APU Expands Physical Therapy Program, Opens New Facility

As spring semester at Azusa Pacific University came to a close and most students and faculty headed home for the summer, the Department of Physical Therapy geared up to move into their new 26,000-square-foot facility. Located in the back of Duke Hall, the space is more than four times the size of the former location in Mary Hill. “It was a busy time. Our summer classes started just a couple days after we moved in,” said Derrick Sueki, DPT, Ph.D., Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program director. “Everyone is energized by the new space. It still has that new car smell!”

The facility was made possible by a $3 million donation from alumni Steve and Susie Perry through their Sacred Harvest Foundation. The expansion allows the DPT program to grow their annual cohort size by more than 50 percent, increasing enrollment from 48 to 74 students. “We have three cohorts at a time, so this represents a big increase in students,” said Susan Shore, Ph.D., chair and professor in the Department of Physical Therapy. “Our program is extremely competitive. We average more than 900 applicants each year. People come from all over the country to study with us.”

Annette Karim, DPT, Ph.D., Postprofessional Studies program director, said the design and planning was purposeful. “We’ve planned for growth. We could have easily filled more spaces from the beginning, but we didn’t have the space for the quality of education we wanted to provide. Now we do,” she said. “Maintaining the 1 to 15 faculty to student ratio is also very important to us.”

The facility features spacious lecture rooms and labs, providing a host of technological upgrades that enhance classroom instruction. “We educate through a different model than most departments. We have to visualize how people walk, squat, bend, and perform other movements,” Sueki said. “The new classrooms are equipped with cameras in the ceiling. The cameras are interconnected with our desktop, allowing us to take pictures and videos of people moving. We can project these videos on screens and draw on them with smart boards.” Students work on two-sided flip tables that consist of a soft padded side for physical therapy and a hard side for note taking.“The tables offer convenience and functionality for our students,” said Karim.

APU is one of only two Council for Christian Colleges & Universities schools on the West Coast with a DPT program, and Shore said APU’s program is one of the best in the country. “The thing that separates us from other universities beyond the curriculum is the quality of the teaching, which I think is unequaled by any other school,” she said. Karim said the faculty truly connect with their students. “The DPT program requires three full years to complete. That’s quite a bit of time to live life, to go through the ups and downs,” she said. “People often choose APU for the quality of the faculty. You choose your mentors. I think God uses us in that way.”

Sueki said the connection between students and faculty played a role in the design of the building. “One of the primary components in the facility design was to provide spaces for students to interact with each other and with faculty, to go beyond just education, to be a part of each other’s lives,” he said.

Contributing to the DPT’s program expansion and new facility is the exponential growth of the field. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment rate for physical therapists is expected to increase by 36 percent through the year 2022. “We’re an aging population. They say 60 is the new 30. Because of this, we need more physical therapists to take care of people as they get older,” Karim said. In California, the annual mean wage for a physical therapist is approximately $96,000. Currently, APU’s DPT students experience a 97 percent graduation rate, and its DPT graduates benefit from a 100 percent overall pass rate on the National Physical Therapy Exam and 100 percent employment in their field.

“This facility allows us to expand our mission, our visions for our field, and the students we serve,” Sueki said.