The first group of students in the University of Central Florida’s new Doctor of Physical Therapy program will graduate this week.

Thirty students have completed the three-year, year-round program, launched in May 2007. Their degrees will be conferred at the College of Health and Public Affairs’ graduation ceremony at 2 p.m., Friday, May 7, at the UCF Arena.

“We’ve got a group of very well-prepared graduates ready to work in the community,” said Gerald Smith, director of UCF’s Physical Therapy program. “When you mix a group of very good students with a very rigorous program, you get a positive outcome.”

Previously, UCF offered a master’s degree program in physical therapy. Advancing to a doctoral program reflects a national trend in physical therapy education, Smith explained.

UCF’s doctoral program requires 35 credit hours more than the former master’s degree program. “We added course work in areas such as radiology, imaging and differential diagnosis and expanded the time spent in clinical practice,” Smith said.

Most of the students completed clinical internships at health care facilities in Central Florida; however, some sought clinical experience out of the area. For example, Anne Kunderman gained experience working with injured servicemen and women at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., while Matt Hennings worked with professional basketball players at a sports-medicine practice in Portland, Ore.

The graduating students range in age from 21 to 33, and about three-quarters of them are women. Most are from Florida; others are from Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, New Jersey and West Virginia.

All graduates of the accredited program are eligible to take the state examination that leads to obtaining a license to practice physical therapy.

Smith said there is a tremendous need for physical therapists in Florida. He cited a recent study by the Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation that reports there are almost 1,000 openings for physical therapists in the state.

Two other classes of doctoral students are enrolled in the UCF program, and a new class of 34 students will begin next week.

To learn more about UCF’s Physical Therapy program, click here.