CULLOWHEE -- The department of physical therapy at Western Carolina University received two pieces of good news recently -- notification of official accreditation and word that the department's first wave of graduates surpassed the national average for rate of passage on professional licensure examinations.
The master's degree program in physical therapy began offering coursework in the fall of 1996 in response to a nationwide shortage of physical therapists, a need that was especially acute in Western North Carolina.
The action by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education of the American Physical Therapy Association comes after a thorough review of Western's physical therapist education program, including on-campus visits by a visiting team of educators.
"We are quite pleased with the approval we've received, not so much for our program and faculty, but for what it means for our students," said Katherine "Kitty" White, head of Western's master's degree program in physical therapy. "Graduation from an accredited physical therapy program is a prerequisite to being eligible to take state licensure exams and begin professional careers."
Many of Western's physical therapy graduates should be getting off to a good start in their careers, if performance on recent N.C. licensure examinations is any indication. According to a report from the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy, 86.4 percent of Western's physical therapy graduates passed their licensure examinations, administered this fall, on their first attempt.
That compares to a pass rate of 82.8 percent for graduates of all North Carolina physical therapy education programs, and a pass rate of 74.7 percent for graduates of all nationally accredited physical therapy programs in the United States.
"Our students fared exceptionally well on the state licensure exam," White said. "The Western North Carolina hospitals and health care providers that provided funding to help make this program a reality are now seeing a return on their investment."
Hospitals and health care agencies from as far west as Murphy and as far east as Hickory pledged some $337,000 in 1996 to help meet start-up expenses for Western's master's degree program in physical therapy, including equipment and library holdings. Those hospitals also have hosted the graduate students during the clinical phase of their training.
Hospitals providing support to Western's physical therapy program are Mission-St. Joseph's Health System and Thoms Rehabilitation Hospital, Asheville; Transylvania Community Hospital, Brevard; Haywood County Hospital, Clyde; St. Luke's Hospital, Columbus; Sloop Memorial Hospital, Crossnore; Park Ridge Hospital, Fletcher; Margaret R. Pardee Memorial Hospital, Hendersonville; Catawba Memorial Hospital and Frye Regional Medical Center, Hickory; Highlands-Cashiers Hospital, Highlands; Caldwell Memorial Hospital, Lenoir; Grace Hospital, Morganton; Murphy Medical Center, Murphy; Harris Regional Hospital, Sylva; and Valdese General Hospital, Valdese.