate our research into something that has an impact right now,” College of Health Sciences Dean Kathleen S. Matt told guests attending the evening event.   

“The idea that discovery and research, in the same time span, should then translate to an impact in the community and in patients and individuals – I think that is what physical therapy has shown really strongly and really led the way.”

The party provided patients with the chance to catch up with PT alumni and faculty who treated them in the clinic, in some cases decades earlier. Several patients expressed heartfelt appreciation and admiration for the time and attention taken by faculty, staff and students to help them through recovery from injury, surgery and other ailments. 

Tara Manal, director of clinical services and residency training for the clinic, said patients play a critical role by giving students the chance to apply what they’ve learned in a clinical setting. 

“Our goal is to train the next generation of healthcare providers, and we learned we can’t do this without an army,” said Manal, who was the second full-time employee hired by the clinic when it opened. “It really is a partnership with our patients.” 

UD PT alum John Knarr watches the growing success of the PT Clinic like a proud parent. Knarr, a partner in Elite Physical Therapy and a 2019 recipient of the UD Alumni Association Outstanding Alumni award, served as the clinic’s first full-time director. He remembers when his office in McKinly Lab was little more than a glorified closet.   

Today’s Delaware Physical Therapy Clinic is a testament to the hard work that began in the basement of McKinly Lab and continues in the Health Sciences Complex. 

“This clinic has a lot of support to it and there’s a lot of history to what you see now,” Knarr told attendees. “In 20 years, you’ll see something even better.”

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