Doctoral degrees maintain tradition of passing on first try


Faculty member Ashley Hyatt (standing) supervises WCU physical therapy doctoral students (from left) Jenna Floyd, Elizabeth Carter and Amy Broadwell as they evaluate a client in a recently opened pro bono clinic on campus.

The second class of graduates from Western Carolina University’s doctoral degree program in physical therapy has maintained the tradition of passing a national licensing exam on the first try that was started by 2014’s inaugural class. WCU’s Department of Physical Therapy received notification this fall from the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy that all 31 recipients of doctor of physical therapy degrees from the university in 2015 passed the National Physical Therapy Examination the first time they took it, said Karen Lunnen, associate professor and head of the department.

Physical therapy graduates are required to pass the exam to be licensed to practice. Records kept by the federation indicate that the WCU graduates’ mean scores on the exam puts the group in the top 1 percent among physical therapy graduates nationwide. “I could not be more proud of our graduates and the dedicated faculty who prepared them to be excellent physical therapists,” Lunnen said.

The University of North Carolina Board of Governors gave its approval in 2010 for WCU to expand its master’s degree program in physical therapy to a doctoral-level program. WCU awarded diplomas to the first graduates of its 33-month doctoral program in spring 2014, and members of the second class got their diplomas after the end of spring semester this year.

The new graduates’ 100 percent pass rate “is directly related to the challenging curriculum, the passion and expertise of the faculty, and highly motivated and talented students,” said Douglas Keskula, dean of WCU’s College of Health and Human Sciences who also is a professor of physical therapy at the university. “The Doctor of Physical Therapy Program at WCU consistently creates an exceptional learning experience for students, preparing them to meet the changing expectations and responsibilities of future health care providers,” Keskula said. “I am grateful and extremely proud to work with such dedicated and compassionate faculty and students.”

Up to 32 students are chosen from an applicant pool that typically numbers around 500 to begin WCU’s program each August.