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State Approves CSUN Doctorate in Physical Therapy

CSU and CSUN PT faculty and alumni and members of the California Physical Therapy Association at the announcement of the new doctoral programs for the CSU.

The Doctorate in Physical Therapy for California State University Northridge has been approved by the state of California. This is the second doctoral program CSUN has ever offered, and the first for the College of Health and Human Development.

“I am very proud of the effort the California Physical Therapy Association [CPTA] put forth to accomplish this and the support from our campus as well!” said Sheryl Low, chair of the CSUN Department of Physical Therapy (currently on sabbatical).

Janna Beling, Acting-Chair, provided detail about this milestone for the department. “The state needs the physical therapists we graduate, and of course the DPT at CSUN creates a brighter future for many who will want to enter the profession in the years to come.” 38% of the physical therapy workforce in California is provided by four universities in the CSU." Beling said, “The CSUN PT program is known as one of the best. Our graduates consistently maintain a greater than 95% pass-rate on the state licensing exam. The national average is 84%.”

By 2015, state licensing requirements will call for doctorate degrees, and the Commission on Accreditation of Physical Therapy Education Programs mandates that all PT programs must offer the DPT at the entry level or lose accreditation. The difference between masters’ and doctoral programs is that the DPT usually calls for more hours of clinical internship, and the program focuses in greater detail on clinical reasoning, pharmacy, radiology and differential diagnosis. Beling said, “If CSUN were not able to offer the DPT, many future Physical Therapists would lose their career opportunity because private university tuition for a DPT can cost up to $100-125,000.”

PT student Debbie Steffin and CPTA delegate, Daniel Drummond

CSUN PT faculty Jan Adams was chair when the Physical Therapy program took on department status in 2002, “Right away, we started working toward the DPT. We tried a variety of plans but state approval for a doctorate from the CSU was elusive. We got close in 2005, when the CSU was approved for the EdD [Doctorate in Education] but we had to go back to the drawing board.”

“When Sheryl Low became chair in ‘08,” Adams said, “She pursued the doctorate with a renewed burst of energy.” The PT faculty team worked closely with the California Physical Therapy Association (CPTA), and the team approached Assembly Member Bob Blumenfield (Northridge) who agreed to author Assembly Bill 2382 which appealed to the state to allow the CSU to extend the boundaries of the Donohoe Higher Education Act (the state’s master plan for higher education). The master plan traditionally gave the University of California (UC) exclusive jurisdiction over doctoral programs in public higher education in the state.

“Summing it up, it sounds like getting to the DPT was a smooth process,” Adams said, “but it took tremendous determination to accomplish this goal. Sheryl Low re-started the momentum as a grass roots effort and every time there was testimony, whether through committees in the assembly or in the senate, she was there telling our story.” Low also worked closely with the CPTA, gaining the support of the association’s outgoing president, Cheryl Resnick, who fully supported the CSUN program’s candidacy." Resnick said, "The Governor's signature on AB 2382... signifies his commitment to keeping physical therapy students in California for their education and employment."

“In the US there are 227 Physical Therapy programs, 200 of which have made the transition to the doctorate." Beling said. "It is a testament to the CSUN program that the CSU has made this decision.”

The Department of Physical Therapy is preparing to launch the new doctoral program in August, 2013, once curriculum has been through development and approvals. Meanwhile, over the next several years the master's curriculum will be transitioning to the doctoral level, and an MPT from CSUN still prepares students for licensure. “We have a lot of work ahead of us," said Beling, "But we’re also looking forward to celebrating with Assembly Member Blumenfield and our friends from CPTA, as well as the rest of the college and alumni as soon as Sheryl Low is back from sabbatical in January."