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Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

WSU physical therapy program expands to meet growing demand

Garima Thapa
The off-campus location of Wichita State University in Old Town, Wichita on May 20. The building houses WSU administrative offices, the Department of Physician Assistant and the Department of Physical Therapy.

Wichita State University has expanded its physical therapy program to accommodate more students and enhance the quality of education and clinical experiences provided. 

The number of students per class will be increased from 40 to 60, accompanied by a proportional increase in faculty, administrative support staff and graduate teaching assistants. The inaugural class is set to commence in June 2024. 

Renovations for the expansion of WSU’s Department of Physical Therapy space at WSU Old Town will provide the upcoming class with the learning tools they need, as well as their own dedicated rooms without scheduling complications. 

M’Lisa Shelden, department chair and program director, said the expansion process involved detailed preparation, including securing support from various stakeholders, such as students, clinical partners, faculty and alumni. As part of the expansion request, the program also had to demonstrate sufficient clinical placements, faculty expertise and infrastructure readiness.

Despite the upcoming expansions, Sheldon ensured that students would not bear the brunt of the cost. 

“(There will be) no tuition hikes … (and) no fee hikes based on the expanded class size,” Shelden said. “There is one program fee that they pay that administrative and infrastructure costs, but like, for example, the anatomy class has fees associated with it, that pay for cadavers, and storage and disposal and that kind of thing.”

One of the primary motivations behind the expansion is the increased demand for qualified physical therapists, particularly in underserved rural areas. By increasing the class size, WSU aims to accommodate a greater number of qualified applicants who would otherwise be turned away due to limited capacity.

“We typically have about triple the number of qualified applicants that we can accept every year,” Shelden said. “And so by increasing it by 20, that’s been, you know, really nice to be able to admit more people who are absolutely qualified to be admitted.”

Shelden said when addressing the challenges, the department received plenty of support. 

“We had a huge amount of support from the university and the College of Health (and from) the dean, Dean Hand, particularly in helping us because we worked really hard to get faculty-student ratios,” Shelden said.

The program received funding from the university to hire additional faculty and staff, upgrade equipment and enhance infrastructure to accommodate a larger student unit.

“The biggest thing we have been doing is assessing who needs to be involved in each class to keep our faculty/student ratios where we want them,” Jennifer James, an assistant physical therapy professor, said. “We place a high priority on students having access to faculty and feeling like they have mentorship and support.”

The program’s expansion fits the need for more physical space and equipment for the classes already taught. Classes share the same tools and machines, causing conflict. 

“We used to have to share an ultrasound machine, things like that. It’s funny. Now we’ve got these very high tech ones,” Shelden said. “But we had classrooms where, you know, we could have 45 seats in there. And we had 43 of them filled. So we had no room.” 

According to James, ensuring faculty preparedness became one of the priorities for the expanded program. Both experienced faculty members and newly recruited staff collaborated to refine teaching methodologies and classroom experiences. 

James said WSU’s expanded program will help it more greatly impact community projects and outreach initiatives, particularly in addressing the unmet needs of pediatric populations.

“I am excited to have more students available to support community projects and experiential learning,” James said. “As a pediatric therapist, I know how much need there is for pediatric providers in the community, and I am excited that we will be better positioned to meet that need.”

With the expansion, classes will grow to 60 students and learning pods will increase from 12 to 15 students paired with one faculty member. 

“I can only speak for myself, but my courses are better after a semester of planning and collaboration,” James said. “I feel very ready for the new students and very proud of what our department has accomplished.”

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About the Contributors
Piper Pinnetti
Piper Pinnetti, Reporter
Piper Pinnetti is a reporter for The Sunflower. Pinnetti previously designed content for The Sunflower's Instagram. Pinnetti is a junior at Wichita State, majoring in journalism with the hopes of pursuing a career in writing. Pinnetti uses she/her pronouns.
Garima Thapa
Garima Thapa, Photographer
Garima Thapa is a second-year photographer for The Sunflower.

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