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Two is better than one

Dual-degree programs prepare students to compete in increasingly complex health care landscape
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Medical care in the U.S. is becoming ever more complex, requiring providers to be conversant in areas outside their immediate specialty. The interdependence between personal health and community health calls for knowledge of public health. The growing intricacy of reimbursement systems demands a solid understanding of business and finance.

The Emory DPT program offers dual degrees to allow its graduates to effectively manage and navigate the changing health care environment and become leaders in their field. A DPT/MBA degree was launched in 2007, and a DPT/MPH degree followed a year later.

"By offering DPT students additional degrees in the fields of public health and business administration, we can ensure that our graduates will be well positioned to lead our profession in the clinical, community and administrative arenas," says Sara Pullen, DPT, MPH, CHES, assistant professor.

As of 2014, 10 students have graduated with dual degrees – four with a DPT/MPH and six with a DPT/MBA. Currently, two students are enrolled in the DPT/MBA program and one in the DPT/MPH program.

Both of the current dual-degree programs are seamlessly incorporated into the DPT curriculum. Students complete the first two years of their DPT coursework, spend their third year obtaining their dual degree and then return to the DPT program to complete their final year of the DPT degree. Students receive both degrees concurrently upon completion of this four-year dual-degree program.

"Graduates from dual-degree programs report that the dual degree helped in career advancement, and that it made them a more competitive job candidate," says Zoher Kapasi, PT, PhD, MBA and director of the DPT program. "Several of our dual-degree graduates have pursued career paths that exemplify the integration of public health or business into their physical therapy careers."

Within one year of her graduation, Megan Brock 10DPT/MPH, accepted a position as the rehabilitation program advisor for Partners in Health, a well-known international heath relief organization in Haiti. Her role consisted of 70 percent clinical work and 30 percent program development of community-based rehabilitation services. These services included the training of community health workers, development of environmental modifications and advocacy for those living with disability in the Central Plateau region of Haiti.

"My degree gave me a background in all the global health issues I encountered as well as a lot of useful practical skills, such as grant writing, assembling data to demonstrate a program’s success and structuring education for community health workers," says Brock.

Brock’s classmate, Lori (Northcraft) Baxter 10DPT/MPH, until recently served as the rehabilitation director for Hillside Health Care International, a non-profit based in Southern Belize. In that post, she oversaw a community-based rehab program, treating patients herself as well as supervising a rotating cadre of physical therapy students from six partner universities in the U.S.

The care Baxter and her students provided was critically needed. Only two licensed physical therapists practice in Belize City, and that is more than two hours from Baxter’s location. She and her students traveled to remote villages to bring treatment and injury prevention instruction to a population that had no other medical resources.

Her dual degree prepared her well for the experience. "I applied the dual degree every single day," she says. "I interacted with 13 future clinicians every month, and I taught them principles about social determinants of health in a developing world." (For more about Baxter, see "Emory's Clincial Footprint.")

Crystal Huber 13DPT/MBA, is a physical therapist at St Mary’s Medical Center in San Francisco. She spends about 30 percent of her time working on process improvement projects. Huber serves on a special team with physicians, nurses and consultants who are charged with finding ways to reduce the length of stay in the hospital’s ICU.

"We found that the flow was not as optimal as it could have been, and we are working to develop processes to improve that," says Huber. "Ultimately the goal of the our team is to reduce the length of stay in all parts of the hospital."

Huber enjoys the opportunity to use the knowledge she gained in the MBA portion of her dual degree, and she would like to expand it. "There is a big push in California to have lean processes in the hospital and make flow optimal," she says. "I could see myself transitioning into process improvement consulting."

"As the physical therapy profession grows and changes along with a constantly shifting health care environment, the need for public health and business knowledge also increases," says Pullen. "These dual degrees serve our graduates well in their professional careers."

Related Resources

"DPT/PhD aims to train tomorrow's academic leaders"

Programs @ Emory Division of Physical Therapy

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