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“Founding Faculty” Members Pass on the Torch at UF

University of Findlay is one of only three physical therapy (PT) Bridge programs in the United States, educating students as they transition from physical therapy assistants (PTA) to licensed physical therapists. The University also offers students the opportunity to complete […] The post “Founding Faculty” Members Pass on the Torch at UF appeared first on Findlay Newsroom.

University of Findlay is one of only three physical therapy (PT) Bridge programs in the United States, educating students as they transition from physical therapy assistants (PTA) to licensed physical therapists. The University also offers students the opportunity to complete a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree in just six years through their 3+3 Program. After years of growth, two founding faculty members are preparing to retire in March and pass the torch to the remaining physical therapy faculty and staff.

When Deborah George, Ph.D. was hired by University of Findlay in 1995, she was tasked with creating a unique physical therapy program. Through her efforts, the University was able to create what is now the Weekend PTA to DPT Bridge program, graduating the first class in 1997. Over the years, George made her students the priority, helping to teach, mentor, and advocate for them. “She sees the students in a holistic manner, attending not only to their academic needs but their affective needs as well,” said Angie Huber, DPT, Associate Chair of the Physical Therapy Bridge Program. “Working with her has taught me to view student progression in a very student-centered manner and to advise students in a way that attends to their emotional needs as well as academic needs.”

With growth came the need for more space. “When we started classes, we didn’t really have a building,” recalled George. “Many of the classes were in the science building.” George and others began planning out the design and construction of the Brewer Health Center for Health Sciences Building, implementing new equipment, new spaces, and the ability to host on-site pro-bono clinics.

Four years into her tenure at UF, George was joined by Sharon Walsh, D.Sc. who with the help of George and others, was able to expand the PT offerings to include a traditional PT program at the University. Just before the turn of the century, physical therapy was in uncharted waters, as drastic changes shifted the health care world. Nonetheless, the Ohio Board of Regents made their final visit to University of Findlay in August 1999, and the first cohort started 10 days after the fall term began.

“Physical Therapy as a profession across the country was struggling for the first time in over 40 years due to huge Medicare cuts and changes in the Balanced Budget Act. Therapists were getting laid off and companies were closing. The Ohio PT programs were not greatly supportive of a new program starting,” recalled Walsh. Despite the gloomy national outlook, University of Findlay graduated their first cohort in April 2002, and the traditional PT program was officially accredited.

Along with the bridge program, the traditional PT program transitioned from a bachelor’s degree to a master’s a few years later. “We grew from that first cohort of 10 traditional students to being a full cohort at 32. Our application pool was huge, often turning away over 100 applicants for each program every year,” said Walsh.

With growth came the need for more space. “When we started classes, we didn’t really have a building,” recalled George. “Many of the classes were in the science building.” George and others began planning out the design and construction of the Brewer Health Center for Health Sciences Building, implementing new equipment, new spaces, and the ability to host on-site pro-bono clinics.

Over more than two decades of labor and love at University of Findlay, George and Walsh’s impact is staggering. Conservatively estimating around 1,700 students graduating from the physical therapy program during their time at UF, the two of them played a critical role in helping graduates become the professionals they are today. With each physical therapist treating thousands of patients in their lifetime, George and Walsh played a part in helping hundreds of thousands of patients. “This is the first time I have done this calculation and it is a bit mind-boggling,” said Walsh.

The reach of George and Walsh’s efforts expand beyond the classroom and into the workplace, as their colleagues say they will be greatly missed. “Over the years, we’ve had typical turnover of faculty, but Deborah and Sharon have provided consistency throughout all of that transition. They have been invaluable,” exclaimed Joyce Lammers, Ph.D., Department Chair and Director of the PT program.

“As our program prepares for the retirement of two valuable faculty, I am grateful for the strong foundation they have built. This foundation will enable our program to grow and evolve to meet the needs of the future DPT students,” said Nicole Schroeder, DPT, associate chair in the Traditional PT program.

“Their experience and knowledge they have passed on has directly impacted who the faculty are today,” said Huber, Associate Chair of the PT Bridge Program. “Many of us have either formally or informally mentored under Sharon and Deb and learned how to teach, advise, and produce scholarship with their input.”

With retirement quickly approaching, George and Walsh’s colleagues share the same outlook for the DPT program, expressing sadness for the loss of two friends, but excitement as to the direction the program is heading, and the foundation created by the two “founding faculty” members.

In perhaps a twist of fate, George says things have come full circle. “My replacement is a former student from UF’s PT program. It gives me such comfort knowing that there is someone who I taught and has the same values I hold. It makes my decision to retire so much easier knowing I have someone with her background and connection to UF.”

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