ULM Doctorate in Physical Therapy Will Impact Rural Health

Oct 2, 2018

The University of Louisiana at Monroe will offer a Doctor of Physical Therapy in the College of Health Sciences. The announcement was made Wednesday, August 22, at the Louisiana Board of Regents meeting.

According to Dr. Ken Alford, the interim dean of the College of Health Sciences, faculty and University leaders have been working for many years to achieve this goal.

When asked what it means for rural health to have a physical therapy school at ULM, Alford was confident in the opportunity it will bring to the community.

"We’re well established for pharmacy, health sciences and medicine, to be a primary provider and researcher in questions that come up in rural health and how we can deliver that." He continued, "one of the things we hope by being a regional institution in this part of the state is that we’re going to attract our local PT students. We have a very strong pre-physical therapy program here with enough qualified graduates to probably fill the classes. But, we will certainly be bringing in people from other parts of Louisiana and other states."  

Dr. Alford expressed the need for qualified physical therapists from around the area. With a shortage of PT students from the general area, he hopes the new program will draw students from all around and hopefully have them stay after graduation to pursue their practices locally.

"There is a great shortage of PT's throughout the state and the nation.  So with the addition of our program and one other private institution’s program in the state, we’re still going to be somewhere between 30-40 PT's short of the need requirements in this area," he said. Alford added that in rural areas the jobs are less attractive due to salary and opportunities, but recruitment efforts are underway to address that. " One of the things we were hoping to do is find those students who are already a part of this community that are the type of students that want to live in this area. We have a need for qualified physical therapists in this area." 

When asked about the new program and what it means for someone who might live in a rural area to have shorter commuting time to see qualified physical therapist, Alford was excited about the outreach the program would offer.

"When you think in terms of what a lot of people are going to physical therapy for, much of the time that is reduced mobility, due to trauma, due to disease or injury. Most of the time the individual is impaired and transportation of the impaired becomes difficult." He went on to express how more local practices could help people in rural areas. "The more PTs we have, the more clinics we have, the more local our health services become, the greater the boom that is to the people being served."

The program also comes with a positive economic impact. Alford said that with the new program’s job placement producing qualified physical therapist there will be a rise in private practices opening around the area, including in rural areas so that more people can get the therapy they need.

There is a great shortage of PT's throughout the state... ... we have a need for qualified therapists in the area.

"If a new PT clinic opens in a small town and is successful there, that's an economic impact for that small town, but in many cases becomes a very large impact when talking about a very small financial base to begin with. These things provide additional income to those areas " He continued. " We're hoping to have a big impact. People that listened at the VCOM groundbreaking heard the amazing numbers that are going to be the immediate economic impact of building that medical school here for this community. But, it also reaches out from this community as that facility and the College of Health Sciences begins to reach out into rural areas for research and impacting grants so that we can partner with the delivery of health services. All of this is the bigger picture that the physical therapy program is going to be an important part of."

Adding physical therapy program to the already existing pharmacy school and proposed osteopathic school makes ULM a hub for health sciences.

"We’re looking at an opportunity to make us the primary institution for the Delta with regards to health services. The Delta has been largely underserved and is still one of the most underserved areas in terms of health services in the country." He went on to describe how these additions will boost ULM into a health science hub. " This gives us an opportunity to go out and do something that is going to be a win-win. It will be a win for the University because it will position us for research, grants, service, and be a true economic impact for the area. And then it’s going to serve the people in these areas by providing them with the care that they had not had accessibility to previously."

Changes in technology will also have a huge impact on the way health services are provided to rural areas. Dr. Alford briefly spoke on how these technologies will play a role.

"Given the technology increases that are coming, our ability to virtually bring the doctor to the patient is going to be very important as sort of the next phase in medicine and that works so well when you have a largely rural area that stretches hundreds of miles with small towns, many without a hospital." 

With the regulations for physical therapist changing in 2015, a licensed physical therapist must now obtain a Doctor of Physical Therapy to practice. With these changes in place, the program is at a graduate level.

Alford explained that after completing a pre-physical therapy major or concentration such as biology or kinesiology, students will then apply to the Doctor of Physical Therapy program. The concentration for pre-physical therapy at ULM is in the Kinesiology major and is known as Exercise Science Pre-PT.