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Program History

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 the program in 1944. Initial accreditation was received in 1945 and the program has been continuously accredited since.

Ruth Monteith

In its early days, physical therapy was a certificate-level program in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in the KU Hospital. The first chair of the department, Ruth Monteith served from 1944 until 1976, and around the end of her term the program transitioned to a bachelor's degree.

Robert Scott succeeded Monteith and led the program as it became independent from the hospital and established as its own department as part of the newly created KU School of Allied Health. Scott served as chair until 1979.

vintage image of therapy services

Looking Back at PT Through the Years:
Tracing the History
of Our Journey

During the next decade, Jesse Ball (interim chair, 1979-1981) and Marsha Melnick (1981-1989) presided over the department. It was a period of growth and expansion in the field of PT education, and in the fall of 1988 KU became one of the first programs nationally to offer an entry-level master's degree in physical therapy. By spring 1990 when the first students in this new program had graduated, the bachelor's degree had been almost completely discontinued.

Camilla Wilson (1990), Kathy Lewis, (1991), and Lou Loescher-Junge (interim chair, 1992) served in leadership roles for the department until Chukuka Enwemeka was appointed chair 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 millennium brought great changes to the department's academic programs: adding a doctorate in rehabilitation science (2001) initiated more activity in the research arena and later a joint PT/PhD degree program was created.

Dr. Stehno-Bittel and students in the lab

Lisa Stehno-Bittel was appointed chair in 2003. At that time, the department changed its name to the KU Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science. 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 master's 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 master's degree students had graduated.

Dr. Liu using research equipment

The first student graduated from the post-professional-DPT program in 2006, and the first class of 38 students completed in the entry-level DPT program in 2007.

Patricia Kluding, Ph.D., PT, was appointed interim chair of the department in summer 2015. The growth in KU's DPT program was clear that fall, as fifty-eight first-year doctor of physical therapy students took part in the annual DPT pinning ceremony. The event is held by tradition after the students have completed their first semester of classes at the University of Kansas Medical Center and in conjunction with the annual Jessie Ball Lecture.

After its most recent review by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education, the physical therapy program was awarded full accreditation for a period of eight years. The outstanding faculty publish 20 peer-reviewed research papers, book chapters, books and review papers each year. External funding supporting faculty research activities is nearly $900,000 annually, and an average of more than 35 papers, symposia and workshops are conducted by faculty and students at state, national and international conferences.

In March 2017, Kluding was named the permanent chair of the Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science.

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:

Last modified: Sep 26, 2019