By Billy Liggett,
Photos by Bennett Scarborough
BUIES CREEK — As was the case with other health science programs Campbell has started in recent years, the idea for a Doctor of Physical Therapy program came from a need.
North Carolina is one of the fastest-growing states in the nation, but when it comes to the number of licensed physical therapists, the state ranks 38th out of 50.
“We’re not keeping up with demand,” says Greg Dedrick, director of Campbell University’s upcoming physical therapy program and associate professor of health professional studies for the College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences. “There’s an estimate that the need for physical therapy jobs will grow by 39 to 40 percent between 2010 and 2020 on a national level. If you look at North Carolina, the projection is an increase of 30 percent by 2016.”
The statistics were just one of the many selling points Dedrick introduced at an open house for prospective physical therapy students in Maddox Hall on July 11. Approximately 20 students, accompanied by friends and family, attended the program to not only learn more about physical therapy as a career, but what kind of program Campbell is hoping to offer.
Campbell’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program received approval from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) to continue its national accreditation process, and Dedrick submitted Campbell’s application to the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education during the spring. Pending accreditation approval, classes for the new program are expected to begin in January. Dedrick says he expects a class of between 32 and 40 students to make up the charter group.
Students in attendance at the open house ranged from recent college grads who’d be ready to jump right in with the charter class to those who have yet to finish high school.
Their reasons for wanting to learn more about physical therapy vary, but they all agree on at least one aspect of the career — there’s nothing dull about it.
“I’m interested in the hands-on aspect of it, working with different people, the flexibility in scheduling and not sitting in a cubicle all day,” says Johan Daniel, a 2012 graduate of Kean University in New Jersey.
Daniel has worked as a personal trainer since graduation, and he drove over eight hours from New Jersey to Buies Creek to see what Campbell had to offer. He says Campbell’s success with its pharmacy school and the soon-to-launch School of Osteopathic Medicine were factors in his decision to make that long drive.
“[Campbell’s track record] gives applicants like me confidence and hope,” says Daniel, whose long-term goal is to practice in North Carolina and someday start a family here.
Forbes ranked “physical therapist” as the third-best career in terms of job satisfaction in 2011, behind “clergy” and “firefighter.” It also made the list of best jobs for young people at No. 4. According to Dedrick, the median salary for a physical therapist is $80,000 a year, and that number actually improves when PTs face less competition (i.e. in rural areas). That bodes well for potential Campbell students, as one of the University’s goals is to influence overall health care in addition to physical therapist retention rates in rural North Carolina, particularly low-income regions.
“That’s one of the program objectives: to turn out graduates who are competent and passionate about rural practice opportunities,” Dedrick says.
Another selling point is flexibility.
Physical therapists may work in a hospital or clinic setting, a private office or with sports or military programs. They’ll work hand-in-hand with other medical care providers such as physicians, physician assistants, occupational therapists or social workers.
“Physical therapy seems like the perfect fit for someone with an outgoing personality,” says Sara Marisco, a recent graduate of North Carolina State University. “One advantage physical therapists have is that they spend significantly more time with their patients than most other health professionals. This allows for one to form a genuine bond with the patient and provide continuing care.”
Marisco says she was “extremely impressed” with the July 11 orientation and is excited about her potential career choice.
“A career in physical therapy would offer flexibility for the future,” she says, “as well as the opportunity to explore many different areas of specialization.”
If Campbell is successful in the accreditation process, the program would begin enrollment in November (it is currently interviewing and accepting students). Orientations would follow in December with the first classes beginning in January.
According to Heidi Shearin, the director for clinical education and assistant professor of health professional studies in addition to a practicing physical therapist of 27 years, the new program will be housed in a newly renovated Carrie Rich Hall, which recently served as home for the physician assistant program and new medical school before the completion of the Leon Levine Hall of Medical Sciences less than a half-mile from campus.
“We’re in the process of emptying out the large stacks room, which will house our laboratories,” Shearin said, “and we’re currently adding locker rooms as well.”