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WKU’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program recognizing inaugural graduates

The inaugural 30 graduates of WKU’s Doctor of Physical Therapy have developed a special bond over the past three years and are ready for their next step as the program reaches a long-anticipated milestone.

The inaugural class of WKU's Doctor of Physical Therapy program participated in their White Coat ceremony in May 2015. They will receive their degrees Friday night (May 13) during WKU's 179th Commencement. (WKU photo by Clinton Lewis)

The inaugural class of WKU’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program participated in their White Coat ceremony in May 2015. They will receive their degrees Friday night (May 13) during WKU’s 179th Commencement. (WKU photo by Clinton Lewis)

“I’m going to miss my classmates. We’ve become really close,” said Emily Hubbuch of Nashville, Tennessee. “To be off and on our own as PTs will take some getting used to.”

The DPT program’s first graduates will be recognized Friday (May 13) during a hooding ceremony that afternoon and during the graduate ceremony of WKU’s 179th Commencement that evening.

“Now that we’re in the last week before commencement everyone is just ready to get to graduation,” said class president Katie DiTommaso of Fort Wright. “A lot of tears, though, at the same time. A lot of students are reflecting back and we’re all thinking it’s officially coming to an end now.”

For graduates, the ceremony will mark the end of a three-year journey from their humble beginnings in Tate Page Hall to the state-of-the-art facilities at The Medical Center-WKU Health Sciences Complex. For program administrators and supporters, the ceremony will mark the end of a six-year journey from demonstrating the need, building support and gaining state approval to developing the program, recruiting students and seeking national accreditation.

“It’s worth it because you see the commitment of the students, the faculty and the university,” said Tom Pennington, a local businessman and physical therapist who led the efforts to develop the program at WKU. “This first class is very special to me. What they’re going to do is make a difference.”

The DPT program, WKU’s third practice-based doctoral degree, was approved by the Board of Regents in January 2012 and by the Council on Postsecondary Education in April 2012. The program received Candidate for Accreditation status from the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) in April 2013 and started the inaugural class in June 2013. Physical therapy programs are not eligible for initial accreditation until the final semester of the program has been completed prior to graduation. The WKU DPT program is awaiting word of initial accreditation later this week.

“This is something the community wanted in 2011 when I came here,” said Dr. Harvey Wallmann, DPT program director. “The community said we need this program.”

Pennington said the goal over the past six years has been to develop a top-notch physical therapy program, to recruit experienced faculty members and to produce graduates who will serve physical therapy needs in southcentral and western Kentucky.

“There’s been a tremendous amount of work put into this program,” said Dr. Kurt Neelly, director of clinical education, who also arrived at WKU in 2011. “Dr. Wallmann and I were to fortunate to bring in experienced PT faculty members. It was a new and exciting opportunity.”

The first cohort of WKU's Doctor of Physical Therapy program began classes in 2013. (WKU photo by Clinton Lewis)

The first cohort of WKU’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program began classes in 2013. (WKU photo by Clinton Lewis)

The inaugural DPT graduates completed their clinical rotations this spring and will begin working as physical therapists at outpatient, skilled nursing and other healthcare facilities, primarily in underserved rural areas of Kentucky and other states.

Hubbuch has taken a position in Johnson City, Tennessee, while DiTommaso will be working in Kingfisher, Oklahoma, about 30 miles from Oklahoma City.

The inaugural class includes 24 students from Kentucky; most of them will be working as physical therapists across the state, which meets one of the program’s primary goals to serve southcentral and western Kentucky.

“We are going to see the impact of our students on the area. It’s kind of exciting,” Dr. Wallmann said.

Dr. Wallmann said physical therapy is a rewarding field for graduates because they are able to work one-on-one and build a rapport with their patients.

DiTommaso, who majored in chemistry and played tennis as an undergraduate at WKU, considered other medical fields before choosing physical therapy because “I needed more patient interaction. I love motivating people. PT is the way to go.”

Hubbuch came into the physical therapy program after playing soccer from childhood through high school. “I was the typical athlete in high school who got injured, had physical therapy and thought ‘I can do this,’ ” she said.

Hubbuch completed her bachelor’s degree at University of Tennessee-Chattanooga and is one of six graduates of the inaugural class from outside of Kentucky.

“For our class it wasn’t the flashy building and all the equipment we had,” she said. “We were really sold by the professors and faculty that they were there and committed to us for us to succeed. It wasn’t about all the stuff and the lights. It was really who’s going to provide the best education for us and that’s why I chose WKU.”

Dr. Neale Chumbler, dean of WKU’s College of Health and Human Services, expects interest in the DPT program to remain strong.

“The field of physical therapy is a great field to go into,” he said.

The highly competitive program attracts applicants from across Kentucky and the nation. Dr. Wallmann said more than 375 students completed full applications last year with about 100-110 interviewed before 30 students were selected for the third cohort.

“Allied health professions like physical therapy have a great future,” Dr. Chumbler said.

For more about the Doctor of Physical Therapy program, visit http://www.wku.edu/physicaltherapy/index.php

Inaugural DPT graduates

Members of the inaugural class of WKU’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program: Whitney Ryan Allen of Elizabethtown; Alexis Elizabeth Anderson of Lancaster; Allison Elizabeth Pare Baston of Tompkinsville; Devin D. Bell of Columbia; Rett Coode of Maryville, Tennessee; David Dahl of Bowling Green; Katie M. DiTommaso of Fort Wright; April D. Ford of Bowling Green; D. Brianne Fortney of Beechmont; Megan Nicole Fuller of Bowling Green; Dominique K. Goutsis of Vancouver, British Columbia; Lorelei B. Gunn of Brentwood, Tennessee; Timothy L. Hall of Nebo; James B. Harlan of Henderson; Jacob M. Hicks of Owensboro; Emily K. Hubbuch of Nashville, Tennessee; Tom W. Jones of Bowling Green; Cristina J. Macke of North Las Vegas, Nevada; Kelli Wray McKinney of Lebanon Junction; Lauren Caudill McReynolds of Brownsville; Terrell J. Muse of Somerset; Melissa Reece of Freeburg, Illinois; Shannon Marie Sims of Bowling Green; Laura Smith of Bowling Green; Wesley A. Smith of Leitchfield; Patrick Clay Stalcup of Burkesville; Kirsti E. Vittitow of Boston; Kimberley Wilson of Summersville; Emily Rigney Wright of Danville; William Jason Wright of Bowling Green.

Contact: Doctor of Physical Therapy program, (270) 745-4071

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