In keeping with Shenandoah University’s celebration of 25-year milestones in 2016, the decision to add graduate health degrees – beginning with the Master of Physical Therapy (MPT) program in fall of 1990, followed by a Master of Occupational Therapy (MOT) in fall 1993 – changed the university’s future academic landscape. These graduate health programs paved the way for other practice-based programs that emerged in later years, adding breadth and depth to Shenandoah’s growing reputation as a rising leader in health care education.
Physical Therapy Nationally Recognized
Shenandoah University’s Division of Physical Therapy launched its Master of Physical Therapy (MPT) program in fall 1990, later expanding the program to a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) in 2002 as the profession’s terminal degree. A year later, the university added a mostly online program to help working graduates with the master’s degree to transition to the DPT as the master’s program was eventually phased out. The program opened to non-Shenandoah graduates and those with Bachelor of Science degrees in 2005. By August 2014, PT students could choose to study in Winchester or at the Northern Virginia Campus-Scholar Plaza location in Ashburn, Virginia.
Over the years, the PT faculty grew from seven to 12 full-time professors. Enrollment for the program is competitive, and the culture within the division is professional, caring and friendly. The faculty are nationally respected, and students graduate as reflective practitioners able to provide effective, evidence-based and compassionate care for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of movement dysfunction for individuals across the lifespan.
What makes Shenandoah’s physical therapy program so unique? According to Professor of Physical Therapy Karen Abraham, PT, Ph.D., it’s a strong commitment to student success, friendly camaraderie among students and faculty, top-level clinical experiences, and rich interprofessional service learning opportunities available locally and internationally.
“Our faculty are teachers first,” she said. “As practicing clinicians, they are highly regarded in the field and actively engaged at the clinical and academic levels.”
Faculty members are also caring and supportive mentors, committed to guiding and training students as highly skilled practitioners.
“The entire program feels like a second family,” said third-year PT student Zach Duell ’17. “I feel so close with everybody. I think [this connectedness] sets students up for success in the classroom.”
Shenandoah PT students learn within the structure of interprofessional teams. They take an anatomy course with physician assistant (PA) students and work on cases with graduate students in athletic training, occupational therapy and pharmacy, both in simulation labs and service teams. They also participate in team projects, such as the annual Clarion Case Competition, where student groups compete regionally and nationally.
“Interprofessional learning is a critical component of today’s health care practice,” said Tim Ford, Ph.D., dean of Shenandoah University’s School of Health Professions. “The team takes responsibility for the complete health of the patient, who, by the way, also needs to be equally part of the team and the decisions that are made. Physical therapy and occupational therapy professionals are critical members of these teams, and their skills are central to the recovery process for many health conditions, which in turn lead to better quality of life and reduction in readmission rates. However, the ‘team’ only works if each member knows how their discipline interacts with each of the other disciplines. Team members also need to know enough about each discipline to recognize when a medical error might be imminent, and have the confidence to speak about it. This is the importance of interprofessional education.”
School of Health Professions faculty and students collaborate to provide services locally and globally. Physical therapy service opportunities include an adaptive aquatics program with Valley Health, volunteer services at the Free Medical Clinics in Winchester and Loudoun County, an adaptive skiing program with Wintergreen Resort, and international service trips to Ecuador, Haiti, Nicaragua, St. Lucia, Guatemala, and Uganda.
In addition to in-class instruction and service opportunities, students also learn from some of the region’s finest clinical professionals.
“We have some of the best clinical partners – like Valley Health and Inova – who help us to train our students, said Dr. Abraham. “They offer access to real patients, clinical sites and rotations, and they make a considerable investment in educating a skilled workforce.”
Students and faculty actively collaborate on research efforts, consistently presenting at national meetings and publishing papers. A large number of graduates with clinical specializations have garnered honors and awards within the profession.
“Our graduates are very successful,” said Abraham. “Our board passing rate consistently remains above the national average, including a number of years with first-time pass rates of 100 percent.”
While a number of graduates achieve success in their practices, regionally and nationally, others choose to continue to work in the Winchester and Loudoun County areas. And, according to Abraham, some return to their alma mater to teach, while others serve as faculty at other institutions.
Graduates Give Back
Shenandoah’s PT graduates are also philanthropic. One graduate endowed a scholarship program that annually provides two incoming students with $1,000 a semester for six semesters. Soon, that endowment will grow to support a third student. Another alumni-supported scholarship provides funds for global service initiatives.
Highlights of Shenandoah’s PT program:
- Program and faculty are nationally recognized
- Leads the way in the use of technology in the delivery of PT education
- Leads in teaching manipulation, dry needling techniques, and women’s health physical therapy to entry level physical therapy students
- Student-led organizations facilitate international service trips
- Has hosted the Green Circle 5K for the past 12 years, raising $20,000 toward the development of the Green Circle Project in Winchester
Occupational Therapy Offers Hybrid Program
The university’s Division of Occupational Therapy is also nearing its 25th anniversary. Preparation to develop the program began in the fall of 1992, with the university’s official launch of the Master of Occupational Therapy (MOT) program in fall 1993. Faculty mentors, clinical rotations and community-based experiences prepare graduates to enter the workforce as practitioners, ready to assist people of all ages to regain their quality of life through the therapeutic performance of everyday activities.
Established under the leadership of Dr. Charlotte Royeen, the program originally took 93 credits to complete, graduating its first class in December 1996.
“Philosophically, the program began as a problem-based learning curriculum offered in a traditional format,” explained Director Cathy Felmlee Shanholtz, OTD, M.Ed., OTR/L. “The emphasis on problem-based learning was reduced over the years, but it still remains a major influence in our teaching. The ‘problem-based’ learning method remains a part of our ‘core.’”
In Fall 2007, the program shifted to a “triblend,” blended-learning learning format that delivers content through online, face-to-face and experiential/community-based learning experiences.
Students work in interprofessional teams on cases and simulation exercises, interact with preceptors and patients in real-world clinical rotations, and practice through service learning.
Students graduate as skilled occupational therapists practicing in a variety of fields where they help children with disabilities to participate fully in school and social situations, assist individuals recovering from injuries to regain skills, and support older adults experiencing physical and cognitive changes.
A Learning Model for Working Adults
“The hybrid/blended learning approach to entry-level OT education is consistent with current research on adult learning preferences, and its flexibility attracts a diverse group of students who might not be able to attend a traditional, face-to-face program,” said Dr. Shanholtz.
A significant portion of didactic content delivered online includes lectures, projects and class discussions. Students complete assigned reading, ‘attend’ online lectures or podcasts, and participate in other assigned activities on their own time, with guided instructor input. Once-a-week, face-to-face classes are reserved for students to interact with one another as well as their instructors, who carefully organize classroom experiences to facilitate student problem solving, clinical reasoning and concept application. Community and clinical experiences provide exposure to clients, practicing occupational therapists and other professionals in a variety of settings, where opportunities to integrate didactic and clinical information occurs through hands-on practice with interviewing, assessment and treatment skills.
“Shenandoah’s program offers an entry-level master’s in OT to students who, at one time, would not have been able to study for the degree,” which Shanholtz said she finds exciting.
“We offer a ‘door’ to learning to those on a non-traditional track and those on a traditional track. It offers a number of opportunities for students and faculty to engage in hands-on learning with community partnerships not only in Northern Virginia but in the Washington, D.C./Maryland region. Our division feels very strongly about classrooms without walls, and that is our strength,” said Shanholtz.
Highlights of Shenandoah’s OT program:
- National reputation for excellence
- Entry-level program offers hybrid/blended learning model
- Hybrid format delivers program online, one-day-a-week face-to-face meetings and clinical practice
- Opportunity for non-traditional track students to enter the profession
- Integrates clinical practice within the regional community