Tracy Wright, the assistant director of clinical education in the Physical Therapy Department at Brenau, leads a group of first-year occupational therapy students in a set of assessments and adjustments for patients in wheelchairs.
Tracy Wright, the assistant director of clinical education in the Physical Therapy Department at Brenau, leads a group of first-year occupational therapy students in a set of assessments and adjustments for patients in wheelchairs.

Physical Therapy Doctorate Wins Accreditation Candidacy

Dec. 9, 2014
Brenau Staff

The Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education has granted candidacy for accreditation to the new Brenau University doctoral degree program that is recruiting candidates for the class that begins in May 2015.

Although the program cannot receive full accreditation until after the first candidates complete their studies and receive doctoral degrees in May 2018, the pre-accreditation approval represents a significant step in the evolution of the physical therapy program at Brenau, said Dr. Kathye Light, who is chair of the Brenau physical therapy department.

Professor of Physical Therapy and Department Chair Dr. Kathye Light.

Professor of Physical Therapy and Department Chair Dr. Kathye Light.

“This means that we are open for business,” said Light. “It means that we can seat one new cohort per year, pending full accreditation, and we have already received many applications for the first cohort.”

In academic parlance, a cohort is a group of students that enroll in and progress through a program on the same schedule.

The Alexandria, Virginia-based CAPTE, the sole U.S. accreditation organization for college and university physical therapy professional education programs, authorized Brenau in the late spring of 2014 to begin soliciting applications for program candidates. The recent action, however, enables the university to admit qualified candidates into the program and to start teaching them.

Here’s the official verbiage the university must publish about the action:

“Effective November 12, 2014, the Physical Therapy Program at Brenau University has been granted Candidate for Accreditation status by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (1111 North Fairfax Street, Alexandria, VA, 22314; phone: 703-706-3245; email: accreditation@apta.org). Candidate for Accreditation is a pre-accreditation status of affiliation with the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education that indicates that the program is progressing toward accreditation and may matriculate students in technical/professional courses. Candidate for Accreditation is not an accreditation status nor does it assure eventual accreditation.”

The Brenau PT program already has been approved by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, the regional accreditation agency for all colleges and universities in the Southeastern United States, Latin America and the Caribbean.

With the addition of its third clinical doctorate, Brenau moves into a unique position of universities that offer doctorates in all three of the disciplines of nursing, occupational therapy and physical therapy. The clinical doctorates combined with master’s degree programs in disciplines like applied gerontology, clinical psychology and health care management put Brenau in a leadership position in health care professional preparation among higher education institutions in the Southeast.

“You will find a number of institutions that offer doctorates in one or two of the disciplines,” said Light, “but not in all three.”

SAFE INVESTMENT

The front entrance to the Department of Physical Therapy in the Brenau Downtown Center.

The front entrance to the Department of Physical Therapy in the Brenau Downtown Center.

The CAPTE action is welcome news for Brenau President Ed Schrader, for the university’s board of trustees as well as for elected and appointed officials in the government of the city of Gainesville, Georgia ­­– all of whom invested significantly in the initial idea for the program.

In 2011, the private, non-profit university approached the city government with the idea of converting its money-losing, 30-year-old convention and meetings facility, the Georgia Mountains Center, into the Brenau University Downtown Center – a home for the then-proposed Doctor of Physical Therapy program.

The city agreed and awarded Brenau a long-term lease at very favorable terms and Brenau trustees approved a plan to spend at least $6.7 million to renovate the building, purchase equipment and hire faculty and staff for the program – all before it could even apply for accreditation for the program, let alone admit tuition-paying students that would justify the investment.

“To me, to the leadership on the Board of Trustees and to Mayor Danny Dunagan and to other city officials, this was not a gamble in any sense of the word,” said Schrader. “It meshed perfectly with Brenau’s thoroughly vetted strategic plan to dramatically expand professional health care education through the doctoral degree level and it enabled the city to see a facility on the town square that was not used during most of the year transform to a year-round locale for educating scores of high-level health care professionals.

“When it is fully operational, we expect to have hundreds students working on various health care professional degrees at the Downtown Center at all times.”

That kind of success would amount to millions of dollars a year in economic impact on the region – more than $20 million a year, by some estimates. Already the $1.424 million a year that the university is investing in salaries and capital improvements for physical therapy in Gainesville amounts to an about $3.11 million annual benefit to the region based on common economic impact multipliers, said Robert Cuttino, director of institutional research at Brenau.

WARHOL BETWEEN CLASSES

Brenau student Alaina Troha poses for a selfie in front of an Andy Warhol screen print.

Brenau student Alaina Troha poses for a selfie in front of an Andy Warhol screen print.

The university completed the build-out for the physical therapy space in March 2014 and Light and her staff moved in at the beginning of July. With her on faculty now are Dr. Mary Thigpen, director of clinical education and associate professor, Dr. James Lewis, associate professor, and Dr. Tracy Wright, assistant director of clinical education and assistant professor. Melissa Tavilla is the office manager.

Brenau continues to operate and make available to the public the theater and meeting rooms that already existed at the Downtown Center building. However, it has also set aside space for the development of a physical therapy clinic.

On the floor above the physical therapy department in what was once a 2,500-seat arena, construction is well underway on a state-of-the-art human anatomy laboratory that will be used by students in physical therapy and other health science disciplines. Brenau already has doctoral programs in nursing practice and occupational therapy, for example.

A bonus feature at the home of the physical therapy program is that the whole place has become what arts-oriented Brenau describes as a “living gallery.” The university has converted virtually every bit of available wall space into a home for pieces from the university’s enviable permanent collection of paintings, drawings and sculpture. Brenau calls the permanent exhibition “The Manhattan Gallery” because it features more than 150 pieces representing the post-modern and pop art movement that defined the New York art scene after World War II.

“I would hazard a guess that in no other school in the country could you walk outside of your physical therapy classroom and step into a hallway gallery of photographs and paintings by Andy Warhol,” said Schrader. “This facility is a very special place for students and the community.”

RIGID QUALIFICATIONS

Dr. Mary Thigpen, left, works with professionals like Dr. Daniel Maddox and Paige Wilson at ProTherapy in Dunwoody, Georgia, in developing sufficient locations to give doctoral students all the practical experience they can get while completing their degrees.

Dr. Mary Thigpen, left, works with professionals like Dr. Daniel Maddox and Paige Wilson at ProTherapy in Dunwoody, Georgia, in developing sufficient locations to give doctoral students all the practical experience they can get while completing their degrees.

As founding faculty, Light and academic coordinator Thigpen accepted the challenge that they would have to build from the ground up a new program that, from day one, would be regarded as one of the top in the nation. That included developing collaboration with health care entities such as the Northeast Georgia Medical Center to give students more hands-on training opportunities. Once it has funds available, the university also plans to develop a clinical setting in the building – a functioning, open-to-the-public operation that will enable doctoral candidates under supervision of licensed faculty to work directly with patients.

The key, however, Light said, will be in attracting top students. She is optimistic about Brenau’s finding such bright and enthusiastic applicants. “This is a popular field with great job satisfaction and security.”

Candidates for Brenau’s DPT program must have at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university as well as a minimum cumulative Grade Point Average of 3.0 in college course work and in all prerequisite courses. Those include chemistry, physics, psychology, statistics and biology. Applicants must also submit Graduate Record Examination scores and meet specific cut offs on sections.

The candidates must have 40 hours of volunteer experience or observations divided between two different types of settings. They will be required to submit three letters of recommendation – one from someone practicing in the field of physical therapy, one from someone who can speak on the applicant’s academic ability, and one from someone who can reference the applicant’s character. Finally, they will also be subjected to personal interviews in which they demonstrate strong communication and interpersonal skills, problem-solving skills and sufficient knowledge of the physical therapy profession.

For more information on requirements needed for the program, visit https://www.brenau.edu/healthsciences/physicaltherapy, call 678-971-1832 or e-mail mtavilla1@brenau.edu. To apply, go to www.brenau.edu/apply or contact admissions specialist Beth Collins at 770-534-6102 or bcollins1@brenau.edu.

 

 

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