Orlando’s first physical therapy residency program in neurology was accredited April 30 by the American Board of Physical Therapy Residency and Fellowship Education.

The University of Central Florida and Orlando Health Neurologic Residency program is now one of three such accredited programs in Florida ― and one of just 48 nationwide.

Physical therapists with advanced education and training in neurology work with patients who have experienced a traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury or stroke, or those who need therapy for multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, vertigo, cerebral palsy, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Guillain-Barré syndrome or cancer of the nervous system.

“More and more graduates of physical therapy programs around the country want to work with this patient population,” said Morris “Rick” Beato, a clinical assistant professor with UCF’s Doctor of Physical Therapy Program who coordinates the residency program.

“But there are not enough neurologic residency programs in the country available to train the hundreds of physical therapists interested in specializing in this area,” he said.

Ten years ago there were few residency programs for physical therapists, said Patrick Pabian, director of UCF’s DPT program. Since then the number of residencies has accelerated.

There are now physical therapy residencies available in nine specialty areas: cardiovascular and pulmonary, clinical electrophysiology, geriatrics, neurology, oncology, orthopedics, pediatrics, sports and women’s health.

“We wanted to create a residency in neurology because of our partnership with Orlando Health,” Pabian said. “The medical center offers a high-quality and uncommonly robust setting for a special neurologic residency program.”

The UCF-Orlando Health residency is a yearlong program and follows an academic model that’s relatively unique, he said.

Rather than work 40 hours a week in a clinic and piece together educational activities on the weekends and through distance learning, the UCF-Orlando Health resident spends 12 hours a week at UCF, attending one-on-one lectures, teaching in clinical or neuroanatomy labs, and conducting research with faculty members and doctoral students.

Another 28 hours a week are spent at Orlando Health, where the resident receives mentorship at the medical center’s Level 1 Trauma Center and Primary Stroke Center and at inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation facilities specializing in brain injury, spinal cord injury and stroke. The resident also works at three neurologic specialty clinics within the Multiple Sclerosis Comprehensive Care Center, Orlando Health Outpatient Rehabilitation facility and Arnold Palmer Pediatric Outpatient Rehabilitation facility.

The UCF-Orlando Health residency program began in August with its first resident, Clayton Stocker DPT ’17. He decided to pursue the neurologic residency as a third-year student during a clinical rotation in the inpatient rehabilitation facility at Orlando Regional Medical Center.

“I remember working with a young man who had had a stroke,” Clayton said. “With specialized physical therapy, he went from being completely paralyzed on one side to walking up 32 steps.” The progress took place over 4 weeks.

Stocker said the residency is rigorous and even daunting at times because there is so much to learn and do. Yet, he considers it to be one the most rewarding experiences of his life.

“One of our patients was a young girl with a severe TBI [traumatic brain injury],” Clayton said. “Seeing her progress from doing very little to gaining back some of her independence ― all the while with my mentor ― was very rewarding.”

Beato said physical therapists from as far away as California and Pennsylvania have applied for the second year of the residency program that begins in August. He also has received inquiries about the program from around the world.

“Now that we’ve received accreditation, I expect interest in the program to explode,” Pabian said. “We’re starting with one resident a year, but that number may grow.”