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‘Making history’: OSU-Cascades students are first in doctor of physical therapy degree program

(Updated: adding video, comments from program faculty)

First program at Oregon public university, 45 students enrolled

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- At OSU-Cascades this fall, 45 students are making history, the first to take part in a doctor of physical therapy program at a public university in Oregon.

The doctor of physical therapy, or DPT program is anticipated to produce clinicians to address the need for physical therapists in Oregon and across the nation, especially in rural areas, according to Dr. Christine Pollard, a professor and founding director of the program.

“We tell the students that they’re making history here in the state of Oregon," Pollard told NewsChannel 21 Wednesday.

Doctor of physical therapy programs are also offered at some private universities in Oregon, but are not always accessible to all students.

"We can have a research institution experience for these students, but at a public university tuition price, which really gives access to a lot of students that might not be able to afford a doctorate of a physical therapy program," Pollard said.

Pollard has been working to make the program a reality for more than four years.

“To see it actually come to life has been fantastic," she said.

Not only is the program more accessible for all students, but it's also designed to help bring inclusivity and diversity to the profession -- something the American Physical Therapy Association has made a goal.

“When you get outside of Deschutes County, there’s a lot of folks that don’t have access to physical therapy," Pollard said.

Beginning in their first year, DPT students will work with patients in local physical therapy clinics, under the supervision of practicing clinicians. Students will engage in 35 weeks of clinical internships during the three-year program, participating in at least one clinical rotation in a rural or underserved community.

During the program, teams of students will also embark on capstone projects in the field, focusing on areas including oncology, disparity in healthcare access in diverse populations, interventions for neurological conditions, and biomechanics.

Students are learning in the newly opened Edward J. Ray Hall on the OSU-Cascades campus. Pollard and faculty from the DPT program helped design state-of-the-art classrooms, labs and research areas in the building, including a classroom with 24 treatment tables, and a clinical skills classroom where students train on equipment used in physical therapy settings.

“Students will engage in cutting-edge research, as well as with experts practicing in the field, and bring the latest knowledge into their own practices, as they launch careers that support healthier communities,” said Pollard.

The program also is served by a specialized laboratory for cadavers, which support students’ understanding of musculoskeletal anatomy and neuroanatomy. The cadaver lab is the only one of its size in Oregon east of the Cascades range.

“Everything on the east side of the mountain range, we're going to be able to make quite a big impact to this community," Pollard said.

The program employs seven full-time faculty, 25 associate faculty who are primarily practicing physical therapists in Central Oregon, as well as other experts from around the state. Faculty represent a variety of specializations including orthopedics, neurology, physiology, sports medicine, biomechanics, and oncology.

Joy Torbett is one of the associates for the program and is a Physical Therapist at Rebound Physical Therapy in Bend. She says she believes in the program and what it will do for the industry.

"As physical therapists, we're hopeful that this new group of a variety of people comes in and they can actually go back and work in the community where they came from," Torbett said. "To provide those services that otherwise wouldn’t have been provided.”

Both Pollard and Torbett say they're hopeful this program will attract students from all over the pacific northwest.

More than a third of the inaugural DPT class identify as students of color, which is promising for the future of the profession, Pollard said.

“Attracting students with a diversity of perspectives and experiences to the physical therapy profession is critical in order to reflect the diversity of the society we serve,” she said.

The variety of backgrounds represented within the student cohort have impressed Brett Traeger, a DPT student from Mt. Angel.  His classmates include students like him who recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree, as well as others with employment experience in the health field pursuing career changes.  

“I think I’d like to eventually practice in a small town, where I can really get to know people and have an impact on their lives and on the community,” said Traeger.

“We’re fortunate to be located in a region that attracts top physical therapists who are excited to share their expertise with future clinicians,” said Pollard.

“The doctor of physical therapy program is an excellent addition to our region,” said Dave Haglund, director of rehabilitation and wound & ostomy at St. Charles Health System.  “It gives us access to the latest information in the field and a place we can partner to develop future practitioners.”

With applications now closed for the fall 2022 cohort of DPT students, Pollard feels positive about full enrollment in 2023 with three cohorts and 135 students.

Author Profile Photo

Carly Keenan

Carly Keenan is a multimedia journalist and producer for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Carly here.

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  1. students will graduate with an insane amount of loan debt to earn pennies in PT. Better off as a nurse or dental hygienist who make as much or more for much less schooling. Hind sight is always 20-20

    1. Yes. I’ve recently heard of graduates who leave school with 200K in debt, and their starting salary is 60K. Pretty tough to pay down debt with those numbers.

  2. I don’t want to knock what PTs do, but ‘it is not rocket science’ and does not require that much training. 95% of what PT’s do is pretty basic re-training and splint-making. This is a solution in search of a problem which is alot of what universities do these days.

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