For the first time, California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) began offering two new doctoral degrees—a doctor of physical therapy (DPT) and a doctor of nursing practice (DNP)—this year, and university officials involved with the programs believe that each will play a critical role in the state’s future healthcare needs.
This summer CSULB’s Physical Therapy Department implemented the first entry-level doctor of physical therapy (DPT) degree offered by the California State University (CSU) system. The first class of DPT students will graduate in 2015 after completing a three-year program of didactic and clinical coursework qualifying them to write the state of California licensing examination to practice as physical therapists.
Actually, the creation of the DPT program grew from an upcoming educational change in the physical therapy (PT) profession. Beginning in 2015, all new PTs must have the doctorate degree from an accredited program to be eligible to sit for the boards and practice as a licensed PT. Beyond that 2015 date, the master’s in physical therapy (MPT) will no longer allow its recipients to enter the profession.
As a result, the campus’ MPT program is being phased out. The last MPT class entered in fall 2011 and will graduate in 2014. The first DPT class began studies in June and will graduate in 2015.
CSULB Physical Therapy Department Chair Kay Cerny said the CSU programs are among the last to switch from the MPT to the DPT because the law allowing the CSU to offer the doctorate had to be changed, which took seven years. Without the switch, CSULB would have had to completely drop the physical therapy major.
Cerny also said the change was critical in terms of meeting the future need for physical therapists. “The California Employment Development Department expects a 35.6 percent increase in need for PTs from 2010 to 2020 in Los Angeles County,” she pointed out. “Offering the entry-level DPT degree allows CSULB to continue graduating well prepared practitioners in physical therapy who can assume increased responsibilities for patient care in more autonomous practice settings and meet the growing need for physical therapists in California.”
The DPT program includes evidence-based management throughout the curriculum and a culminating doctoral research project under the direction of a faculty sponsor. The department collaborates with the community to provide high quality clinical experiences for its students throughout the curriculum. Thirty-four students are enrolled in the program.
The three-year curriculum begins with foundational science courses. A doctoral project of research under the direction of faculty is required. Clinical experiences include two six-week summer affiliations (between years one and two and between years two and three), a pro-bono neurological classroom clinic in the second year of the program, and 24 weeks of internship in the last year of the program. A planned orthopedic faculty out-patient clinic will enhance coursework for managing patients with orthopedic disorders during the didactic curriculum.
“My impression of the program thus far is that by giving us this wealth of information and presenting the material in a clinical and diagnostic approach, the students will be prepared for their advancing careers ahead,” said Stephen Thornhill, a student in the DPT program. “One of the most exciting things I’ve found in the program is the stress of our specialty as the leading experts in human movement. Already we are being made aware of how all the classes are coming together and reinforcing this idea.
“The faculty are invested in presenting this forward thinking approach and emphasizing the importance of research and ingenuity in our profession. Another great aspect of this program has been the support of the faculty from day one and the new found family of fellow students,” he added. “The ‘we’re all in this together’ idea is prevalent and reassuring as we tackle the challenging coursework. I feel confident that I will continue to be stimulated, be exposed to a wealth of information and be fully ready for what comes after graduation.”
With the start of the fall semester, the Cal State Fullerton (CSUF), CSULB and Cal State LA (CSULA) schools of nursing began offering a joint DNP degree, using a consortium model of education. Twelve CSULB students are currently enrolled.
The DNP prepares practitioners to take the knowledge created by researchers and theoretical scholars and use it in the delivery of services and advancement of policies that support high-quality health care. The scholarship of the DNP prepared nurses focuses on integrating, applying and teaching their knowledge.
In addition to developing advanced competencies in evidence-based practice, leadership, health policy and advocacy, graduates will develop in-depth skills in a focused area of nursing practice.
Lucy Huckabay, director of CSULB’s School of Nursing, said that offering the DNP degree via the CSU system makes affordable doctoral education accessible to more nurses who have their master’s degrees in nursing. She also expects the new program to have a positive influence in two specific areas.
“The DNP prepared nurses are primarily interested in the patient care aspect of nursing and not necessarily in conducting pure research,” Huckabay explained. “More specifically, DNP education enables the nurses to advance their clinical expertise in the application of evidence based practice to improve patient care in a specialized field of practice. They can conduct applied research that has an immediate direct positive impact on patient care.
“Additionally, the DNP prepared nurses will qualify to assume nursing faculty positions in schools of nursing,” she added. “All across California and the nation, one of the primary reasons for turning away qualified applicants to nursing schools is the lack of qualified nursing faculty. DNP prepared nurses can fill the faculty shortage gap.”
Huckabay also noted that one of the other advantages of the CSU DNP program is that nurse administrators can also enroll in the program and do their directed project on system-related research to improve patient care outcomes and to reduce health care costs.
Faculty from all three campuses have developed the DNP curriculum and will be involved in teaching courses and in working with students completing their doctoral projects. As a joint program, all schools of nursing have brought expertise to the development of the program and will serve as the specialty faculty for various courses. The plan is that a synergy of ideas and approaches from faculty’s varied areas of nursing expertise will enrich the learning and experiences of the DNP students.
CSUF is the designated administrative campus of enrollment, and each student has a designated home campus – CSUF, CSULB or CSULA. Faculty from each of these campuses will guide their respective students during completion of their doctoral project. There is a full-cohort of 36 full-time students this fall who will complete 36 units over five semesters.