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KU Medical Center to become third school in the nation to launch specialized MS training program for DPT students

July 07, 2017

By Greg Peters

Stacia Troshynski Brown and Katie Siengsukon

The Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science at the University of Kansas Medical Center is embarking on an innovative program to address the needs of people throughout Kansas and the region who are living with multiple sclerosis (MS).

This fall, the University of Kansas will become only the third university in the country to implement the MS Standardized Training and Education Program with University Partners (STEP UP) as part of its entry-level education for doctor of physical therapy (DPT) students. KU will join the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, where the program began, and the University of South Florida in adopting this program to address the specific needs of people with MS.

An estimated 400,000 people in the United States suffer from MS, including about 12,500 in Kansas, Nebraska and Western Missouri. STEP UP is coming to KU thanks in part to a $10,000 donation from the National MS Society. About 85 to 90 percent of the nearly 200 DPT students in the KU Physical Therapy program are from Kansas and many plan to return to practice in the state, so the KUMC STEP UP program should have a direct benefit for MS patients living in rural areas.

The first two KU Medical Center students selected for the program were chosen through a competitive application process this summer. If the program proves successful, organizers plan to expand the number of students who can participate.

"The goal of the program is to provide advanced training for our doctor of physical therapy students to develop the skills needed to treat MS patients within an interdisciplinary team," said Catherine Siengsukon, Ph.D., PT, director of the KU Brain Behavior Laboratory, who is also one of the co-founders of the KU program along with Stacia Troshynski Brown, DPT, PT. "With so many people living with MS, innovative training programs are needed to address the shortage of physical therapists, especially in rural areas, who have the specialized training to address the unique needs of MS patients."

Multiple sclerosis is one of the most common diseases of the brain and spinal cord and while there is no cure, there are treatments to alter the disease's progression. MS symptoms include fatigue, blurred vision, weak limbs, tingling sensations and weakness. It is more common in woman than men and generally affects people between the ages of 20 and 40.

STEP UP was founded in 2008 by the physical therapy department at the University of North Carolina and was added by the University of South Florida in 2014. While most physical therapists receive some training for working with clients who have neurological disorders as part of their basic education, experts say MS patients benefit greatly when cared for by physical therapists who have advanced training in MS treatment or experience working MS patients.

At KU Medical Center, the KUMC STEP UP program will be embedded in the doctor of physical therapy curriculum during six semesters. The training will include clinical, research, ethical and advocacy components.

"We anticipate that by increasing the number of physical therapists with advanced training in MS care, we will improve the quality of health care and improve the lives of Kansans living with MS and their families," Brown said. "Our hope is that the success of the KU Medical Center program will spur other schools to consider adopting the STEP UP program at their institutions."

Last modified: Jul 26, 2018