The University of Delaware Department of Physical Therapy was named the top graduate program in the nation in the 2017 edition of U.S. News and World Report’s Best Graduate Schools. The University of Pittsburgh, University of South California, and Washington University in St. Louis also received top honors. Among high profile rankings identified and tracked by UD, no other graduate program has received a number one ranking.
“The evidenced-based physical therapy practices derived from research occurring at UD really make our PT program stand out,” adds Kathleen Matt, dean of the College of Health Sciences. “This recognition by U.S. News and World Report confirms what our patients experience when they visit our STAR Health clinics. We are so very proud of PT and they are so deserving of this recognition.”
Unique to the UD program, every single graduate student works in the Delaware Physical Therapy Clinic, an in-house operation located at the STAR Health Sciences Complex. Over the course of a year, the clinic amasses 25,000 visits from patients — the majority of whom live in Delaware. Under the guidance of board-certified clinicians, students take on two clinical rotations — one in the clinic’s sports and orthopedic division and the other in the neurological and older adult division. This model allots UD doctoral students an unusual amount of experience working with patients, vetting them before they ever take on an externship.
“UD Physical Therapy has taught me how to be an exceptional clinician. The program offers unique opportunities, such as our integrated clinic experience [I.C.E’s],” says Alisha Webster, who will graduate in the class of 2016. “You study under renowned faculty, who are dedicated to moving our profession forward.”
The clinic also boasts a whopping five residency programs, which include orthopedic, sports, geriatrics, neurological and acute care. The final two programs are in collaboration with Johns Hopkins Medical Center.
“We are looked to as a model in multiple areas — education, research, residency program development and the clinical program to name a few,” says Tara Jo Manal, director of clinical services and residency training in the UD Department of Physical Therapy. “We love when other universities come to us to learn about how UD Physical Therapy operates; we have more than 20 years of experience training students in our clinic alone.”
As the physical therapy profession has evolved, so has the UD program, which progressed from a bachelor’s to a master’s to its present state as a doctoral program. For its existence as a graduate program, PT averaged 40 students per class. Since the move to the STAR Health Sciences Complex granted a larger, more sophisticated space, the program has increased enrollment to 60 graduate students in a class. After the students graduate, the majority work in clinical practice. Another large portion of graduates pursue physical therapy faculty positions; a smaller portion elect to continue training either in subspecialty practice through residency training or as researchers with PhD training. Between 30 and 40 percent of students remain in-state following graduation. The program boasts a 100 percent pass rate on board exams.
“The reason people see us as a top program is because our people are everywhere. When we go to a national conference, we’re ubiquitous,” says Greg Hicks, chairperson of the Department of Physical Therapy. “I would argue that our clinical instructors who are teaching students and caring for patients are the most experienced in the entire country.”
The research portfolio in the physical therapy program is one of the strongest in the nation and informs not only the top notch education in the classroom but the practice of physical therapy nationally and internationally. Our faculty demonstrate the depth and breadth of innovation and intellectual inquiry reflected in the grant support received from national granting agencies to further their research agendas. The innovation extends to the classroom and the intensive educational program designed for each of the Doctor of Physical Therapy students. Students are given training on best evidence practice and taught to be consumers of the literature to compete in the ever expanding knowledge arena of evidence based practice. They are given the knowledge and skills necessary to work at the top of their license and compete for the best opportunities the field have to offer.
The U.S. News and World Report rankings are determined by peers, an extremely gratifying honor, especially with more than 200 graduate PT programs in existence across the country. But the testimonials of patients are perhaps the most important endorsement of all.
“The physical therapists are interested in every case that comes in — you can tell because of the way they talk to you and the way they treat you,” says patient Ida Barkley. “I just feel great that I went here, and overjoyed that I feel back to myself again.”