From an early pioneer in physical therapy education to a premier institution with nationally renowned training programs and innovative research, KU continues its role as a national leader in the fields of physical therapy, rehabilitation science and athletic training.
Our Department's Roots
The physical therapy program at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kansas, was one of the first physical therapy education programs established west of the Mississippi River. The program was initially organized in 1943 as a response to the polio epidemic and admitted the first group of students into the program in 1944. Initial accreditation was received in 1945, and the program has been continuously accredited since.
In its early days, physical therapy was a certificate-level program in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in the KU Hospital, now known as The University of Kansas Health System. The first chair of the department, Ruth Monteith served from 1944 until 1976. Around the end of her term, the program transitioned to a bachelor's degree.
Growth and Expansion
Robert Scott succeeded Monteith and led the program through the program's independence from the hospital and the establishment of its own department as part of the newly created KU School of Allied Health, now known as the KU School of Health Professions. Scott served as chair until 1979.
During the next decade, Jesse Ball (interim chair, 1979-1981) and Marsha Melnick (1981-1989) presided over the department. This time was a period of growth and expansion in the field of physical therapy education. In the fall of 1988, KU became one of the first programs nationally to offer an entry-level master's degree in physical therapy. By spring 1990 when the first students in this new program had graduated, the bachelor's degree had been almost completely discontinued.
Camilla Wilson (1990), Kathy Lewis, (1991), and Lou Loescher-Junge (interim chair, 1992) served in leadership roles for the department until Chukuka Enwemeka was appointed chair in 1993.
By 1997, the department had admitted its first group of eight students into the "expansion" program on the campus of Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kansas. Instructed using distance education, the students graduated in spring 1999.
Evolving Degree Programs
The start of the new millennium brought great changes to the department's academic programs: adding a doctorate in rehabilitation science (2001), which initiated more activity in the research arena and later the creation of a joint PT/Ph.D. degree program.
Lisa Stehno-Bittel was appointed chair in 2003. At that time, the department changed its name to the KU Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science. The Pittsburg State distance education program was discontinued after graduation of the Class of 2003.
In June 2004 came the launch of the new three-year Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program, which effectively ended the offering of a master's degree. Also in 2004, an online, post-professional DPT program was started for licensed physical therapists seeking a clinical doctorate degree. By 2005, the last master's degree students had graduated.
The first student graduated from the post-professional-DPT program in 2006, and the first class of 38 students completed in the entry-level DPT program in 2007.
KU graduated its 100th class of physical therapy students May 12, 2012.
Patricia Kluding, Ph.D., PT, was appointed interim chair of the department in summer 2015. In March 2017, she was named the permanent chair. And with the addition of a new program in 2020, the department's name was officially updated to become the Department of Physical Therapy, Rehabilitation Science and Athletic Training.
The growth in KU's doctorate degree program in physical therapy was clear that fall, as 58 first-year students took part in the annual pinning ceremony. The event is held by tradition after the students have completed their first semester of classes at the University of Kansas Medical Center and in conjunction with the annual Jessie Ball Lecture.
After its most recent review by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education, the physical therapy program was awarded full accreditation for a period of eight years. The outstanding faculty publish 20 peer-reviewed research papers, book chapters, books and review papers each year. External funding supporting faculty research activities is nearly $900,000 annually, and an average of more than 35 papers, symposia and workshops are conducted by faculty and students at state, national and international conferences.
In 2021, KU's inaugural class entered the master's degree in athletic training program led by LesLee Taylor, Ph.D., LAT, ATC. KU had previously offered athletic training at the undergraduate level on the KU Lawrence campus. The new graduate-level program in athletic training is now offered at the KU Medical Center campus in Kansas City, Kansas.