Missouri State program to address shortage of physical therapists

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- A severe shortage of physical therapists has prompted Missouri State University to offer a doctoral degree in physical therapy that duplicates a program already offered at the University of Missouri.

An agreement the schools signed two years ago that allowed what was then Southwest Missouri State to change its name included a provision that prohibited Missouri State from offering duplicate degree programs. But an exception was made for physical therapy programs.

"We can't even begin to meet the demand for graduates well into the future," said Rich Oliver, dean of the University of Missouri's School of Health Professions. "The need is so great that I'm happy that we have two public universities to address the shortages."

When the name change was first proposed, former University of Missouri president Elson Floyd said he was concerned that Missouri State would offer some of the same research and degree programs as the University of Missouri, depleting limited state education resources.

In the end, Floyd agreed to support the name change and Missouri State president John Keiser agreed that his school would not seek land grant or research institution status and would not duplicate professional degree programs offered by the University of Missouri, except for the doctorate in physical therapy.

Missouri State recently announced that the degree had been approved by the Higher Learning Commission.

Oliver said that all five-year master's programs in physical therapy are changing to seven-year doctoral programs that are preferred in the field.

Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, said schools have to avoid duplicating programs because of limited state funding for higher education.

"Obviously, there is going to be a dramatic need for health care professionals as the baby boom generation ages and want to stay in their own homes," he said. "What's important is that we coordinate that in the most fiscally responsible way and not have a ton of duplication of programs when there's a more efficient way to spend tax dollars training health professionals."

Oliver said both doctoral programs will help in interim president Gordon Lamb's "Preparing to Care" effort to train more health care professionals in schools across the state by offering more scholarships to physical therapy students.

Missouri's physical therapy program is capped at 40 graduates per year until facilities are expanded. Missouri State plans to graduate 30 per year.

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