Bellarmine University, RehabCare to develop postgraduate physical therapy residency program

Mark Wiegand, PhD

Mark Wiegand, PhD

Bellarmine University and RehabCare, a division of Kindred Healthcare and the largest employer of rehabilitation providers in the nation, have partnered to create a post-graduate clinical residency program for physical therapists to develop advanced skills in the assessment, treatment, wellness and preventative care of the older adult. Through this partnership, the RehabCare Chair in Adult Rehabilitation Studies has been established in the Doctor of Physical Therapy Program at Bellarmine. The program is conducting a national search to identify and recruit the RehabCare Chair, who will have collaborative responsibilities in developing the residency at RehabCare facilities, teaching students and conducting research.

There are only 13 accredited geriatric physical therapy residency programs in the United States, with two more in development, according to the American Board of Physical Therapy Residency and Fellowship Education. These post-graduate residencies provide advanced practice, educational and leadership opportunities to physical therapists interested in care of the older adult, and can provide a pathway for American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties (ABPTS) certification as a Geriatric Certified Specialist (GCS). At this time, there are fewer than 1,800 board certified specialists working in the care of the older adult nationally, and only 15 specialists in Kentucky and 24 in Indiana.

Advanced Practice

Post graduate residencies and clinical board certifications are a relatively new process in developing and recognizing advanced physical therapy practice. The first clinical specialist certification board was offered in 1985 in Cardiopulmonary Physical Therapy. Since then, clinical specialty boards have been developed in seven other areas – Clinical Electrophysiology, Geriatrics, Neurology, Orthopedics, Pediatrics, Sports and Women’s Health Physical Therapy. According to the ABPTS, there are 16,138 physical therapists that are board certified in one or more of the eight practice areas. There are approximately 200,000 practicing physical therapists in the United States. There are residency programs associated with each of these practice specialties – currently there are 174 accredited residency programs across all practice areas. Residency programs are generally about a year in length, and offer focused clinical practice, mentoring, education, research and leadership training, and allow the graduate to take the board certification exam. Bellarmine University currently partners with Norton HealthCare in the delivery of a neurologic physical therapy residency program.

Bellarmine University has offered a program of study in physical therapy since 2001, and was the first doctoral program on campus. Originally a department that admitted 20 students and had five faculty, the program has grown to admitting a class of 72 students annually for the three-year academic program. Following the completion of six semesters of coursework on campus, and nearly a year of intensive clinical training, students graduate from the program with the Doctor of Physical Therapy degree and are eligible to sit for required state licensure examinations. The department now has 13 full-time faculty and nearly 40 part-time and adjunct faculty. The faculty hold board certification in seven of the eight clinical specialty areas, including two faculty who hold GCS certification.

Strong Local Need

There is increasing attention on the relatively poor health status of Louisville’s adult population, including a high percentage of residents who are obese or overweight, smoke or do not exercise, all of which can contribute to chronic disease states, especially in underserved and vulnerable populations. The practice of physical therapy is becoming increasingly focused on the management of chronic problems such as diabetes and heart disease, fall prevention, and disorders of the musculoskeletal and neuromuscular systems. Bellarmine physical therapy students, working closely with faculty, provide services to the extended Louisville community through education programs on wellness, exercise, fall prevention and other movement focused activities. Through this residency program and partnership with RehabCare, Bellarmine students will have an even stronger presence in the community through evidence-based prevention and outreach activities.

The clinical residency program supports Bellarmine University’s mission through the development the intellectual, moral, ethical and professional competencies for successful living, work, leadership and service to others, and provides collaborative opportunities with RehabCare to promote and build on patient care excellence and professional leadership for which the company is known. With the growing aging population, the demand for professionals with advanced practice skills, knowledge and understanding of older adult needs will continue to increase. The development of the post-graduate clinical residency program is an innovative approach to prepare both practicing professionals and students for meeting the needs of the older adult.

Mark Wiegand, PhD, is professor of Physical Therapy and dean of the Lansing School of Nursing and Health Sciences at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky.