Other students watch as Trent Childs, a first year physical therapy doctoral student from Senoia, Ga., practices a patient introduction using the AIDET method with a classmate. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)
Other students watch as Trent Childs, a first year physical therapy doctoral student from Senoia, Ga., practices a patient introduction using the AIDET method with a classmate. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

2017 Physical Therapy Doctoral Cohort Completes Three-year Cycle for ‘Full’ Brenau Program

May 26, 2017
Kristen Bowman

When the 40 members of the new physical therapy cohort at Brenau University settled in for the first week of classes, they helped mark two important milestones for the three-year-old doctoral degree program.

First, their presence means the program based at Brenau Downtown Center in Gainesville now operates at its full capacity of 120 students.

Second, if all goes according to plan, when they complete their first year they will have helped the Doctor of Physical Therapy program demonstrate to accrediting and licensing authorities that the university did what it said it was going to do: build and maintain a top-quality health care enterprise that is fully capable of preparing a steady stream of well-educated, much-in-demand professionals who can function at the highest levels in their field.

“The arrival of this cohort means that we are at the end-game in the accreditation process,” said Dr. Kathye Light, the chair of the physical therapy department who built the program from scratch in the past five years. “And all of our candidates represent the best and the brightest young professionals in the field and will represent Brenau well this year as we receive accrediting agency teams on campus in coming months that are doing their final evaluations of our program.”

Following the positive review by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education in late 2014 granted Brenau candidacy for accreditation, which enabled the university to admit the first cohort in the physical therapy doctoral program in May 2015. However, the program cannot receive full accreditation from the Alexandria, Virginia-based CAPTE, the sole U.S. accreditation organization for college and university physical therapy professional education programs, until those first candidates complete their studies and receive doctoral degrees in May 2018.

Since the beginning of the program, each cohort attracted hundreds of applicants from around the United States for the 40 slots available for each year’s class.

“There is great demand throughout the country for physical therapy professionals, particularly in Northeast Georgia and throughout the Southeast,” said Light. “The demand for such health care professional services is only going to increase.”

Each class has increased in diversity, reaching a wider net of students. This year 33 percent of the 2020 cohort is made up of minority groups, the highest percentage yet for the program. About 65 percent of the cohort is male, while the class of 2019 cohort is 22 percent male.

Additionally, the new cohort has four military veterans and a wider range of student ages, with an average starting age of 25.

“I was injured when I was in the military,” said Mat Peace, 40, an Army veteran from the 82nd Airborne Division and first-year doctoral candidate. “I went into engineering first, and realized it wasn’t for me. I’m a people person, and my injuries I think gave me greater empathy for other people. My life has been about these different experiences and they drive me, and I think this is the best thing for me.”

Peace said the first week in the doctoral program was a bit grueling, but he was settling into the workload in his second week. “I’ve talked to some of the upperclassmen and they told me what to expect,” he said.

His classmate, Chris Wilkinson from Atlanta, agreed. Wilkinson, 43, said physical therapy is also her second career pursuit after studying English and philosophy.
“As an undergrad I majored in what I loved, because I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” she said. “Over the years, I decided it was finally time to decide what I wanted to be when I grew up. I’ve done physical therapy myself, and through that process a passion emerged in me for how the body functions, why things move the way they do, what’s happening inside us. So I’ve come back to school to pursue a new career.”

In the doctoral program, the first-year candidates take core courses, including functional anatomy and kinesiology, human physiology, and a basic clinical skills and professional issues course. They are also introduced to Brenau’s human anatomy lab, which is based at the Brenau Downtown Center with the Department of Physical Therapy just off the square in Gainesville.

Thien Tran, a physical therapy doctoral student from Lilburn, Ga., and J.T. Brooks, a physical therapy doctoral student from Atlanta practice palpation during a basic skills lab. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

All student physical therapists at Brenau benefit from a partnership with nearby Northeast Georgia Health System, allowing early immersion in clinics and on-site experience. That means even in their first months the Brenau doctoral candidates begin getting hands-on experience working directly with real patients.

“I was researching different schools and looking for a school that allowed me to do a lot of hands-on study,” said Lee Parker, 30, first-year doctoral candidate from Tampa, Florida. “I noticed the school here starts in the second semester working with patients, and that really appealed to me.”

Parker, a U.S. Navy veteran, came to Brenau after his own physical therapist suggested he look into some military scholarships.

“My time in the military started me on my track to physical therapy,” he said. “I had physical therapy after doing various activities and injuring my hamstring. So I went to a physical therapist who said I should at least look into applying for the U.S. Army-Baylor program. That opened my eyes to different schools and programs for physical therapy, and I decided to come here.”

The Brenau Department of Physical Therapy prepares competent, ethical physical therapists who will grow as professionals and scholars with the capacity to integrate the best evidence available into their practice. Brenau prepares physical therapists to use sound clinical judgment, serve as health care leaders and to approach each patient compassionately and holistically.