Program History

Physical Therapy since 1943: KU's nationally ranked program graduates its 100th class

KU graduated its 100th class of physical therapy students May 12, 2012. Initially organized in 1943 as a response to the polio epidemic, the program has reached great heights in the areas of research and education. Watch this video and follow KU physical therapy through its history:

Ruth Monteith

The physical therapy program at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kansas, is one of the first PT programs to be established west of the Mississippi River. The first group of students was admitted into our program in 1944. Our program received its initial accreditation in 1945 and has been continuously accredited since.

Physical therapy was a certificate-level program in its early days in the KU Hospital's Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. The first chair of the department, Ms. Ruth Monteith served from 1944 until 1976 and around the end of her term the program transitioned to a Bachelor of Science degree. Succeeding Ms. Monteith was Mr. Robert Scott, who saw the program become independent from the hospital and form its own black and white photo of old classroom at KU Medical Centerdepartment as part of the new KU School of Allied Health in 1977. Mr. Scott served as chairperson until 1979.

Jesse Ball (interim chair, 1979-1981) and Dr. Marsha Melnick (1981-1989) presided over the department during the next decade. It was a period of growth and expansion in the field of physical therapy education, and in the Fall of 1988, KU became one of the first programs nationally to offer an entry-level Master of Science in Physical Therapy degree. By Spring 1990 when the first students in this new program had graduated, the Bachelor of Science degree had been all but phased out forever.

Dr. Camilla Wilson (1990), Kathy Lewis, JD, (1991) and Lou Loescher-Junge (interim chair, 1992) led the department at the start of the next decade until Dr. Chukuka Enwemeka was appointed chairperson in 1993. By 1997, the department had admitted its first group of eight students into the "expansion" program on the campus of Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kansas. Instructed using distance education, those students graduated in spring 1999.

The start of the new millenium saw great changes to the department's academic programs, with a move into the research arena by adding the PhD in Rehabilitation Science (2001) as well as a joint PT/PhD degree program.

Dr. Stehno-Bittel and students in the lab

Dr. Lisa Stehno-Bittel was appointed chairperson in 2003. At that time, the department changed its name to the KU Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science and the Pittsburg State distance education program was discontinued after graduation of the Class of 2003.

In June 2004 the new three-year Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program was launched, which effectively ended the future for the Master of Science degree. Also in 2004, an online, post-professional DPT program was started for licensed physical therapists seeking the clinical doctorate degree. By 2005, the last MS students had graduated.

Dr. Liu using research equipmentMore recently the department graduated its first student in the post-professioal-DPT program (2006) and first class of 38 students in the entry-level-DPT program (2007).

After our most recent review by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education, our department was awarded full accreditation for a period of 8 years. The department now has over 20 faculty and staff. Our outstanding faculty produce about 20 peer-reviewed research papers, book chapters, books and review papers per year. External funding supporting faculty research activities now stands at approximately $900,000 annually and an average of over 35 papers, symposia and workshops are conducted by faculty and students at state, national and international conferences.

Last modified: Jul 10, 2013