MU Celebrates Opening of Physical Therapy School

Updated 7 years ago Special to HNN Provided by Marshall University
Marshall University School of Physical Therapy students join with Dr. Michael Prewitt, left, Dr. Penny Kroll, center, Dr. Eric Tarr, second from right, and Dr. Stephen J. Kopp, right, in a ribbon cutting
Marshall University School of Physical Therapy students join with Dr. Michael Prewitt, left, Dr. Penny Kroll, center, Dr. Eric Tarr, second from right, and Dr. Stephen J. Kopp, right, in a ribbon cutting
Prewitt is dean of the College of Health Professions, Kroll is chair of the School of Physical Therapy, Tarr is president of the West Virginia Physical Therapy Association and Kopp is president of Marshall University. Photo by Rick Haye.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – On May 21, Marshall University welcomed aboard the new School of Physical Therapy’s inaugural class of 29 students at the St. Mary’s Center for Education.

Monday, June 18, in a ribbon-cutting ceremony at that same location to celebrate the opening of the program, university officials showed the public, along with members of the Marshall Board of Governors, where those 29 students and future students will be pursuing their Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degrees.

“I have to pinch myself every once in a while to make sure this lovely space is really ours to work in,” said Dr. Penny Kroll, a professor and the school’s chair. “I’ve never worked in such a well-appointed space with top of the line physical therapy equipment, audiovisual systems, classrooms and technology.”

Marshall President Stephen J. Kopp said that the region has needed an accredited, entry-level physical therapy program for some time. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook through 2020, employment for physical therapists is expected to increase by nearly 40 percent for the decade, 2010 to 2020. This growth is much greater than the average for all occupations.

The increasing demand for physical therapy services is expected to emanate largely from the aging “baby boomers” segment of our population. This generation of Americans is staying physically active later in life than previous generations have. Kopp said he expects that the state-of-the-art facility that has been established at the St. Mary’s Center for Education combined with Kroll’s leadership and her high quality faculty will enable Marshall to rapidly move to the forefront in producing therapists for our region and elsewhere, thereby preventing a serious access issue in this important patient services area.

“Graduating quality professionals in the physical therapy field, as we will do beginning in May 2015, will benefit the entire tri-state region and the state,” Dr. Kopp said. “I am very grateful to Dr. Kroll and her colleagues who have worked so tirelessly to establish this program and earn Candidate accreditation status. I would also like to acknowledge and thank St. Mary’s Medical Center President and CEO, Michael  G. Sellards, for sharing our vision for this program and facilitating the renovation of this magnificent facility. Today is another major milestone for Marshall University.”

The revamped, new home of the School of Physical Therapy, located at 2847 5th Ave. in Huntington, will house approximately 120 students (40 students admitted annually for the three-year DPT program), as well as faculty and staff. The building previously housed Sears, and later, Big Bear.

The DPT is an entry-level, 115-credit, lock-step clinical degree program for students who wish to pursue a career as a physical therapist practitioner, and who possess a baccalaureate degree and required prerequisite coursework.

Kroll said clinicians in the area have been supportive of the program since its approval in 2009.

“They are delighted to see that we are up and running,” she said. “They are looking forward to us producing graduates who can go out into the community and practice. We are so short of therapists.”

The School of Physical Therapy has achieved Candidacy for Accreditation status from the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education, and expects to gain full accreditation in May 2015.

Kroll said the need for physical therapists in West Virginia is great.

“Clinicians tell me it takes them nine months to two years to fill a position,” she said. “It is just tremendously difficult to find therapists. Obviously, there are lots of employment possibilities. And the mean salary for a therapist in West Virginia is $77,660. Our graduates will have the potential to make a very nice living.”

Kroll said most of the 29 students already in the program are from the Appalachian region, with most of those from West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky. How did they hear about the program? “Mostly word of mouth,” Kroll said.

Beginning in mid-July, Marshall will be added to the Physical Therapist Centralized Application Service (PT-CAS). Kroll said Marshall’s name will appear when people apply to physical therapy schools. “The next group of students will be applying through that system,” she said.

One reason West Virginia needs more physical therapists is clear, Kroll said.

“Part of the problem in West Virginia is the aging population,” she said. “And that means more need for rehabilitation.”

The core faculty at the School of Physical Therapy include Dr. Eric Arnold, an associate professor; Dr. Yi-Po Chiu, an assistant professor; Dr. Neil Evans, an assistant professor; and Dr. Tamara Gravano, an assistant professor.

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