By Kate Hunger
When it appeared COVID-19 could jeopardize the graduation timeline for the Department of Physical Therapy Class of 2021, students came up with a solution.
“Our Class of 2021 was supposed to go out on clinical rotations in May this year, but obviously that was a time when things were bad and a lot of our clinical rotations were canceled,” said Department Chair and Associate Professor Greg Ernst, Ph.D., ECS.
Students met to brainstorm ideas and ultimately asked if they could move the 10-week semester that typically follows clinical rotations ahead to May and then begin up clinical rotations in August.
“It was a great solution,” Ernst said. “To make that change in that period of time was a challenge. Faculty had to turn around and use their summer to teach those courses once again.”
The willingness of the faculty to think outside the box made it possible for students to keep their graduation on track, said Justin Anderson, president of the Class of 2021.
“I feel like our faculty are doing a very good job getting us prepared,” he said. “They have been very flexible and are open to receiving our feedback.”
That creative problem solving is just one example of how the Department has excelled over the past year, Ernst said. For the first time in at least 15 years, the Department’s graduates earned a 100% first-time pass rate on the national licensing exam, a distinction achieved by just eight DPT programs in the country.
The perfect pass rate was the result of a team effort.
“The students took it very seriously and worked very hard,” Ernst said. “The faculty are very qualified and prepared them very well, and we had great clinical relationships. It takes a village.”
Faculty and students have represented the Department well over the past year, with faculty having published 12 papers in national and international journals and presented 17 papers and projects at national and international conferences, he said. Students presented faculty-led students projects at several conferences and have co-authored several published papers, as well.
Faculty continue to represent the school well by staying active in the profession at the state and national level, said Ernst, who shared the example of Associate Professor and Director of Clinical Education Mike Geelhoed, DPT, OCS, MTC, who was elected president of the Texas Physical Therapy Association in 2019.
“Being involved at that level, he is a great role model for students,” Ernst said.