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Physical Therapy Program

The Physical Therapy Program: Combined BS/DPT Curriculum

SUNY Downstate physical therapy program is a long-standing accredited program, which has been in existence since 1966, and graduated its first class in 1969. In April 2013, it was granted a 10-year full re-accreditation status by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education to offer a post-baccalaureate entry-level doctor of physical therapy program. In May 2006, the BS/DPT program was awarded approval by the Board of Trustees of the New York State Education Department. The first BS/DPT class entered the program in May 2006.

Physical Therapy Program Mission

The mission of the PT program is to prepare students to provide quality PT services to a culturally diverse population, emphasizing the needs of the individual within the current health care environment. Students are guided to become critical thinkers and decision makers committed to lifelong learning, who integrate evidence-based practice and current clinical practice guidelines within the moral and ethical standards set forth by the APTA. The program prepares graduates to assume the roles of PT clinician, educator, consultant, health care advocate, community leader, researcher, and administrator.

The BS/DPT Degree Program

The combined BS/DPT curriculum requires completion of 80 credits of pre-professional (prerequisite) courses and 135.5 credits of physical therapy professional courses. Of the 135.5 credits, 43 credits are at the undergraduate level and the remaining 92.5 credits are at the doctoral level.

The program starts at the end of May of each year and is divided into nine semesters. During the first year, students concentrate on the foundational sciences, clinical sciences, research methodology, psychosocial aspects of patient care, and ethics in clinical practice. In the second year, students begin their first clinical internship, focus on developing their knowledge and skills in the theory and practice of physical therapy, begin to implement their group research project, and explore the basic concepts of education as they relate to the profession. Understanding of the psychosocial and cultural issues that affect patients and their families, and the role of the physical therapist in helping patients function in a variety of environments (home, work, school) is stressed in all professional courses.

In the third year, students continue with courses focused on the theory and practice of physical therapy, complete and present their group research study, engage in more advanced topics in professional practice such as administration, preventative care and health and wellness, and differential diagnosis. They engage in extensive clinical education as well as clinical internship seminars, which enables them to integrate theoretical and practical skills, develop self-confidence, and become aware of their responsibilities as members of the health team. Experienced clinicians who will meticulously evaluate their clinical performance in an effort to maximize their overall effectiveness supervise students. This curriculum allows the students at Downstate to develop the critical thinking and clinical decision-making skills warranted of graduates of a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree program.

A variety of classroom, laboratory, and clinical experiences develop students' critical and analytical thinking skills, independent thought, communication skills, and the ability to understand the values of the profession. The faculty uses a variety of teaching methods, including computer simulation software, independent study formats, and field visits to enhance learning. All courses that include the patient/client management elements of examination, evaluation, diagnosis, prognosis, and intervention have regularly scheduled laboratory classes. Problem-solving sessions and clinical seminars are designed to help students integrate classroom and laboratory learning with clinical experiences.

Learning in the graduate program is sequenced to be progressive and influenced by previously attained knowledge and skills. Key concepts of clinical problem solving, communication skills, interpersonal skills, teaching-learning process, and the rights and dignities of patients/clients are introduced early and threaded through all the physical therapy courses.

The minimum faculty to student ratio in laboratory classes is 1:15. In the various professional courses, students make class presentations and/or provide critical analyses of journal articles and case studies. They will learn how to engage in evidence-based practice, using the highest form of evidence, the randomized controlled clinical trial, upon which to base their clinical decisions. They have the opportunity to contribute to a web-based database by reviewing an outcome-based research study involving a physical therapy intervention in the APTA's "Hooked on Evidence" program.

Students complete a research project with a small group of four students under the guidance of a faculty research mentor. They are required to present their research in a platform presentation at a center-wide colloquium, and display their research in a poster format. They may also submit an abstract of their research for presentation at a statewide or nationwide physical therapy conference.

Program Goals

The physical therapy program:

1.         values development of mindful physical therapy practice, emphasizing quality of life for the individual within the local and global community.

2.         develops culturally competent leaders to meet the healthcare needs of an urban and diverse environment.

3.         seeks the internalization of critical thinking and clinical decision-making skills by all graduates.

4.         advocates for the paradigm shift of health care toward health promotion and disease prevention.

Clinical Education

Over 100 physical therapy centers, representing a variety of practice settings, are affiliated with SUNY Downstate's physical therapy program. The majority of these clinical centers are located in the New York metropolitan area. However, to accommodate the interests of students who would like to explore other settings and cultures, clinical affiliation sites outside the tri-state area and overseas are available. During the clinical seminar in the second year, students are required to complete a placement request form indicating their preferences for clinical sites. Student needs and assignment requests are taken into account and matched with available sites whenever possible.

The clinical education program has been developed to reflect the importance of professional growth and good patient/client care. In the curriculum, clinical education is integrated with the progressively increasing levels of expected student performances in various domains of physical therapy clinical practice. The objectives of each clinical education course are derived from the knowledge and skills developed in the previously completed academic components of the curriculum. Students complete a total of 40 credits in full-time Clinical Internship courses.

Clinical Internship I is the student's first experience under the supervision of clinical faculty, and their first full-time clinical educational experience. It is a six-week, full-time clinical educational experience that occurs during the second year in the program. This spring semester course emphasizes appropriate professional behavior, communication skills, and the performance of essential physical therapy examination, evaluation, diagnosis, prognosis, plan of care, and intervention skills. Students are assigned to hospitals, ambulatory care centers, or geriatric facilities. Following Clinical Internship I, the students learn more advanced theory and skills. Problem-solving sessions and discussions give the students an opportunity to build on experiences from Clinical Internship I.

Clinical Internship II is a 10-week, full-time clinical experience that is scheduled for the summer semester of the third year. This course will foster the development of more advanced skills in patient/client management. The goal is for students to continue to integrate their academic knowledge with clinical skills and experiences and to continue to develop as doctoral-prepared practitioners. By the time the students engage in Clinical Internship II, they would have successfully completed course work in all foundational sciences, as well as physical therapy professional courses in three major areas of physical therapy practice, including musculoskeletal, neuromuscular and cardiovascular/pulmonary areas. The students are therefore assigned to a wide variety of clinical settings, including acute care, adult rehabilitation, orthopedic outpatient, and cardiovascular/pulmonary settings.

Clinical Internship III is a 10-week, full-time clinical educational experience that occurs in the fall semester of the third year, following most of the academic course work. This course will foster the development of entry-level skills in patient/client management and continue the integration of academic knowledge with clinical skills and experience as the students continue to develop to become doctoral-prepared practitioners. At this point, students have completed physical therapy professional courses in all major domains of physical therapy practice, including the musculoskeletal, neuromuscular, cardiovascular/pulmonary, and integumentary areas. They will be assigned to the broadest range of clinical educational experiences available, including specialty areas, such as pediatrics, geriatrics, burn rehabilitation, performing arts physical therapy, and home care.

Clinical Internship IV is a 14-week, full-time clinical educational experience that occurs in the spring semester of the third year. This course fosters the development of more advanced patient/client management skills. The ultimate goal is for the student to become a competent, doctoral prepared, entry-level physical therapist that utilizes clinical reasoning and clinical decision-making skills.

Clinical Internship IV is the most advanced course in the clinical education sequence. Following Clinical Internship III, the student returns to the classroom to fully integrate all academic knowledge learned in the program with the clinical educational experiences through Differential Diagnosis. The student then returns to the clinic in Clinical Internship IV in a culminating clinical educational experience. The student, before entering this experience, has satisfactorily completed all course work in the foundational sciences, clinical sciences, and professional courses. Learning experiences are planned with the student to allow him/her to demonstrate increasing ability in the skills of examination, evaluation, diagnosis, prognosis and intervention, and flexibility in administering these skills in accordance with the patient's/client's medical, physical, and psycho-social profile, the patient's/client's environment and objectives of the patient's/client's total program.

Accreditation, Credentialing and Licensure

The physical therapy program at SUNY Downstate Medical Center is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE), 111 North Fairfax Street, Alexandria, Virginia 22314; telephone: 703-706-3245; email: accreditation@apta.org; website: http://www.capteonline.org. The program is registered by the New York State Education Department. Graduates are eligible to sit for the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT). All 50 states and three additional jurisdictions use the NPTE as one factor in the licensure of physical therapists. To be licensed as a physical therapist in New York State, the individual must be of good moral character, at least 18 years of age, meet education and examination requirements, and file an application with the New York State Education Department Office of the Professions.

Student Outcomes for the Most Recent Three Years of Graduates (Classes of 2009, 2010, 2011)

Graduation rate: 91%

Licensure examination pass rate: 88.46%

Employment rate: 100%