High success rate for SAU physical therapy doctoral program


By Anne Marie Amacher

Emily Robbins works with Ashley Sconzo (lying down) during an exercise in physical therapy class. Both are students in the doctoral of physical therapy program at St. Ambrose University in Davenport.

DAVENPORT — For two out of the past three years, all students in the doctor of physical therapy program at  St. Ambrose University have passed the National Physical Therapy Ex­am­­ination on their first attempt. The latest to do so was the December 2011 class of 28 students.
Michael Puthoff, director of St. Ambrose’s doctor of physical therapy program (DPT), said just 34 (17 percent) of the 194 DPT programs reporting on licensure pass rates achieved this distinction.
Puthoff said the national average for students passing the national exam on the first try is 87-88 percent. The ultimate pass rate is 97 percent.
All students in the first class to graduate from St. Ambrose’s DPT program in December 2009 passed the national exam on the first try. The December 2010 class had a 97 percent success rate on the first attempt. Ultimately, everyone passed.
“We put a lot of work into selecting our students,” Puthoff said. The university had 470 applicants for the current class; 140 were interviewed, but only 36 were chosen. “We take the cream of the crop.”
He attributes the high success rate of the St. Ambrose physical therapy program to choosing good students, having a strong, stable faculty, and a program that offers a variety of internships.
“We are strong in what we teach and how we teach.” Faculty members work well off of each other, he noted. All of those strengths provide for graduates who are strong physical therapists.
The DPT program takes 2 ½ years to complete and includes classes during the summer. Because of the demand for therapists in the Iowa and Illinois area, the class sizes were increased to 36 students per class. This fall 109 students will be enrolled in the DPT program.
St. Ambrose has ties with more than 500 clinical sites across the country for internships. Students have interned in Idaho, Texas, New York and even Hawaii. “We train our students to be well-rounded so they can enter any practice of their choice,” Puthoff said.
Doctoral of Physical Therapy students do three internships — one in a hospital, one in outpatient and one working with individuals with neurological conditions, either in a hospital or outpatient setting.
Puthoff noted that all of the December 2011 graduates of the DPT program are employed in their field.
Graduate Katie Scheckel said when she began looking at options for graduate schools, St. Ambrose had a well established DPT program, along with a high percentage of first-time pass rates for the national exam.
“With St. Ambrose I was able to complete my undergraduate work in three years and graduate school was 2 ½ years in addition to that, therefore saving one year on tuition.
“At St. Ambrose I was surrounded by faculty and staff that challenged me and prepared me to become the best entry-level clinician I could be. The DPT community become my second family and I would not hesitate to contact a former professor if I needed guidance or had further questions,” Scheckel said, who works at Rock Valley Physical Therapy in Davenport.
She gained clinical experience working at Geisinger Health South Rehabilitation Hospital in Danville, Penn., for eight weeks; Rocky Mountain Rehabilitation in Colorado Springs for eight weeks and St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria, Ill., for 10 weeks.
She believes the DPT program provided her with the knowledge needed and showed her how to treat patients as individuals.
“Even if I do not have a solution, I know where to go to find one. They taught me how to effectively and efficiently problem solve to help make someone’s life better.”

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