UK physical therapy program brings more health care to the Commonwealth

The hours can be demanding, the job trying, but ask any physical therapist if the work is worth it and you’ll be met with a resounding yes. Physical therapists (PTs) are tasked with the unique job of  helping patients regain their independence and recover their movement function. About 70 percent of UKPT graduates decide to practice in Kentucky bringing more exceptional care than ever to the Commonwealth.

“A physical therapist does several things,” explained Tony English, PT, PhD,  who directs the UK College of Health Sciences physical therapy program. “First, we look at a patient from a holistic perspective and assess what their abilities and disabilities may be. Then, to get the patient back to the highest functional level possible, we partner with the patient and the patient’s support group to develop a plan of care. Our mission is to come alongside patients and help them achieve their goals.”

The career inspires students who have a deep desire to help others. “All of the PT students, faculty, and therapists I know have a genuine heart to help people ,” English said. “They also appreciate the intricacies of the human body and the human movement system. As PTs develop more knowledge, they realize that data and research are immensely valuable to their practice.  Research allows us to connect the puzzle pieces and deliver the best possible care and solutions to our patients. It’s visibly rewarding and satisfying.” 

Physical therapy also offers an unusual amount of flexibility for a medical profession. “Physical therapy allows you to work in a number of different settings,” English continued. “You can work in pediatrics, geriatrics, or anything in between. It provides you with an opportunity to serve a wide variety of people. You can also change settings without having to change professions, since you’re prepared to work in a number of different areas.”

UK’s PT program is designed to provide a broad foundation of knowledge for future professionals. “When students finish our program, they’re eligible to sit for the licensing exam. After you pass, you are considered a general practitioner,” English said. “We offer specialized electives so students can dive deeper into certain areas: sports, pediatrics, geriatrics, manual therapy, aquatic therapy, and so on.”

The nine-semester curriculum is intensive. “In the first year, you learn foundational science: physiology, anatomy, and behavioral science needed for every practitioner. Students will also learn the basics of interacting with patients in a physical therapy setting,” English said.

According to English, in the second year students dig into orthopedic and neurological examinations of patients, treatments, prosthetics, orthotics, motor control, and geriatrics. Infused in those courses, though, are integrated clinical experiences where students get the chance to practice in a clinical setting for a day.

At the end of that second year full-time clinical experiences start while during year three students dive into courses on pediatrics, the spine, and manual therapy in addition to their clinical rotations. At the end of their third year, students present research findings they’ve worked on developing throughout the three years and wrap the program up with a final twelve-week clinical experience and cumulative exam.

“Hands-on instruction is really the heart of our program,” English said. “Our students have the opportunity to work with researchers, participate in international medical mission trips, and learn through clinical experiences across the country. These experiences are carried out in acute care hospitals, rehabilitation hospitals, and outpatient clinics, all of which have their  own specialty areas. We have our own student-run clinic that’s free for patients who have no insurance or insurance coverage for PT.”

Upon receiving their doctor of physical therapy degree, PT graduates are armed with the knowledge and experience to benefit those closest to home. “There are quite a few more practices in Kentucky now than there were in the nineties,” English said. “About 70 percent of the students will go on to work in rural Kentucky somewhere—Somerset, Hazard, Corbin, and more—so we’ve been able to offer the Commonwealth more practitioners and more care than ever in both rural and urban areas.”

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