OSU-Cascades to launch state’s first public Doctor of Physical Therapy program

An OSU-Cascades kinesiology student works with a trained physical therapist.

Jada Krening, News Correspondent

Oregon State University-Cascades in Bend, Ore. will launch a new Doctor of Physical Therapy program, the first public DPT program in the state of Oregon, in fall 2021. 

Christine Pollard, an associate professor of kinesiology at OSU-Cascades and the founding director of the new DPT program, has been instrumental in the creation of the new degree. Pollard came to OSU-Cascades in 2011 to develop and lead the kinesiology program. 

“Kinesiology is a great pathway for undergraduates to take prior to PT school,” Pollard said via email. “We have a large number of kinesiology students in Corvallis and Bend that are interested in going to graduate school in physical therapy and the pathway will now become very clear for our own DPT program.”

As the founding director of the new program, Pollard said her responsibilities include developing curriculum, designing facilities and spaces, creating admissions criteria, working with marketing, admissions, financial aid and the accreditation body, and hiring new faculty for the program. 

Pollard said nine full-time core DPT faculty will be hired in the next five years, in addition to part-time faculty hires that will include practicing physical therapists in the community.

Kara Witzke, the assistant dean of Academic Programs and the program lead for kinesiology at OSU-Cascades, said the DPT degree is something Pollard has wanted to do since she arrived at OSU-Cascades in 2011.

Pollard said OSU-Cascades gained all the necessary university approval for the DPT program last spring, and is now in the process of building the program for its first class in fall 2021. 

“Dr. Pollard has done amazing work in getting this program shepherded through the different levels of approval it needed. If past experience is any indication, this program is going to be incredibly strong thanks to her leadership,” Lisa Flexner, an instructor of kinesiology and the head of the kinesiology internship program at OSU-Cascades, said via email.

Currently, there are two DPT programs in Oregon, both at private universities. Pollard said there is a shortage of physical therapists in the state and the nation, and that these shortages are anticipated to worsen. By offering an affordable DPT option in Oregon, Pollard hopes to address these shortcomings.

The OSU-Cascades DPT program will be housed in a brand-new academic building, which will include classrooms and laboratories custom-made from the program.

“Our kinesiology students will be able to utilize some of the same facilities as our DPT students in our brand-new academic building that will house both programs,” Witzke said via email. “These include a state of the art cadaver lab, special equipment classroom and new exercise physiology and biomechanics laboratories.”

Flexner said the new DPT program will fill “a very real and important need,” and by appealing to a diverse range of students.

“As an advocate for the physical therapy profession, I am absolutely thrilled that we will be offering the first public DPT program in the state of Oregon. My hope is that this lowers barriers to entry into our profession and allows more people of diverse backgrounds—socioeconomic, ethnic and cultural, and rural—to consider physical therapy as a profession,” Flexner said via email.

Timothy Burnett, an instructor of kinesiology at OSU-Cascades, said Central Oregon has a huge physical therapy industry that will benefit from a DPT program at OSU-Cascades. 

“The local clinics, which we pair with to present information to our kinesiology students, have expressed their desire to have locally grown and educated PT practitioners enter their field,” Burnett said via email. “There is no substitute for quality that comes from a student born, raised and educated in the location they love.”

Burnett also emphasized the need for an affordable DPT option in Oregon to make a degree in the field more accessible. 

“The primary benefit of this DPT program is that we can offer state school tuition for a doctoral program dominated by expensive private institutions. This decreased cost for students and the Central Oregon location will reach a large section of underserved Oregonians,” Burnett said via email.

Witzke said the DPT will greatly impact both OSU-Cascades and Oregon, since students will have the opportunity to work directly with local communities. 

“It will be a signature program for OSU-Cascades and for the College of Public Health and Human Sciences, which is very exciting,” Witzke said via email. “The high density of physical therapy clinics in Central Oregon and outlying areas will provide ample clinical opportunities for our students. Serving the need for PTs for the state and for Central and rural Oregon in particular, is important to us to help fulfill our mission at OSU-Cascades.”

Flexner said she also hopes to continue to build stronger connections with the physical therapy community in Oregon. 

“The DPT program will provide one pathway forward for those of our undergrad kinesiology majors who are interested in rehab medicine, and it will also allow us to build relationships with programs that provide other pathways, like the Physical Therapy Assistant programs at Lane Community College and Mt. Hood Community College,” Flexner said via email. “We already have such a good connection between our kinesiology and DPT programs and faculty members, and we hope to build on that for the future.”

OSU-Cascades will begin accepting applications for fall 2021 this summer. More information on the OSU-Cascades DPT program can be found on the OSU-Cascades website.

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