Physical therapy program graduates record another 100 percent pass rate on national exam

First-year students in WCU’s doctoral program in physical therapy learn to fit a walker to a patient.

The most recent graduates from Western Carolina University’s doctoral program in physical therapy have recorded a “four-peat” of sorts by being the fourth straight physical therapy class from WCU to have a 100 percent pass rate on their national licensing exam.

WCU’s physical therapy faculty found out recently that all 29 program graduates who received their diplomas after last spring semester passed the National Physical Therapy Exam, a requirement to become licensed physical therapists. They follow in the footsteps of the combined total of 90 graduates from the 2014, 2015 and 2016 classes who accomplished the same thing.

“Only a handful of physical therapy programs among several hundred across the nation record 100 percent pass rates each year, so to have that happen for four years running is a remarkable feat,” said David Hudson, who was recently appointed head of the Department of Physical Therapy and to the position of WCU Distinguished Professor of Physical Therapy. “It’s something we are extremely proud of, and it demonstrates the dedication of our faculty and the exceptional quality of the education our students receive.”

WCU’s physical therapy program originated as a master’s-level program and has graduated nearly 500 students since its first class in 1998. The program transitioned to the doctoral level in 2011, and the 30 students who graduated in 2014 were the first to get their doctorates. Thirty-two students are enrolled in the program each fall to begin a 33-month curriculum that includes four clinical education experiences spanning 34 weeks.

Hudson said the most recent class of 29 students “took volunteerism, drive to be excellent and compassion to a new level. I am very confident they will continue that drive in their clinical practices and continue to spread the good word of WCU,” he said.

After they receive their licenses, some physical therapy graduates choose to extend their clinical preparation through residency training. Residencies, a rising trend in physical therapy, are highly selection post-graduate training programs that allow licensed clinicians to specialize in a practice area of rehabilitation such as pediatrics, cardio-pulmonary, neurologic or orthopedics, Hudson said.

The applicant pools for residencies are composed of exceedingly strong candidates from across the nation, he said. “A very impressive seven DPT graduates from the WCU class of 2017 were accepted to residencies, where they will receive more than 1,500 hours of advanced specialty training at locations such as Emory University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University,” Hudson said. Those seven graduates are Collin Clark, Ansel Clayton, Allison Cochran, Kenneth Flinchum, Jenna Floyd, Chanchai Hongdoxmai and Tyler Matherne.

As Hudson was appointed to his new roles recently, he said his first priority as department head will be to shepherd an expansion of WCU’s physical therapy program to include 16 additional students at the university’s Biltmore Park instructional site. Currently, all the program’s classes are taught face-to-face on WCU’s Cullowhee campus, but plans are in the works to simultaneously teach the curriculum to 16 students at Biltmore Park with the use of video-based technology to communicate between sites. Hudson said the change is expected to happen with the start of the 2018 fall semester, with a total of 48 students starting the program at that time.

For more information about WCU’s doctoral program in physical therapy, email program specialist Linda Donaldson at donaldson@wcu.edu or call 828-227-2290.