CSULB adds a doctorate program in physical therapy

Correction: The story previously said that CSUs would be able to offer all doctorate degrees in medicine and architecture due to a change in the law.  They are only able to offer doctorates in education, physical therapy and nursing through individual exceptions made to the Donahoe Act. UCs have exclusive rights to offer doctorates in all fields.


Cal State Long Beach has adopted a new doctoral degree program in physical therapy this semester, after a seven-year struggle with California legislatures to change the state master plan for higher education.

The master plan, also known as the Donahoe Higher Education Act, gives the University of California exclusive rights to grant doctoral degrees in all fields, according to Kay Cerny, chair of CSULB’s physical therapy department.

With the new changes, however, the Cal State University will be allowed to offer a doctorate degree in physical therapy  as well.

“Not everyone in the legislature agreed that CSU should broaden its scope to offer doctorates, so it took time,” Cerny said, “[but] we’re not willing to drop the [physical therapy] curriculum.”

Albert Russo, a physical therapy professor, said that by 2015, changes in physical therapy accreditation standards would allow only graduates of the doctoral program to become licensed physical therapists.

“Were the degree not … put into effect, our program would have no longer … been accredited,” Russo said.

After 2015, the master’s in physical therapy (MPT) program will be phased out because students graduating with an MPT then will graduate from a non-accredited program, Russo said.

Cerny said physical therapists will need to graduate from the doctorate in physical therapy (DPT) program after 2015 because of a greater desire for “autonomy of practice desired by the profession.”

“Physical therapists need a more in-depth and broad education,” Cerny said. “For example, physical therapists are needing to be able to recognize ‘red flag’ conditions that require the physical therapist to refer their patient to a physician or other health care provider.”

Compared to MPT, the new three-year entry-level DPT degree offers students additional classes that will increase the information base as well as the content of courses, Russo said.

“One of the classes that we have offered that’s new is differential diagnoses, which increases the ability of physical therapists to determine the cause of various ailments,” Russo said. “While that really hasn’t been a skill that was emphasized [in the past], now it will be.”

According to Cerny, the shortage of physical therapists is expected to change in the future. In Los Angeles County alone, Cerny said the California Employment Development Department predicts a 35.6 percent increase in demand for physical therapists between 2010 and 2020.

The DPT program will help that demand increase by giving more students an opportunity to get the degree for a cheaper price, Cerny said.

Adam Parker, a student in the DPT program, said that while the classes have been challenging and stressful, he has learned a lot in the few weeks since classes started.

“I think the program is doing a good job preparing us for the profession,” Parker said. “[DPT] is the wave of the future. That’s where physical therapy is going, and I didn’t want to have to upgrade my degree later on.”


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