St. Ambrose University's most recent graduating class of physical therapy doctoral students has set a high bar for future classes.
Since graduating in December 2011, the entire class of about 30 also has passed the National Physical Therapy Examination on the first try and have found jobs in their field. The exam is administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy, an accrediting body.
An entire class passing the exam on the first try is something only 34 doctoral physical therapy programs in the nation accomplished for 2011, said Michael Puthoff, director of the SAU physical therapy department. On average 87 percent of students pass the exam on first try; the total pass rate -- which includes students who retake the test -- is usually in the upper 90 percentile range.
"So that puts us well above the national average," said Mr. Puthoff.
An SAU news release states that 194 doctoral physical therapy programs reported their pass rates for the licensing test this year. The 34 programs which had all of their students pass comprise about 17 percent of the total number of programs.
The program lasts two and a half years and has up to 36 students in a group, Mr. Puthoff said. The program, which has been at SAU since the 1990s, usually gets students with backgrounds in fields like biology and kinesiology, though it will accept students from other educational backgrounds as long as they have taken prerequisite classes.
Graduates can find themselves working in a number of areas, from hospitals to patients' homes.
On Thursday, the newest class of students, which is about a year into the program, was working in the lab. The students were using each other as models. Some lay on tables while others took the prone students' arms, legs or necks and flexed or stretched them.
They were practicing how to use their knowledge of human anatomy along with tests of a limb's range of motion and resistance to being pushed or manipulated to aid them in making a diagnosis, said student Jessica Starykowicz, 24.
Ms. Starykowicz said she got into the program because the ability to impact a patient's life is very satisfying and because the complexity of the human body means there is no one right answer.
She said she is not concerned with the licensing exam, more than a year into her future, because of the training her instructors provide.
"Our professors at St. Ambrose overprepare us," she said.