The universities of South and West Florida will establish a doctor of physical therapy program in Pensacola through a partnership that addresses a critical shortage of the specialists in an area where demand for their service is high.
USF Health offers a nationally ranked three-year physical therapy program on its Tampa campus. The partnership allows it to expand enrollment by as many as 12 students a year. The new slots would be competitively available to UWF graduates who meet USF's physical therapy admissions requirements.
UWF grads admitted to the program would spend their first year in the program in Tampa and the final two at UWF in Pensacola.
The Board of Governors, which oversees the state university system, conducted a statewide analysis of the physical therapist workforce demand. It found more than 160 openings for physical therapists in the Pensacola area, home to many military veterans and retirees. Statewide, public universities issue 392 doctor of physical therapy degrees a year, while the demand for therapists is expected to rise by 492 a year through 2020.
"Together, USF, with our cutting-edge physical therapy education program … and UWF, which provides impressive pre-professional health sciences education, will help meet this rapidly growing demand," said William Quillen, director of the USF Health School of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Sciences.
Quillen said it is "ungodly expensive" for a university to launch a new health program, with the partnership able to do it for less than a third the cost of starting from scratch.
"Partnerships like this are important because they maximize the state's resources, build on successful programming and provide needed support to our community," said Martha Saunders, West Florida's provost and vice president of academic affairs.
The schools received a $1 million legislative appropriation to launch the program last year, and the Board of Governors formally approved it earlier this month.