The gymnasium in Berchmans Hall at the University of Saint Mary is barely recognizable now.
The high ceilings are still here, but the athletic equipment is long gone and the seats now all face one direction. With new lighting fixtures, carpet, paint and furniture, there is little doubt this is a transformed space.
That said, those sitting down in the room are wearing a uniform of sorts — black scrubs, denoting the 37 students in USM’s first-ever Doctoral of Physical Therapy class. In addition to being a new course of study, it’s also USM’s first doctoral offering.
The students began their classes about three weeks ago, attending lectures delivered by one of four full-time and one adjunct professors in the large, renovated gym, now wired for modern technology. They also recently began their lab practice, which in one case involved students “transferring” their peers from the floor to wheelchairs into beds, simulating what they might have to do for future patients who have difficulty with mobility.
“That was really cool, because that’s application right there,” said Sara Yunghans of Liberty, Mo.
The university was accredited last month for the program by the Higher Learning Commission and was granted candidacy status by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education of the American Physical Therapy Association, allowing up to 40 students to enroll in the DPT track.
Jamie Dehan, director of clinical education and assistant professor for the program, said the students will attend classes yearround for three years, meaning this first class will graduate in May 2015. The students come from Iowa, Nebraska and Colorado, in addition to Kansas and Missouri. For the most part, Dehan said they will remain together throughout their course of study.
Student Ahsley Gilstrap said she already felt a sense of solidarity with her fellow students.
“I like how we’re all dressed in black scrubs, so we can all represent on campus when fall classes start and pave the way into the DPT program at Saint Mary,” she said.
Fostering that camaraderie is built into the way the program works, Dehan said.
“We do a cohort program, so they’re in all the same classes, all three years,” she said.
While the students were in the lecture hall Tuesday, Dehan said they’ll get plenty of hand-on experience as well. There are sessions each week, like the aforementioned transfer practice, in one of the newly renovated labs, including a research lab equipped with motion cameras and other contemporary technology — a convenience that Dehan said these students have as the pioneers of a new program.
In addition to that work on campus, the students in their second and third year will be assigned a total of four eight-week rotations as individuals in area clinics.
Page 2 of 2 - Sam Page came from Wichita. He said he read up on the program following an email he had received about it while making his decision. Hoping to become an outpatient physical therapist, he said he’s looking forward to those clinicals.
Having originally aspired to become an MD, Yunghans said she’s looking forward to making a more personal impact on patients’ lives.
“With an MD, you have a lot of situations where you see a patient for 10 minutes and you try to get their whole story,” she said. “With physical therapy, you’re with them for hours, three times a week, even daily, and you really get to know them and understand their needs and be able to facilitate the best healthcare you can for them.”