By Crystale Lopez

On May 9, the University of the Incarnate Word (UIW) School of Physical Therapy (SoPT) graduated the first 50 students from the Entry-Level Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program along with nine students of the online post-professional DPT program. These trailblazers not only successfully completed the program, but also played a major role in helping develop it.

“It is an all-consuming job to start a new school and program, but it was also very exciting because I was able to build a program that reflected my vision of physical therapy education for the future,” said Dr. Caroline Goulet, founding dean of the SoPT. “I had the opportunity to teach in Canada, Hong Kong, and the United States, so when I came to UIW my goal was not to replicate a ‘cookie cutter’ program, but to really put the best of what I had seen and learned into the SoPT.”

“Graduation day was a dream come true for me,” she added. “I am extremely proud of the students and all they have accomplished – they will always be my ‘first class.’”

Dr. Susan Smith, an assistant professor in the SoPT who has also been with the program from the beginning, explained a lot of work went into every detail since they were forging their own path.

“Each semester we learned something and integrated that new knowledge into the following semesters,” Smith said. “It has been such an amazing learning opportunity for all of the faculty involved.”

Smith said it has been very fulfilling to see how much the SoPT Class of 2015 has grown. “When this class first started, everything was new and we were all going on this journey for the first time,” she shared. “I think this is a very unique group of students. They feel they have been able to positively affect the DPT program and have a greater sense of ownership – and rightly so, we were all learning together.”

Goulet speaks during the commencement ceremony.

Goulet speaks during the commencement ceremony.

Dr. Bailey Stein, UIW alumna of the DPT program, said she feels very honored to have been part of the inaugural class.

“The administrators, faculty, and staff worked so hard to prepare us, and the students worked just as hard to get to graduation day,” Stein said. “It feels amazing to say that we helped shape an incredible physical therapy school and pave the way for future classes.”

Goulet said her hope is that students will now take what they have learned at UIW and feel a commitment and responsibility to serve their community.

“It was really important for me that our school and program reflect the UIW Mission,” she explained. “It is an integral part of our curriculum and each semester the students are required to be in the community providing health related services. Not only are we at the forefront of physical therapy education, but we are truly following and instilling the Mission of the institution.”

Smith said she feels the profession of physical therapy aligns well with the Mission of UIW. “We are consistently emphasizing the importance of treating patients and other health care professionals with dignity, respect, and focusing on people’s abilities rather than disabilities,” she explained. “I think all our graduates have the ability to be powerful forces in patient advocacy.”

The SoPT utilizes a problem-based learning (PBL) curriculum where students learn a subject through the experience of creating a problem. Dr. Rebekah Garza, alumna of the DPT program, said she feels being the graduate of a PBL program not only fostered her growth personally in many ways, but that it also gives each student the opportunity to impact the community with an innovative foundation of practice.

(Pictured L-R) Graduates Stein and Garza attend the SoPT Awards Ceremony held May 6 in the McCombs Center Rosenberg Sky Room.

(Pictured L-R) Graduates Stein and Garza attend the SoPT Awards Ceremony held May 6 in the McCombs Center Rosenberg Sky Room.

“As PBL is relatively uncommon, we have the ability to develop our profession with special emphasis on the values of the Incarnate Word: education, truth, faith, service, and innovation,” Garza said. “I feel that as a student-clinician I have been able to grow professionally through my independent studies, as well as, my patient interactions both in the United States and internationally.”

The entry-level DPT program was also granted full initial accreditation in May by the Commission in Physical Therapy Education.

“The commission met and made the final decision at their April 24-29 meeting,” Goulet shared. “We held a special celebration just before graduation to commemorate this momentous occasion.”

Garza said it has been a privilege for her to watch the SoPT evolve.

“The faculty and every member of the inaugural class have dedicated countless hours of hard-work,” she shared. “We have endured the unknown, and I believe we have a unique sense of pride and accomplishment which we will always carry with us.”